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View From Section U: Down The Stretch They Come

Since about New Years UMass fans have been keeping one eye on the Hockey East standings.  With just four weekends left in the season, it’s time to stare at them intently and see what it’ll take for the Minutemen to secure a spot in the conference playoffs.  To start with, I’m sorry to report that with the loss to Merrimack UMass can no longer win the regular season title.  OK, let’s get real, in 7th place and five points behind Northeastern with the Huskies holding the tiebreaker means 6th place is very likely out of the equation as well.  On the bright side with Lowell having a historically bad season it’s nearly impossible to to finish in last place.  So that leaves 7th through 9th place for UMass, with 9th meaning their first time out of the playoffs since 2001-02.  So let’s see what it’s going to take for the Minutemen to extend their season beyond March 5th.

Vermont is currently in 8th place and two points behind the Minutemen, who own the tiebreaker over the Catamounts.  Here’s UVM’s remaining schedule:

at Maine (2)
vs UNH (2)
at BU (2)
vs Lowell (2)

Not the easiest schedule down the stretch.  If Vermont was playing those Maine games at the Gutt I would say they could have a chance to steal one.  But given that those games are in Orono, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to beat the Black Bears at home.  Also unlikely they’ll take any points from UNH or BU at this point.  However, with hosting Lowell for two, you have to think they should take all four points.  Though it should be noted that UVM dropped an earlier game to the River Hawks 3-1. So my guess is that Vermont will end up with somewhere between 3 to 6 points in their remaining games with 4 points being most likely.

Providence is currently in 9th place and 3 points behind the Minutemen.  The Friars currently have the tiebreaker edge with a 1-1-0 record against UMass so far.  UMass has a two win lead in conference wins which would be the second tiebreaker in the event that they can win on Saturday to bring the head to head record even.  Here is how the Friars schedule plays out:

vs Boston College
at UMass
at BU
vs BU
vs Lowell
at Lowell
at Merrimack
vs Merrimack

It should be noted that Providence has not had a conference win since they shutout Merrimack 2-0 on November 5th.  In fact their only win in 2011 was against the US Under 18 team.  So this is not a very hot team right now to say the least.  But, Providence is capable of beating UMass and Lowell (I’ll assume Merrimack won’t allow another loss to them) and could end up with another 6 points.  But if you take momentum into account there’s a good chance Providence will split with Lowell and that’s about it.  I’ll say they’re likely to finish with anywhere from 2 to 6 points but most likely it’ll be 3.

As for UMass, here’s how it looks from here on out:

vs BU
vs Providence
vs Merrimack
at Merrimack
vs BC
at BC
vs Maine
vs Maine

Now UMass has the toughest schedule out of the three having to face 7 ranked teams versus Vermont’s 6 and Providence’s 5.  However, the Minutemen have more games at home, 6, than the other teams who both have only four in their respective friendly confines.  To be brutally honest, UMass going pointless down the stretch wouldn’t exactly be a shocker.  They’re playing some tough teams and have already proven they can get beat by Providence.  However, they could probably also reasonably pick up five points by winning Saturday, squeaking out a tie to Merrimack, and splitting with Maine to end the season.  I’ll say most likely they’ll probably pick up 3 points.

So if Providence and Vermont are on the high end of my predictions the standings will look like this:
Vermont 18pts
Providence 17pts
That would mean UMass would need two wins in order to stay in 7th place.  With a win and a tie they could finish 8th as long as they don’t lose to Providence on Saturday and win the secondary tiebreakers.

If Vermont and Providence finish on the low end of my expectations the standings would look like this:
Vermont 15pts
Providence 13pts
In this case UMass would just need a tie to finish in 7th and would be assured of 8th no matter what.

If Vermont and Providence do what I think is most likely:
Vermont 16pts
Providence 14pts
In this case UMass would need at least a tie to assure themselves a playoff spot and with a win would finish in 7th.  If UMass picked up the 3 points I’m expecting them to they would finish with 17pts, one ahead of Vermont for 7th.

It is essential for UMass to beat Providence on Saturday and get a five point lead over them in the standings (Friday’s games notwithstanding).  If the Minutemen were to prevail Providence will likely have to sweep Lowell and still knock off someone else in order to pass UMass in the standings at that point.  I know everyone is geared up for nationally televised Bright Out night on Friday, but I believe Saturday’s game, likely played before a much smaller crowd, will go a long way to decide if UMass will be playing on March 11th or not.

Playoffstatus.com is an excellent website I stumbled upon a couple seasons ago showing different probabilities in terms of playoff standings and NCAA tournament probabilities.  Basically if UMass goes winless the rest of the way they only have a 22% chance of making the playoffs.  If they win just one that number jumps to 60%.  And with two wins it jumps again to 88%.

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