Michigan State will be coming into this weekend's play ranked 12th in the Pairwise. The Pairwise mimics the selection process for the NCAA hockey tournament. The key, with 5 automatic bids, is to earn an at-large spot you will need to be at least ranked 15th in the Pairwise. 15th will only work if there are no surprise champions. If you are ranked 11th or better, you are a lock for the tournament since only 5 auto bids are handed out (12th - 16th in the PWR would be eliminated if all five were from teams that aren't ranked in the top 16 of the PWR).
MSU has 19 comparison wins: Miami, North Dakota, Cornell, Northern Michigan, Western Michigan, Notre Dame, CC, LSSU, Ohio State, Harvard, Quinnipiac, Wisconsin, St. Cloud State, Colgate, Bemidji State, Northeastern, Air Force, UMass, and New Hampshire.
Right now 17 comparison wins gets you in the top 15 of the PWR. The comparison wins refer to your overall comparison with each team that is considered a TUC (i.e. .500 or better in the RPI). MSU is considered better than 19 of the 30 other teams in this ranking.
If MSU were to lose just 4 comparisons they currently are winning, MSU would be knocked out of the tournament. Let's examine the 19 and which ones MSU fans should be concerned about.
The record indicated refers to the comparisons won vs. lost with each team.
New Hampshire (2-0) - Barring an epic RPI collapse from MSU and a huge gain by UNH (MSU leads by .0467), MSU wins this comparison no matter what.
UMass (2-1) - Even though it's only 2-1, UMass cannot improve on any of the factors barring a huge collapse by MSU in the RPI (and I don't think getting swept by Miami will change it that much). The only way this comparison flips is if UMass wins the Hockey East Tournament - as the #8 seed - and they would get the auto bid which would move our at-large line up from 15 to 14.
Air Force (3-0) - MSU leads in all categories and none of them can flip.
Northeastern (2-1) - Even if MSU gets swept by Miami, MSU holds this comparison since Northeastern didn't qualify for the Hockey East playoffs.
Bemidji State (3-0) - Unless the RPI swings widly enough, this won't flip even if Bemidji sweeps North Dakota (or wins the series). The only way this completely flips is if Bemidji wins the WCHA tournament and MSU is swept this weekend by Miami. If Bemidji were to take an auto bid, that would move our at-large line up in the Pairwise.
St. Cloud State (2-1). This one looks like it is a lock no matter what, but strange things could happen should St. Cloud State run into Minnesota & North Dakota (beat them both) in the WCHA Final Five, and MSU loses to Western Michigan. I still don't think that'll be enough to flip the common opp's comparison, and if MSU gets that far, the RPI will stay in MSU's corner (not to mention MSU probably will pass some other teams in the Pairwise).
Wisconsin (3-0). This one looks similar to the St. Cloud State one, only Wisconsin would need to flip 2 comparisons instead of one. The TUC comparison looks like it could flip easily with a long WCHA run for Wiscy and if Miami wins the series against MSU. But even then, Common Opps and RPI would still probably stay in MSU's corner.
Quinnipiac (3-0). This is where MSU fans become HUGE Quinnipiac fans this weekend. They face Colgate (see below). If Quinnipiac were able to upset Colgate, it would keep that comparison in MSU's corner and this one would stay no worse than 2-1.
Ohio State (5-2). No chance for this to flip even if MSU were swpet by Miami. At worst it'd be 4-2 if that were to happen.
Northern Michigan (4-2). This can't change even if MSU is swept this weekend. At worst it'd be 3-3 with MSU having the RPI tiebreaker.
The Almost Locks:
Harvard (2-0). This one makes me nervous simply because if Harvard makes a long enough run in the ECAC tournament, they could swing the RPI factor (though MSU holds a .0321 edge), which would be the tiebreaker should Harvard earn enough wins against TUC's in their conference tournament (looks like only 1 will be needed) and MSU were swept this weekend.
LSSU (4-2). This one might be able to get flipped should LSSU beat MSU at Joe Louis Arena in the CCHA tournament, but at that point, I think the TUC's would remain strongly in MSU's corner, as well as the common opp's. The only thing that would make me nervous is if the RPI (.221 edge in favor of MSU) were to flip in that case.... That would cause the comparison to go to 4-3 LSSU.
Colorado College (3-0). If CC sweeps Tech, then beats Minnesota and North Dakota at some point in the WCHA tournament, and MSU were swept by Miami, I think I'd be nervous with this comparison. The TUC in that situation would flip to CC causing MSU to hold a slim 2-1 edge. The Common Opps and RPI would come into play at that point - though MSU looks like they'd still hold an edge in the common opp's category.
The Swing Comparisons:
Colgate (2-1) - If Colgate were to sweep Quinnipiac, and Quinnipiac remains above .500 in the RPI (currently .5128), and MSU were to get swept by Miami, this comparison would flip and Colgate would win it - knocking MSU one step closer to being out of the tournament. If MSU were to be eliminated in 3 games, the Spartans would still win the overall comparison. A semi-final (or 3rd place game victory) by Colgate would swing it back into their corner.
Notre Dame (3-2) - If the Irish advance further than MSU then start pulling hard for anyone who plays Notre Dame. The TUC would flip into ND's corner if the Irish advance further than MSU plus they win that next game. A head to head match-up that the Irish win would finish this comparison off for the Irish. Though again at that point, MSU might be a lock given they are at the Joe (the only way a head to head meeting would be possible).
Western Michigan (3-2) - Western already holds the TUC & Common Opps category, so MSU can't lose those. At that point this would come down to a head to head meeting at the Joe - if Western wins, they might pass MSU - depending on how the RPI falls. At best MSU would be 3-3 with the RPI tiebreaker in that situation. I almost have this one in the lock column - if MSU wins once against Miami, I think it will become a lock. That October (?) sweep is HUGE.
Cornell (1-1). - RPI holds the key, as long as MSU holds the edge, MSU wins the comparison. Right now the Spartans hold a slim .0099 edge. Cornelll plays Dartmouth this weekend. In theory, if MSU were swept and Cornell sweeps Dartmouth, MSU could lose this comparison.
North Dakota (2-1) - The slim .0034 RPI edge keeps MSU ahead in this comparison. MSU can't lose TUC this weekend, but they certainly can lose the RPI comparison. A Bemidji State upset would help seal the deal for MSU.
Miami (3-2) - This one is simple. Miami wins the series - they win the comparison. MSU holds the edge in RPI, TUC, and Common Opps. if Miami wins twice, they swing the RPI comparison and get 2 points in the head to head comparison giving them a huge 5-2 edge in the overall comparison. Even if MSU wins once, that still will give Miami a 5-3 edge. A Spartan series win will keep the comparison in MSU's corner.
It is looking like Michigan State has 13 total comparisons pretty much locked up. This means MSU would need 3-4 more locked up (of the 6 toss-ups) to put them in the 14-15 position in the PairWise and likely in the NCAA tournament. This is why MSU is not a lock at this point, and this is why a trip to Joe Louis would pretty much seal the deal up. Though as I mentioned above, a couple of those "swing comparisons' could already be in MSU's corner regardless of what happens. That would put MSU in the 15-16 comparison range which would be good enough to get in provided the favorites win the conference tournaments. Should MSU lose in three games, it might be enough to get them in regardless of what happens elsewhere.
The Merrimack comparison that MSU is losing (Merrimack is ranked T-14th) won't swing in MSU's favor unless MSU beats Miami & Merrimack doesn't have a good Hockey East Tournament.
So it's simple for MSU at this point: Win and you are in.