by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
This week's Bracket ABCs tries to delve into the what ifs of this weekend.
It looks like Minnesota is going to be OK for the top overall seed, because of its RPI. But it is getting more dicey.
As we mentioned last week, UNH needed to overtake Minnesota in records vs. common opponents (COP), and records vs. teams under consideration (TUC). As of last week, the records were identical in both categories. Thanks to Minnesota's losses to St. Cloud State, UNH now is ahead in TUC. But the comparison is tied, 1-1, because Minnesota has a bulletproof lead in RPI over every team in the country.
But UNH has a way to flip the COP and thus flip the comparison: defeat Maine. Minnesota can counter this with a win over CC at the Final Five. Neither matchup is guaranteed to happen, but that's what it will come down to.
If that happens without anything else flipping, Minnesota still stays No. 1 because there will be a three-way tie for first with Notre Dame. But there is a way Notre Dame can flip things, too, and that's where things will get interesting.
2. Notre Dame
UNH's loss to Providence was enough to move the RPI down, and hand over this comparison to the Irish, even without a change in COP record (as we referred to last week). Notre Dame is still on the verge of taking the COP part of the comparison too, if UNH goes 1-1 against Boston College this weekend.
It's almost certain that Minnesota, UNH, Notre Dame and St. Cloud State will be the No. 1 seeds. The big question people have been asking is where these teams will wind up. We know that New Hampshire has to be in Manchester, so that leaves the other three.
If Notre Dame somehow winds up the No. 1 overall seed, it will be in Grand Rapids, Minnesota in Denver, and St. Cloud State in Rochester.
If Minnesota is the No. 1 overall, many people see the Gophers in Denver and Notre Dame in Grand Rapids anyway. But I don't think so.
According to the committee's rules, the No. 1 seeds get placed closest to home, with preference given to the higher overall seed. Obviously, Grand Rapids is closest to Minneapolis among the three outstanding spots, 584 miles away vs. 955 miles to Denver. But others have argued that, as the committee has reasoned before, "a flight is a flight." While I agree with this philosophy, people are misusing its application.
Where the committee has used this rationale before is in helping the higher overall seed, not in helping a lower overall seed. In other words, the committee isn't going to use this rationale in order to place Notre Dame in nearby Grand Rapids, and ship Minnesota to Denver, just because "a flight is a flight." The committee has used that rationale in the past to protect the higher seed.
So if Minnesota remains the overall No. 1, I see them going to Grand Rapids. Sending Minnesota to Denver is a detriment to the team that earned the No. 1 overall seed — because it would have to go through a "home" team — the Denver Pioneers — in order to reach the Frozen Four. That's not worth the tradeoff of benefiting Notre Dame.
The committee has been clear in the past about doing what it takes to protect the higher seed that earned it.
So that's why I have Notre Dame in Rochester. Your mileage may vary.
3. New Hampshire
4. St. Cloud State
Last week, we said that St. Cloud State appeared bulletproof for a No. 1 seed, thanks to a pair of wins over Clarkson and its superior comparison with Boston University, barring a complete meltdown. Crunching the numbers now, it appears even a meltdown won't matter, thanks to the two wins last weekend against Minnesota. Even if the Huskies lose both to North Dakota this weekend, it won't flip any comparisons with teams below them. And then after that, St. Cloud State will play a non-TUC in the WCHA playoffs, and even if it loses both of those, it won't have much impact.
5-12. Clarkson, Maine, Boston University, Denver, North Dakota, Miami, Boston College, Michigan
This is part of that squishy middle ground. We lump them all in together because there's virtually no chance of any of them cracking the top four overall, and because they are all pretty much locks to make the tournament. It would take major meltdowns for the last three of these teams — Michigan, Miami and BC — to drop out of the tournament. They could drop to No. 4 seeds, but that's probably a worst case.
So we'll just lump them in because where these teams wind up is impossible to tell, and we might as well just wait and see. It is as dependent on where the top seeds go as anything else. Denver, of course, will definitely get to play in the Denver regional.
13. Michigan State
Here's where it starts to get tricky. Michigan State will run into trouble if any combination of the following occurs: CC and/or Vermont sweep first-round playoff series, Michigan State gets swept in its quarterfinal series, and/or an upset conference champion occurs in any of the Big 4 leagues.
Michigan State does have some upward mobility with stumbles by Michigan and Boston College, but it's limited.
14. Colorado College
CC continues to fade, and as a result, its upward mobility is lessening. Meanwhile, the Tigers can easily lose comparisons to Vermont, Michigan Tech and even Massachusetts if they aren't careful. Even Cornell could easily flip the CC comparison in its favor without too huge an effort. If CC loses two to Denver and Vermont plays well in the Hockey East tournament, that comparison is now in major danger too. Of course, if St. Lawrence, Dartmouth or Cornell win the ECAC tournament (or someone other than Clarkson) the 14th slot will go to that champion and not to whatever team is No. 14 in the Pairwise.
15. St. Lawrence
This is one these situations where a team is seriously kicking itself. Take a look at the Pairwise grid. If you do, you'll notice things are pretty orderly, i.e. the teams higher on the chart generally defeat every team below them in a head-to-head comparison.
But that's not true for St. Lawrence. The Saints win comparisons against Michigan State and Colorado College, but lose them to Michigan Tech, Massachusetts and Niagara — teams that are lower on the chart. Why? Because of one measley loss to Niagara earlier this season. Take that loss away, or turn it into a win, and it immediately flips those three comparisons in St. Lawrence's favor, and we'd be talking about a team that was already all but assured an NCAA bid.
As it stands, it almost has no chance without winning the ECACs.
Vermont avoided disaster by getting a split with BU, and thus kept itself alive by staying close to .500 in record vs. TUC. That gives it a chance to still flip a few comparisons and gain ground. It really needs to sweep its first-round Hockey East series, though, and that's going to be against a major foe. This weekend's series against Massachusetts-Lowell practically has no bearing.
17. Michigan Tech
If Michigan Tech somehow sweeps Minnesota this weekend, it will probably flip comparisons with Michigan State and Colorado College, and be on the positive side of the bubble. How about that?
Don't count out the Minutemen. The best scenario for them has them defeating Vermont in the Hockey East playoffs. That will go a long way because of the head-to-head there, and various COP scenarios.