UPDATE: Bracket ABCs
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Updated Monday afternoon with some additional tidbits, as we sift through feedback from people using CHN's You Are The Committee.
Whoops. Sorry Pioneers.
The last two weeks, we've been saying that it looked as though, for all intents and purposes, the teams sitting in the 5-12 spots in the Pairwise were assured NCAA bids. It didn't appear that those teams could fall far enough to drop below No. 14. So barring a lot of upsets in the conference tournaments that created fewer at-large spots, those teams were safe, even though they could potentially drop to 4-seed territory.
Well, once again, we were bitten by the TUC issue. And since "Record vs. TUC" is a key Pairwise component, that's pretty vital. A "Team Under Consideration" (TUC) is a team that is in the Top 25 of the RPI. There are so many permutations and combinations, that it's often difficult to tell how teams will fluctuate in and out of that Top 25. And games that you might not think matter, wind up having an effect.
So there's the excuse.
Point is, it turns out, thanks to the end-of-season meltdowns by Miami, Maine and Denver, three of those eight teams that were in the 5-12 range were sent into serious jeopardy. And in the case of Denver, for the second straight season, it seems the Pioneers have been eliminated after losing a first-round WCHA series. A bitter pill to swallow for that program (though scenarios exist that get Denver in — see below).
The NCAA can't be very happy either; the West Regional is being hosted by Denver, and with both the Pioneers and Colorado College out of the tournament, will people show up to watch games at the Pepsi Center? Well, at least the tickets are probably sold — and maybe Air Force will win the Atlantic Hockey tournament.
Meanwhile, the likes of Massachusetts, St. Lawrence and Michigan Tech are set to crash the party. And in Atlantic Hockey and College Hockey America, we will have two teams that never made the NCAAs before.
The good news is, thanks to our "You Are the Committee" tool (and because there are only a handful of games remaining now before the NCAAs start), we can more easily project what will happen depending on the results of next weekend's games.
So here's how it currently breaks down:
Nothing much has changed here. (See last week's article for rumination about the top seeds and where they are likely headed.) The only thing is, the committee could now conceivably feel more comfortable about sending Minnesota to the Denver regional, because the Denver Pioneers are not going to make the tournament.
2. Notre Dame
With Minnesota going West now a possibility, will Notre Dame wind up in nearby Grand Rapids? If the Gophers go to Grand Rapids, then the Irish will go to Rochester.
3. St. Cloud State
Coming off the thrilling first-round series with Minnesota-Duluth, not much has really changed for the Huskies either. They look locked in to playing at Denver or Rochester, depending on what happens with Minnesota.
UPDATE: There may be some scenarios where SCSU drops out of a No. 1 seed, mainly if it loses two games and BC wins two games. But even then, it's unlikely.
4-5. New Hampshire/Clarkson
This is no longer a lock for New Hampshire. It didn't seem likely the last couple of weeks, but because of the shifts in which teams are TUCs, the Golden Knights could easily flip this comparison and take the No. 1 seed away from the Wildcats by simply doing better in their conference tournament than UNH does. This means going 1-1 if UNH loses the semifinal, or going 2-0 if UNH goes 1-1. That would give Clarkson a flip in the Record vs. TUC criterion, and a flip in the comparison.
Now ... here's the caveat. Be careful what you wish for. All this means is that Clarkson would have to go to Manchester and face UNH in the regional final. In fact, this will happen either way if things hold. This is like when Cornell was faced with this scenario two years ago against Minnesota. It seems like it's the ECAC getting the short end of these things.
Question: Would the committee send Clarkson to nearby Rochester instead if it was a No. 1 seed? Hmmmmm .... A case could be made. Of course, then that is not fair to St. Cloud State at No. 3.
By the way, the only reason UNH is in any jeopardy is because it lost the two RPI bonus wins against CC from early in the season. Because CC dropped out of the Top 15 of the RPI, the Wildcats' road wins there in October no longer are credited.
6-10. Boston College, Boston University, North Dakota, Michigan, Michigan State
At this point, these teams are secure. No really, they are. Miami, Denver and Maine dropped out of that mushy middle in the 5-12 range we've been talking about the last two weeks, and instead, Michigan State helped itself out big-time with a convincing two-game sweep of Nebraska-Omaha. Even better, UNO is currently hanging on to that last TUC spot, which means those wins have even more impact. The Spartans can thank Alabama-Huntsville for that, for knocking off Niagara, and keeping Niagara out of the Top 25 of RPI and thus keeping UNO in.
Welcome to the NCAAs Minutemen. Or is it? Four straight wins against Maine in eight days. That combined with the meltdowns from Denver and Miami, pushed the Minutemen shooting up the charts. Wow.
Here's the trouble spots for the Minutemen as best we can tell: Dartmouth and Miami. If UMass loses its HEA semifinal to New Hampshire, and Dartmouth wins the ECACs, UMass would lose two comparisons. That still probably isn't enough to drop it out of the NCAAs, but it would be closer. Otherwise, the Minutemen appear pretty safe.
One thing to look out for, if the seeds hold more or less as they are now, UMass can't play BU or BC in the first round. And if UNH drops to a No. 2, those teams couldn't play either. It will limit the committee's options.
Even worse, it's possible UNH could drop out of a No. 1 seed, and Maine could creep into a No. 3 seed, meaning there would be five Hockey East teams between 5-12, which would make a first-round matchup against HEA teams impossible to avoid. That should send the committee's heads spinning. In that case, the committee would not switch seeds, it would simply bite the bullet, and create an intra-conference first-round matchup somewhere.
12. St. Lawrence
The loss by Niagara in the CHA semis was enormous for St. Lawrence, as we've been mentioning the last couple of weeks.
It looks unlikely that the Saints can take any comparisons from teams above them. So let's look at their risk from below:
Maine and Miami are right below, and both of those teams are idle. But with two losses in Albany, the Saints would probably lose the comparison again to both of them. That would put SLU right on the fence. Otherwise, it seems like if the Saints go 1-1, they will be in.
The committee doesn't say exactly what the "RPI bonus" is for "good wins." What we do know is that, this year, a bonus is applied if a team wins a road game against a non-conference opponent in the Top 15 of RPI. Maine, thanks to its unbeaten non-league record, has some bonus points (from two wins at North Dakota early in the season), and right now, that looks like the deciding factor for getting Maine into the tournament.
We don't know what the bonus is, but best estimates usually place it around .003. That bumps Maine up from 17 to 13.
If there was some sort of "down the stretch" criteria still in there, Maine would be done. But those early-season wins at North Dakota are looming huge. If they get Ben Bishop back, maybe the Black Bears can be a factor in the NCAAs. But you're looking at them playing Clarkson or St. Cloud State in the first round, assuming they get in.
Like Maine, Miami will be idle. Things can shift though because a team's RPI will still be affected by other results. So you just never know sometimes.
The only two teams in Miami's immediate vicinity that will be playing next weekend are Dartmouth and Michigan Tech. The RedHawks look secure against Dartmouth, but not against Tech. And, of course, Miami would also be out, no matter what, if Dartmouth or Michigan Tech actually win their tournament.
15. Michigan Tech
The Huskies are writing quite the story here down the stretch. They win their first playoff series since 1996, knock CC out of the WCHA playoffs and the NCAAs, and now will try to upset the applecart for Miami and/or Maine too.
And how's this for a twist: Even though UMD's triple overtime loss to St. Cloud State means that Tech has to play the Thursday 4-5 play-in game now against Wisconsin, it may actually work out to Tech's advantage. Here's why:
Tech can flip two comparisons just by going over .500 at the Final Five. This means either 2-1 or 3-0. But going 2-1 is certainly easier than going 2-0, right? If UMD won the series with St. Cloud, Michigan Tech would've skipped to Friday's semis, but then been under pressure to win both games to make the NCAAs. Now Tech just has to win the game against Wisconsin, and one of the two other games, and they will get in.
One of those comparisons is with Denver. The teams have an identical .500 Record vs. Common Opponents. This would change if Tech goes better than .500 at the Final Five. Denver is, of course, idle.
The other is with Miami, which is right about it in the Pairwise. In this case, Record vs. TUC would flip for the Huskies, and thus flip the whole comparison.
So Tech appears in the NCAAs, for the first time since 1981, with two wins at St. Paul ... or three, of course.
It looks like Dartmouth has some upward mobility if things break right, but at that point, it might as well just win the ECACs and automatically qualify. The Big Green haven't been to the NCAAs since 1980, when current coach Bob Gaudet was their goalie. They've been very close in recent years.
Oh, Denver, we hardly knew ye. These guys were bucking for a strong No. 2 seed just a couple a weeks ago, and then the bottom fell out. The one crying the most is the NCAA, which figured the Pioneers would be there in the West Regional in Denver, but now have to worry about who will go see these games. (What a twist if Air Force winds up as the Colorado representative out there, eh?)
Because the Pioneers, Maine and Miami are all idle, it will be next-to-impossible for any of them to move far enough for Denver to gain ground. The bonus points in the RPI is really showing here — that's where Maine jumps over Denver, on those grounds alone. If not for that, Denver might have a shot if Tech and Dartmouth faltered.
UPDATE: After playing around with some scenarios, it looks like Denver could get in if Wisconsin defeats Michigan Tech on Thursday, but doesn't win the WCHA; St. Lawrence and Michigan State both lose two games in their tournaments, but that a team like Quinnipiac or Lake Superior doesn't win the whole thing. Your mileage may vary.
Otherwise, the committee closed some loopholes this year, so don't expect anything goofy to come out of the Atlantic Hockey tournament, like it threatened to last year.