NCAA Tournament: Bracket ABCs
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
(For those new to this, check out the history of past Pairwise commentaries.)
As fun as this kind of poking around can be, it is always a dubious task. For one, telling everyone how the brackets would look if the season ended today, is a bit useless, since, of course, the season doesn't end today.
On the other hand, trying to project the bracket is futile. So many things can happen. What we've tried to do in the past was give a sense of where teams line up, and where they could go, and point out various degrees of certainties or uncertainties. But even that proves troublesome. Last year, with a month to go, we were already convinced St. Cloud State would be a No. 1 seed and Denver would be in the tournament. Neither of those happened.
Our stumbling block last year was in the difficulty of reading the RPI, particularly the so-called "TUC Cliff." This is where teams move in and out of "Team Under Consideration" status based upon their RPI. But RPI is hard to forsee because of all the factors. And since "Record vs. TUC" is a major component of the Pairwise, the makeup of which 25 teams are considered TUCs is very important to the final list.
Nonetheless, we have been able to spot trends and potential NCAA committee pitfalls. Two years ago, we pointed out the oncoming trouble with a potential two-team Atlantic Hockey contingent, and where losing games for one team would benefit the league. We've been able to spot potential dilemmas in travel situations. And last year, we correctly pointed out the tiebreaking procedure for two teams.
This year, our record is already dubious, and we haven't really started yet. Earlier this season, we predicted the impending drop of Michigan State in the Pairwise list. That had to do, again, with the "Record vs. TUC" component. Nowadays, that component is only recorded if each team being compared have played 10 games against TUCs. Michigan State was about to hit its 10th game, but its record was lousy against TUCs. It stood to reason that the Spartans would fall hard once that component kicked in. However, by getting three points out of Michigan that weekend, the Spartans' RPI went up enough to compensate for the problem, and MSU didn't move in the Pairwise at all. In fact, they are pretty much in the same place now.
This doesn't stop us from making the same "sky is falling" declarations again, however. In this very article, there is another dire warning of "TUC Rule" disaster. Princeton is about to get TUCed — hard. (Actually, it already did. For more, see below.)
With that introduction, the rest might be anti-climactic, but here goes — an analysis of each team in the mix, listed in order of the current Pairwise:
If Michigan lost its next four games — none of which would be against Teams Under Consideration — it could still get a No. 1 seed. So the odds are that Michigan has that No. 1 seed locked up. This would put the Wolverines in the regional closest to home, which would be Madison, Wisconsin. That's still a 380-mile trip, and thus, a flight. But nothing else is remotely closer. The only way, it looks like, that Michigan would not wind up in Madison is if North Dakota passes them on the list and gets first dibs. But the distance from Grand Forks to Madison is about the same as Ann Arbor to the Albany regional. The point is, unless Minnesota State (293 miles from Madison according to Google) makes a charge into a No. 1 seed spot, it really doesn't matter. Michigan should be most concerned about getting Chad Kolarik back and healthy.
2. New Hampshire
Assuming New Hampshire holds a top seed, it will host the Worcester regional (95 miles from Durham, N.H.). It's going to be tough for New Hampshire to lose the edge it has on Colorado College and North Dakota, though it could easily lose with Miami. A UNH loss to Vermont in two weeks would tip the scales in Miami's favor, and cause a tie in the top. And if that happens, then UNH loses in RPI to CC and North Dakota, which is the tiebreaker.
3. Colorado College
The Tigers are hosting the West Regional in their home arena, so you know where they're going to be. That it will be as the No. 1 seed is looking increasingly likely. Depending on where things fall, Denver could line up in that bracket as well. The committee, judging by recent experience, would not put Denver in that bracket just because it wants to boost attendance. First of all, CC will take care of that enough. But second of all, the committee just doesn't worry about that anymore. So it would only happen if CC is No. 3 and Denver No. 6, or 2-7, or 4-5, etc... HOWEVER, if CC drops and Denver is a No. 1 seed, then most likely, Denver would be the No. 1 seed in the West Regional. And since CC HAS to be in the West Regional, those two would end up in the same bracket after all.
4. North Dakota
The only team North Dakota really has to worry about below it is Miami. If the Sioux play reasonably well, they will likely get a No. 1 seed. If they continue like gangbusters as they have been, there is no doubt, and they'll likely be in Albany. But if they play well and Miami plays better, and no other teams change, then Miami can flip-flop with the Sioux easily. Then North Dakota would be a No. 2 seed, probably against Miami in Albany anyway.
The RedHawks are in a weird spot right because they are a good team which has yet to reach the TUC status. So their strong 6-2-1 Record vs. TUC is currently not counting. And it may not. They play Ohio State in their final two regular-season games, then will have a bye, then a second-round opponent in the CCHA tournament that probably won't be a TUC either. If the RedHawks get upset, then they will never get the Record vs. TUC counted. Of course, by then, they'd have other problems, but you get the drift. If that does kick in, it means Miami will have won the CCHA semifinal, but then it better win the final too, or else it will just be 1-1 in those extra games. If Miami does win the CCHA title, it should be a No. 1 seed. If they lose before getting to Detroit, there could be nasty drop, but not so far to get it out of the tournament.
6.-9. Denver, Michigan State, Boston College, Minnesota State
All of these teams entertain the possibility of moving up to No. 1 seeds, with Denver having the best opportunity. Michigan State's best chance of picking up a comparison with a team above it, believe it or not, is with No. 1 Michigan. There's very little shot elsewhere. You're probably looking at a solid No. 2 seed there. Boston College should be safe for the NCAAs, but is in a precarious spot with the WCHA teams around it, like Minnesota State, St. Cloud State and Minnesota-Duluth. Minnesota State's biggest concern is also all the WCHA teams around it, which pick up spots thanks to all the intra-conference games which will take places in the next few weeks.
10. St. Cloud State / 12. Minnesota-Duluth / 14. Wisconsin / 15. Minnesota
At just 16-13-3, the Huskies are back and looking again, after once again failing to win an NCAA game last year. They, like the other three listed here — all WCHA teams — will be subject to the vagaries of the WCHA race over the next few weeks. These teams can all win or lose comparisons against each other at the drop of the hat, and whoever comes out the other side intact will get the spots. As many as seven WCHA can make the NCAAs, but by knocking each other around, a couple will probably get knocked off the bubble.
Clarkson's main concern to the down side is Wisconsin, and not much else. So there's not a lot of pressure pulling on Clarkson down. The Knights should be OK, and would go a long way with a win over Princeton this Friday. Getting to Albany and winning one game there will be plenty to get the Knights into the NCAAs for the second straight year.
13. Notre Dame
The Irish are barely hanging on to a few comparisons against teams below them. And the next four games they play will mean little in the Pairwise — unless they lose them, of course. So it's a precarious perch for the Irish, who probably need to reach the CCHA final to secure a bid.
Finally, we reach poor Princeton. Yes, it sure looked magical for the Tigers after last weekend's sweep of Cornell and Colgate. You looked at the Pairwise and — WOW! — the Tigers were 12th. Princeton's only made the NCAAs once, winning the 1998 ECAC tournament. But then, you look at the Pairwise on Monday, and Princeton is down at No. 16, tied with Boston University. After not having played a game. Princeton got screwed, you say? No — Princeton got TUCed.
You see, after Saturday, Princeton was 2-7 against Teams Under Consideration, meaning that component was not yet counting in any of Princeton's comparisons with other teams. That was a good thing — for Princeton. Clearly, though, once the Tigers played another game against a TUC, things were going to change — because Princeton was barely winning three comparisons to WCHA teams that it would instantly lose once the Record vs. TUC kicked in.
Well, Princeton didn't have to wait until Friday for this to happen. Thanks to the Pairwise quirks, after Sunday's games, Cornell became a TUC. With that, Princeton's record against TUC — adding in two WINS against Cornell this season — improved the Tigers' Record vs. TUC to 4-7, which kicked that component into play, and made them LOSE the comparisons with three WCHA teams. You dizzy yet? Ahhh, the fun has only just begun.
17-20. Boston University, Providence, Northeastern, Vermont
Any of these teams still have a realistic chance to make the NCAAs, but it will still take a big run in the Hockey East tournament to do it. And in most cases, the team probably needs to win the tournament. All these teams will play each other, and other good teams in the conference, so it will all shake down that way.