NCAA Tournament Bracket ABCs
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
It's the first installment of Bracket ABCs for this year — Analysis, Breakdown and Comparison.
If you're new to what this is all about, it's a good idea to check out the CHN Primer. It helps you understand the NCAA's objective system for selecting teams for the NCAA tournament. It gives you the nitty gritty detail, and the historical context and explanation.
Something to keep an eye on again this year is how the committee breaks ties when two teams have the same amount of Pairwise Wins. The committee has been breaking that tie by comparing the two teams' RPI. In the past, it would look at the entire "comparison" between the teams. Knowing this, helps explain some things that have confused others in the past couple of years.
This year, a potential mistake was avoided, when the NCAA decided to delay "Regionalization" for a year. Most other prognosticators were not taking this possibility into account. Luckily, as of this week, we now know none of us have to.
So with that, here's a look at where things stand. This is not a breakdown of what the brackets would be like if the season ended today — because, after all, it doesn't end today. And it's not a projection. It's simply an analysis of who's probably in, where teams stand, what they have to do, and what the potential caveats will be for the committee when it starts placing teams.
And for all the tournament brackets and more, see CHN's Tournament Watch page.
1. Boston University
The Terriers' lead over the next few teams is so significant, it would take a major tanking to miss out on the No. 1 overall seed. The bigger question for the Terriers is, where will they wind up? Both eastern regionals are fairly close — Manchester, N.H., and Bridgeport, Conn., though Manchester is significantly closer, relatively speaking.
The issue here is that New Hampshire, which hosts the Manchester regional, could be a No. 4 seed. If so, the committee will look to avoid a first-round matchup between the two teams. Not to mention the desire of giving the No. 1 overall seed the "easiest" possible first-round game. If UNH stays as a No. 3 seed, as it currently is, then it won't be an issue; BU could go either place.
But how about this nightmare scenario for the committee: New Hampshire and Yale make it as No. 4 seeds. Yale is hosting in Bridgeport. Now what? Chaos, that's what. Send BU off to Grand Rapids to play the Atlantic Hockey champ? Or keep BU in Bridgeport to play Yale? The committee would probably pick the latter.
The Wolverines have a pretty good edge at No. 2 right now, and that's even with losing the comparison with Notre Dame. If that flips around, which it could, the edge will be even stronger. There's practically no chance that Michigan will be anywhere but in Grand Rapids. The only way it would not be, is if Miami or Notre Dame passes it in the Pairwise, and the committee decides to protect the No. 2 seed from having to play in Minneapolis against the Gophers. That's a lot of ifs right now.
3-4. Northeastern, Vermont
These teams have very little room to maneuver up, given the difficulty of flipping comparisons with either BU or Michigan. There's pressure on the downside, however, because both teams are benefitting from having Maine be a "Team Under Consideration" at the moment. If Maine falls out, Northeastern and Vermont will lose TUC wins.
Assuming one of them is a No. 1 seed, it will take the slot in whatever regional BU does not go to. If both wind up No. 1 seeds, one is going to Minneapolis to potentially face the Gophers. Not fun, but them's the breaks. If Minnesota winds up a four seed, someone is getting hurt by it, no matter how you slice it.
We could see bedlam in the following scenario: three Hockey East teams are No. 1 seeds, and New Hampshire is a No. 4 seed. Who plays New Hampshire in the first round? Michigan would be the only one that avoids a first-round intra-conference matchup, and that is typically considered the most sacrosanct committee edict. But then Michigan would have to travel, AND play at a host team. Not exactly fair to the Wolverines. This is another one the committee would rather not think about right now.
5-6. Notre Dame, Miami
These teams have some ability to move up, particularly if Maine drops off as a TUC; but obviously more room to go down. If they do stay as two seeds, they will simply go according to the serpentine ordering of the Pairwise bracket — unless they need to avoid playing Michigan. If either get a No. 1 seed, it will likely play in Minneapolis.
The Bulldogs have a very good record vs. TUC (5-1-1), but haven't played enough games yet to get that criterion counted. There's a huge game this weekend against Princeton, that will move the chains in either direction. Yale will still need two other games against TUCs and win them in order to get a real boost, and it just won't have much chance to get those games until the ECAC tournament final four. So assuming it doesn't fall off the map, Yale will be a No. 2 or 3 seed, at the regional it is hosting, a few miles down the road from New Haven in Bridgeport.
The Pioneers' near-.500 record against TUCs puts it on shaky ground with a number of comparisons they are currently winning. Lose a couple key games to the wrong teams, and Denver could drop fast. We know that one way or another, Denver is flying, so it doesn't matter what bracket it is placed in from a travel perspective. It will not be in Minneapolis should the Gophers be a three seed and Denver a two. But otherwise, Denver will go wherever the cookie crumbles.
9-10. Princeton, Cornell
Princeton has been OK lately, Cornell has struggled. These teams can ill afford to lose many more games and still make it at large.
We already talked about the possible bedlam with New Hampshire as a No. 4 seed. Well, there is bedlam of a different sort to be had if UNH is a three seed, and so are Princeton and Cornell. In that case, who plays Yale? New Hampshire can't, and Princeton and Cornell are same-conference, so that would presumably be out. It would have to be a western school. Then, what if Yale is No. 5 overall, and BU is No. 1. The committee wants to match up 1 vs. 8 — but may be forced to do 1 vs. 5 in that scenario, because of all the other factors.
So much can happen, but these are some tricky things to keep an eye on.
11. New Hampshire
12-13-14-15. North Dakota, Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth, Wisconsin
The mushy middle. Any or all can make it, and most likely, it will at least be two. But because these teams will play each other a lot down the stretch, it will be tough for all four to get in. And possibly only two would get in, leaving the WCHA with only three teams in the tournament — the first time that would happen under a 16-team field.
We know Minnesota, if it gets in, will be in Minneapolis. After that, it's up for grabs. From there, it should be pretty simple — whichever of these teams wins more games in the coming weeks will get in. The teams that don't, will stay home.
16. Ohio State
What's hurting Ohio State right now is a 3-6-1 record against TUCs. The good news is, if the Buckeyes can boost that up, they can pick up a few comparisons. And they will get that opportunity, because the final four games of the regular season are two each against Michigan and Miami. Splitting could be enough to help, so long as they win a game in Detroit at the CCHA final four. It's a tall order, but it's there in front of them, with the four WCHA teams currently ahead of them bound to lose games here and there.
17. Boston College
The defending national champs have struggled to find a rhythm in the second half of the season, and the clock is running out. BC's win over Wisconsin earlier this year is keeping alive the possibility of flipping comparisons with that bunch of WCHA schools. The right combo of wins for the Eagles, and losses for those other teams, could push BC far enough up the pack. So hope is not gone yet.
18-19. St. Lawrence, St. Cloud State
This is what you'd have to call the far edge of practicality, in terms of a realistic chance to make the NCAAs at large. Even with that, it will take a lot. But either team has the capability to run the table in their conference tournament, and upset the apple cart anyway.