NCAA Tournament Bracket ABCs (Monday Feb. 23 Update)
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
This is a straight update of last week's Bracket ABCs — 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, 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 remains significant, despite the two ties with Northeastern. The RPI went down slightly as a result, but the No. 1 overall seed seems to be theirs for the taking. 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.
2-3. Notre Dame, Michigan
We said last week that Michigan was very secure playing in Grand Rapids as a No. 2 overall seed, unless passed by Notre Dame. And for the moment, that has happened. It has nothing to do with anything Michigan or Notre Dame did this past weekend: Michigan had a respectable split with Ohio State, and Notre Dame swept a non-TUC in Nebraska-Omaha.
All that happened to move Notre Dame, which was tied for fourth, up into a tie for second, was for the Irish to flip the comparison with Northeastern. And that happened more because of what we warned about with Northeastern last week, when we mentioned that the Huskies could drop hard if it loses Maine as a TUC. And Maine did in fact drop out as a TUC, plummeting Northeastern to seventh despite two very good ties with BU.
The committee could still very well put Michigan in Grand Rapids, even as a No. 3 overall seed. The committee won't necessarily just place Notre Dame there because it has "first rights." If Minnesota doesn't make the NCAAs, then Minneapolis is wide open, and no one needs to be "protected." So Notre Dame could very well go there anyway, keeping Michigan in its home state.
Last week we wrote: "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." ... Well, conversely, Denver did itself a big favor with the road sweep at Wisconsin. That really solidified its TUC record, and enabled it to flip some comparisons, particularly Vermont and Northeastern. 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, or four-one. But otherwise, Denver will go wherever the cookie crumbles. If things stay as they are now, Denver would be in Manchester or Minneapolis as a top seed.
Vermont didn't get hurt as much by Maine dropping out as a TUC as Northeastern did, so it pretty much stayed in the same spot despite getting just one point this past weekend.
The scenario is obviously still very possible that Vermont could be a No. 1 seed, and it will take the slot in whatever regional BU does not go to. If both Vermont and Northeastern 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.
Princeton had a much-needed weekend sweep, including a win over Yale, which basically flip-flopped the fortunes of those two teams.
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.
With things flipped around for the time being, the situation remains similar, but in reverse: where would Princeton go to avoid Yale? Manchester is the easy answer for now.
As we suggested last week, having Maine drop off as a "Team Under Consideration" really hurt Northeastern. Despite two very respectable ties with BU, the Huskies fell hard as a result of Maine's departure from the list right now. It means it now loses comparisons with three teams below it in the overall Pairwise — North Dakota, St. Lawrence and CC — because the record vs. TUC is not very good. Throw in the right mix of Common Opponents, and Northeastern's RPI edge can't sustain itself alone against some teams.
For more on Northeastern, see the Vermont discussion.
8-9-10. Cornell, New Hampshire, Miami
Cornell and New Hampshire really shored things up with solid weekends, particularly New Hampshire, which swept Boston College. Cornell's wins were merely maintenance wins, since they weren't against TUCs — although beating Rensselaer was a big factor in flipping the Miami comparison. The common opponents between Miami and Cornell are Rensselaer and Clarkson, so if Cornell loses to either of those two the rest of the way, it would knock the Big Red back down. Miami only got a tie and loss against Northern Michigan, so took a hit, and is not out of the woods. The fact that Miami is 3-1 against Michigan State, while North Dakota lost to Michigan State in the Great Lakes Invitational, is providing the RedHawks with a good buffer against the No. 11 Sioux at the moment.
There's a lot of tricky situations involving New Hampshire, and Cornell, to some extent. For that, see the other sections above.
11. North Dakota
North Dakota separated itself from last week's "mushy middle," by continuing its annual meteoric second-half rise. In this case, it was simply a road sweep in Anchorage, but it was sure better than the other WCHA bubble teams did. Combined with Yale's loss to Princeton, the Sioux was able to move up. At this rate, we may see a Princeton-North Dakota rematch, although somewhere in the East. Or, depending on how things fall, the Sioux could match up against an Eastern team in one of the Western regionals. right now, it's all Eastern teams in the No. 2 seed slots, so two of them would have to move.
Yale still has a good record vs. TUC, despite the loss to Princeton, but it still isn't counting. The Bulldogs have another big game, with Cornell, this weekend. The ECAC probably wants a tie, so neither team slips too far, with wins in those team's other games on Saturday. Yale will probably be a No. 3 seed in Bridgeport, where it hosts, just a few miles down the road from New Haven. But it can't afford to lose any game other than the Cornell one until getting to Albany for the ECAC final four — someplace the Bulldogs have never played.
The Bulldogs took advantage of Minnesota and Wisconsin's losses to solidify their spot here. It's very possible UMD could win up a four seed at Mariucci Arena. But with four WCHA teams just below here in the fringe bubble, there's so much that could happen to upset the apple cart for the Bulldogs.
14. St. Lawrence
We didn't foresee the Saints moving up so far, so fast, but that tricky "TUC cliff" came into play again. Having Massachusetts move into the ranks of TUC really helped St. Lawrence, which has beaten five other Top 15 teams this season. It helped the Saints flip the comparison with Northeastern, for instance. Obviously, this is a precarious spot for St. Lawrence still, but it means destiny is in its hands — although it will be rooting for UMass.
15. Ohio State
What's hurting Ohio State is still a shaky TUC record, despite the huge win over Michigan. OSU moved up a slot moreso because of Minnesota-Wisconsin dropping hard. OSU still has a good chance to boost itself with two games against Miami this weekend. Splitting could be enough to help, so long as they win a game in Detroit at the CCHA final four. Like we said last week: "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." Now it's more like counting on St. Lawrence to lose.
16-17-19-20. Colorado College, Wisconsin, Minnesota, St. Cloud State
The new "mushy middle" is now actually the "mushy edge of bubble." Wisconsin and Minnesota getting swept were killers. CC was the beneficiary, taking care of the Gophers, but it's coming from far back in the pack and has room to make up. Somebody in this pack is going to win some games down the stretch — they can't all lose, since many games will be against each other. But at least two will be eliminated, and likely three. And it's possible all four will be out if Yale, St. Lawrence and Ohio State play effectively down the stretch. That would leave three WCHA teams in the tournament at best, which hasn't happened in a 16-team field.
Yes, we left out Air Force. Flipping comparisons just seems unlikely at this point, because not everyone around them can lose enough, and the Falcons don't play enough games against TUCs. If they sweep RIT this weekend, RIT will no longer be a TUC. We also left out defending champs Boston College, now at No. 22 and looking pretty dead in the water.