NCAA Tournament Bracket ABCs
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
This is the latest Bracket ABCs, the Analysis, Breakdown and Comparison of the NCAA tournament hopes for the teams that are in the mix.
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.
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. It's all based upon the current Pairwise Comparison Ratings.
And coming after this weekend's games, CHN brings back You Are the Committee, the tool where you can project winners, and see who would make the NCAAs under different scenarios. Plus, for all the tournament brackets and more, see CHN's Tournament Watch page.
1. Boston University
Three weeks ago, we said that it seemed unlikely BU would be anything but the top overall seed. All that's happened is, that's even more likely now. So assuming that's the case, the only question remains whether the Terriers will be in Manchester or Bridgeport, and it's still going to depend on where New Hampshire finishes in the Pairwise. I don't think the committee will put BU in Manchester just because it's technically closer than Bridgeport. The difference is not significant enough to matter. The committee will try to place the No. 1 overall seed with the No. 8 overall seed, and if No. 8 is not UNH, that would mean going to Bridgeport.
In fact, even if UNH is No. 8, would the committee "protect" the top seed by moving it away from the virtual home team's building? I don't think so, since that would be a second-round game, and the committee has in recent years not taken much interest in worrying about second-round matchups in regards to "protection" and avoiding intra-conference matchups.
2-3. Notre Dame, Michigan
If these teams both remain No. 1 seeds — which they likely will if they both advance to the CCHA championship game — it will make for some interesting dynamics over where to place the teams. The committee philosophy of protecting the top seeds will clash with geography, especially if Minnesota makes the tournament as a No. 4 seed (as it currently would). There's no telling where the teams will all wind up at this point, but, for example, if it ends as it is now, there will be some interesting decisions. New Hampshire is currently No. 7 overall and Minnesota is a No. 4 seed, while Denver is the other No. 1 seed. Will the committee keep Notre Dame away from New Hampshire and Minnesota for "protection," or will it try to match up 2-7 as it has done in recent years? Which will take precedence?
If Denver winds up a No. 1 seed, most likely, it would have gone to Minneapolis. However, with Minnesota currently sitting in a No. 4 seed slot, that won't happen. That means Denver could be shipped anywhere. It may be a case of being shipped to whatever spot is left open after the other three are placed first.
5-6. Northeastern, Vermont
These two look assured an NCAA bid at this point, but there are a lot of interesting dynamics at play as to where they will wind up — mainly because UNH also currently sits as a No. 2 seed. If all three of those teams win their quarterfinal Hockey East series, it's likely they will all end up as No. 2 seeds as well — because no one can lose two games in Boston (because Hockey East doesn't have a consolation game). That means at least one of the teams is going West, because UNH is hosting one of the East regionals. And it's possible that both of them can go West. For example, if BU is in Bridgeport, and is matched against the No. 8 seed (1. vs. 8.), and Northeastern-Vermont-UNH are 5-6-7, then Northeastern and Vermont will both go West.
7. New Hampshire
Hosting. See above.
8. North Dakota
The Sioux won't get much Pairwise help from its series against Michigan Tech next weekend. If they do wind up winning the Final Five, a No. 1 seed is possible, but still unlikely, unless there's a bunch of Hockey East upsets.
It looks like 13 is about as far as North Dakota could fall, and that's if everything goes wrong, meaning it looks pretty safe for an NCAA spot.
Two games against Brown this weekend, and it better not mess them up like Harvard did. That's first things first. Assuming that goes well, Yale should be OK for the NCAAs, unless teams like Ohio State, Minnesota and St. Lawrence all make runs. Yale could still get a No. 2 seed, though No. 3 seems more likely. Given that it hosts in Bridgeport, and given that BU would be there, Yale would get a first-round game against whatever team finishes No. 8 overall.
10-12. Cornell, Princeton
Both of these teams first need to get through the next round unscathed, though Princeton will have a tougher time with Union that Cornell with Rensselaer, presumably. Both have to be careful of Ohio State and St. Lawrence at No. 14 moreso than Minnesota at No. 13. Even by winning the next four games, it might be tough for these teams to reach a No. 2 seed anymore. If they both get in the three spot, then their placement will be affected by Yale, which has to be in Bridgeport.
The Big thing for the ECAC getting at least three teams in the NCAAs at large, is getting Yale, Cornell, Princeton through to Albany unscathed. After that, they can't all lose twice, so it should be OK.
The risk to Miami would be in losing its quarterfinal series with Northern Michigan, which is possible, given how well the Wildcats have played lately. Get through that, and the RedHawks should be OK. If the No. 1 seeds stay the same, and Miami drops to a No. 4 seed, then it would match up against Denver, by default. Otherwise, it all depends.
The Gophers moved up the charts thanks, in part, to Alaska-Anchorage entering the Top 25 in RPI. Believe it or not, that little blip helped flip a comparison with Vermont, by a tiny margin in the Record vs. TUC. Minnesota already bests Vermont in the record vs. common opponents, because of strong showings against New Hampshire and Northeastern. Now Anchorage is playing in Denver this weekend, so could easily slip off — and the Gophers face quite a bit of Pairwise pressure from from teams like Minnesota-Duluth, and other WCHA foes. Plus, their own series with St. Cloud State won't be easy. So the Gophers are far from secure.
If they do hang on, and do so as a No. 4 seed, they really throw a monkey wrench into things for the committee. Minnesota is hosting, so must be in Minneapolis, which would force Denver to go East, probably to Manchester. And because of other hosting situations, it would make having a clean "serpentine" bracket impossible.
14. Ohio State
Ohio State clings to this spot despite losing Pairwise comparisons to three WCHA teams below it in the overall rankings — Minnesota-Duluth, St. Cloud State, and Alaska-Anchorage. Interestingly, Ohio State and Anchorage play the two teams they currently share as common opponents — Alaska-Fairbanks and Denver, respectively. This actually means that Ohio State has the ability to take advantage of these comparisons, and flip them with a strong weekend against Fairbanks. Only problem is, beating Fairbanks twice will probably bounce the Nanooks from the list of Teams Under Consideration, instantly de-valuing those wins.
Oh the wicked ways of the Pairwise.
If OSU does make it as a No. 4 seed, it would have to face Denver by default (just like Miami would), assuming BU, Michigan and Notre Dame are the other three No. 1s.
15. St. Lawrence
Start on the assumption the Saints win both games against Quinnipiac. To make the tournament from there, without winning the ECAC, would mean going 1-1 against the likes of Yale, Princeton and Cornell. That's going to be hard to pull off, simply because they don't gain much out of beating Quinnipiac — unless Minnesota and Ohio State stumble this weekend. Remember, you need to be Top 14 and no other dark horse conference tournament autobid champs to get an at large bid.
16. Colorado College
The two ties against Clarkson at the beginning of the season, are currently hurting CC's comparisons against both St. Lawrence and Ohio State — the two teams that each have nine Pairwise wins, just like CC. St. Lawrence was 2-0 against Clarkson this season, and Ohio State was 1-0. CC can pass those teams in other ways, but that is making it more difficult. First things first, defeat Minnesota-Duluth. Then, in this case, having the play-in game actually benefits CC in terms of an at-large bid. It might make winning the whole thing more difficult, but getting that extra game means the Tigers can go 2-1 at the Final Five, and actually have that create a positive effect.
17. Air Force
We'll continue to maintain the Falcons need to win the AHA tournament to make the NCAAs — even though the oracle does project some possibilities where this may not be the case.
Obviously, it's pivotal for the Bulldogs to win the series against CC this weekend. But this is one of those times where doing so can really, really help. A series win this weekend, and a number of comparisons can be flipped, sending UMD right back up. Note, despite being No. 18, really, UMD only has one less comparison win than Ohio State at No. 14. So there's territory to be made up here.
19. Boston College
OK, the Eagles aren't totally dead in the water. But it would take a sweep of New Hampshire this weekend, at least. BC's record against TUC is dreadful, and even that won't help, but it would help enough in RPI to start flipping some of those comparisons. Whether it's enough to actually move into the 14th spot, is sketchy at best, but there's a dim light still on for the defending champs.