Bracket ABCs: Regular-Season Conclusion Edition
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
What do our eyes behold with another weekend behind us?
As we always say, there's not much use to projecting a bracket based on how things stand now, when they won't be this way soon enough. But we can use a "how is it now" scenario to illustrate some possibilities. You'll see those sprinkled in below. An overall issue, though, is how much this year's committee will factor attendance and geography into the equation. Every year, the people on the committee change to some extent, and so the philosophy is always in flux. Last year, the committee did more to tweak things by geography than was expected, but in other years, it didn't bother. There's also not any absolutes — these are subjective decisions based on a variety of factors that all have to be weighed against each other.
Despite RIT's great run last year, it's still a significant difference to be the No. 1 overall seed as opposed to No. 2. Atlantic Hockey fans should not take offense, that's just reality. If things ended now, Yale would play RIT. If Yale was No. 2 overall, it would play Boston University.
Yale is going to lose the RPI criterion to North Dakota, and win the Record vs. Common Opponents. The only common opponent is Colorado College, and Yale won that game while North Dakota is currently 1-1. There's no way Yale could lose that. So it comes down to Record vs. TUC. See below for a discussion of that. It's likely that Yale will finish no lower than No. 2 at this point.
Yale must play in Bridgeport, regardless of seed. According to organizers, that is the best-selling regional so far, no doubt spurred on by Yale fans who have been packing Ingalls Rink this year.
2. North Dakota
Every game North Dakota has played this year is against a current TUC. Therefore, its overall record is 24-8-3 as is its Record vs. TUC. That's pretty remarkable. That will change, however — the Sioux's next four games (or five) will all be against Michigan Tech, which is not a TUC. So the best North Dakota can finish in the TUC category is 26-8-3 (by winning both games at the Final Five), which is a .743 percentage.
So in order to become No. 1 overall, Yale would have to drop below .743. Currently, the Bulldogs are .800 with a 12-3 record. The only possible TUC Yale can play in the ECAC quarterfinals is Quinnipiac. So Yale would need to lose that series in order to drop far enough. Or, win that series and lose two games in Atlantic City.
It gets even harder for North Dakota if Bemidji State and/or Alaska-Anchorage fall off the TUC Cliff, which could happen, and might even be likely. That will worsen North Dakota's TUC record.
It seems very like that North Dakota will wind up in the Green Bay Regional, no matter its seed. If things ended now, you'd be looking at being there with Boston University, Merrimack and Miami — which is quite the Regional. Although Miami could easily be moved to avoid some issues, noted below.
3. Boston College
It would appear difficult for Boston College to do much better than third, though of course it's possible. The only thing propping the Eagles up against Denver, for example, is two head-to-head wins. BC could drop as far as No. 6 or 7 with two losses this weekend to New Hampshire. But it wouldn't be able to go up with just those two wins.
Certainly, any major stumbles to TUCs and BC would play its way out of a No. 1 seed. But no matter what, BC appears headed to play in Manchester. Even as a No. 2 seed matched up against the 3/4 overall, it would probably be there. And if it's a No. 1 seed, it most certainly will be there — unless New Hampshire is a No. 4 seed, which would knock BC out West.
Michigan was teetering near the bubble after losing two games to Miami, but has since won six straight to rocket to No. 1 seed territory.
Michigan currently outpaces Denver for this slot because of wins over Colorado College and Michigan Tech, teams that Denver has a total of three losses against. It has very little upside — perhaps only to No. 3. That means Michigan is all but certain to be placed in St. Louis if it gets a No. 1 seed.
In the dreaded "if things ended today" scenario, you'd see Rensselaer in this bracket, along with Denver. Then it would get tricky because the No. 12 overall is New Hampshire, but UNH must been in Manchester. No. 11 is Minnesota-Duluth, but it couldn't play Denver in the first round. So this is where Miami would be switched to, as noted above.
Two losses to Boston College this season cause some resistance to moving up, but Denver could still certainly get as high as No. 2 if it wins out and North Dakota stumbles. If Denver stays around this area, St. Louis seems a likely Regional location. If it falls at all, then it's anyone's guess — it all depends on how the brackets line up.
Union doesn't have many paths to gain ground, but it could plummet with a couple of losses in the ECAC Tournament. The good news: the worst it can do from here is 0-2. Those losses would be most damaging against Harvard, because it would hurt the Common Opponents record with Merrimack. But otherwise, Union won't face a TUC in the quarterfinals.
Losing two games to Maine, a TUC, only dropped Merrimack from No. 5 to No. 7 overall, because its Record vs. TUC was so good to begin with. This week, Merrimack is playing a non-TUC — Providence. If Merrimack plays another TUC in the playoffs and loses twice again, it could plummet hard at that point. It could certainly fall far enough to miss the NCAAs entirely. Merrimack will have a tough quarterfinal series with either Northeastern or Maine, though only Maine right now is a TUC. Realistically, two wins this weekend, and at least one win in its quarterfinal series will be enough to secure a bid. Anything better, and the Warriors will be a solid No. 2 seed.
With two games against Minnesota-Duluth this weekend, UNO has the potential to move up a few slots still. Losing both would probably not knock the Mavericks all the way out of the NCAAs, but it would certainly put a lot of pressure on its WCHA playoff series.
9-10. Notre Dame, Miami
Both teams get a bye this week, then will play CCHA quarterfinal series the week after. These are basically just teams in the midrange that could move up with strong runs, or move down with a couple of losses. The big question is whether two losses in the CCHA quarterfinals would be enough to knock them off the bubble. Probably not, unless conference tournament upset champions take the lower slots away.
The Bulldogs have slowly dropped after lofty heights in early January. It has two home games with Nebraska-Omaha this weekend, and two more games vs. TUC to follow in the WCHA playoffs.
12. New Hampshire
It is so tight between No. 8 and No. 12, then one tiny thing can flip all the teams around. That's what makes prognosticating anything very difficult. You really just have to see how things play out. If a team's RPI dips or rises a few points, it could flip one comparison, which would be enough for a team like New Hampshire to move up into ties in overall comparison wins with other teams, which would also be broken with the RPI — setting off a chain reaction.
Like Minnesota-Duluth, the Wildcats are pretty strong against the teams below here, so it will take a lot to knock them off the bubble.
Despite going 1-4-1 in the last six, Rensselaer has managed to hang in there. The Engineers play Colgate in an ECAC playoff series this weekend. Colgate is not a TUC, but the Engineers' margin for error is slim, so two losses would still be enough to knock them out. And Colgate has been a hot team, despite finishing last.
Even if RPI wins this series, it would have to play at Cornell in the quarterfinals. So the Engineers have backed themselves against the wall here, and need to climb out of it.
What's helping, among other things, is a win over Yale — which keeps it safe from Colorado College in the common opponents category. Against BU, the Engineers beat BU, plus RPI is 2-0 against Brown as compared to BU's 0-1-1. RPI currently loses a comparison to Maine — something it could flip if Maine plays BU and does poorly, while RPI defeats Cornell.
14. Colorado College
Despite a worse RPI, Colorado College is winning the three comparisons against the three teams below it — BU, Dartmouth and Maine — based on very strong Records vs. Common Opponents against all three. So that is pretty immune to being flipped. Record vs. TUC can be flipped, however, and that's where the Tigers are vulnerable. It plays at Wisconsin twice this weekend, and two losses there will send CC rocketing out of the mix.
15. Boston University
BU finishes up the Hockey East regular season with a home-and-home against Northeastern. Right about No. 12 is about as high as you can reasonably expect BU to get without winning the Hockey East tournament.
The Big Green haven't made the NCAAs since 1980, despite being close so many times in recent years. They really shot themselves in the foot with a loss to Clarkson on Saturday. Now, with a bye week in the ECAC Tournament, Dartmouth has to sit and wait. It's possible it won't even play a TUC in the quarterfinals. It could face Princeton or Dartmouth, which would be a TUC.
Dartmouth needs wins vs. teams under consideration, plain and simple.
Interesting here is that, in this three-team scramble with BU and Maine, Dartmouth wins the comparisons against both — but is below BU because each team has the same amount of overall comparisons won, and BU wins that tiebreaker, which is RPI. That would be one of those quirky shames if Dartmouth was kept out as a result of that — especially since the committee does not have to break that tie with RPI. It could break it with how each team fares against each other in the individual comparison, as it used to do.
Maine got itself back into the conversation, at least, with two wins against Merrimack, giving the Black Bears one last gasp for an NCAA bid for the first time since 2007. It's basically a dogfight among RPI, CC, BU, Dartmouth, Maine and Western Michigan for these final three slots (or less, if there are unexpected conference tournament champs). The combination of wins and losses by all these teams is essentially the only factor.
If Maine does get a bid, it could get sent to St. Louis, home of its last Frozen Four trip in 2007.
18. Western Michigan
Western, looking for its first NCAA bid since 1996, is as close as it is thanks, still, to those comparison wins over Union and Colorado College. Western has the potential to flip the Record vs. TUC criterion with the likes of BU, Maine and Dartmouth. Obviously, that must begin with beating Ferris State in the CCHA quarterfinals in a couple of weeks. Going 2-1 there may not be helpful enough.
After doing that, WMU still needs to go at least 1-1 in the CCHA Final Four to make the NCAAs, unless those other teams simply all tank. Of course, if Western goes 2-0 at The Joe, it gets in as an automatical qualifier, and the rest of the conversation is academic.
Minnesota simply needs to flip a bunch of comparisons, about 3 or 4 of them, to move up the charts. It needs to simply win, win against TUCs, and have teams above it do the opposite. This one really ain't rocket science. One problem is that Minnesota plays Bemidji State twice this weekend. If the Gophers win both, that's great — except Bemidji State then would no longer be a TUC, making the wins useless or even harmful to the Gophers.
The next teams are St. Cloud State, Wisconsin, Ferris State, Alaska, Minnesota State and Princeton — all of which could make it with huge runs, but that huge run would, in all practicality, need to include a conference tournament championship. At that point, those teams would make it anyway.