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March 15, 2011 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Bracket ABCs: Conference Championship Edition

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

With the quarterfinal series complete, we now have our "You Are the Committee" tool at our disposal to help figure out all of the Pairwise possibilities. Though, it should be said, there are still hundreds of combinations of results.

The bracket picture is somewhat clearer now, though with things very much in flux on the bubble. Assuming there are no "upsets" in the conference tournaments — i.e., teams that wouldn't ordinarily be at-large teams, qualifying for the NCAAs by winning the conference tournament and getting an automatic bid — there are 15 slots available. And, it seems, there are 17 teams competing for those 15 slots.

Really, though, if focusing just on those who are on shaky ground, you're looking at probably six teams competing for the final four slots.

A reminder for those who might just be joining the party now, you can get up to speed on how the Pairwise works, and what all of the jargon means, by reading our Pairwise Primer. The biggest thing to know for this article is what a "TUC" is. A "TUC" is a Team Under Consideration, which means any team with a .500 or better RPI. The "RPI" is the Ratings Percentage Index, which is something most NCAA sports use to factor strength of schedule into the ratings. "Record vs. TUC" is one of the important criteria used in the Pairwise.

Remember too to keep an eye on the Pairwise Live Blog this weekend, as we talk about the shifting fortunes as the games come in.

The teams are listed below in an order as if every higher seed won the games this weekend, NOT according to the current Pairwise.

1. Yale

Yale would've clinched the No. 1 overall seed by losing Game 3 of the quarterfinals Sunday. On the other hand, with Colgate upsetting Union, Yale can only play one TUC at most at the ECAC tournament. On the other hand — yes, there are three hands — Colgate is a common opponent of Yale and Boston College. If Yale loses to Colgate — even though Colgate is not a TUC — and even if Yale wins the ECAC consolation game, it would then lose the Record vs. Common Opponents to BC, thus lose the overall comparison to BC, and thus drop to the No. 3 overall seed.

So for Yale, it now has a definitive either/or for a No. 1 overall seed — beat Colgate, it's No. 1 overall; lose to Colgate, it's No. 3 overall. No matter what, Yale is the No. 1 seed in Bridgeport. The difference will be between playing RIT and playing Nebraska-Omaha, Colorado College, or someone like that.

2. North Dakota

There is no WCHA consolation game anymore, which could help or hurt, depending on what you need. If North Dakota loses the semifinal, then it would want the consolation. That's because it will take only one loss to knock North Dakota below Boston College, if BC wins Hockey East. If North Dakota goes 1-1 — which it can only do by losing the final — then it would stay above BC.

Whether North Dakota is 1, 2 or 3 overall, it will likely play in Green Bay.

3. Boston College

Whether BC is 1, 2, or 3, it will play in Manchester unless New Hampshire is a No. 4 seed — which seems highly unlikely now. Nothing has changed in that regard. Win Hockey East, combined with a loss by North Dakota and Yale in their semifinals, and BC would be No. 1 overall. Otherwise, if UNH isn't the No. 4 seed, expect to see BC playing someone like RPI or Dartmouth in Manchester in the first round.

BC can actually drop to No. 4 overall with a loss, and with Michigan winning the CCHAs. It probably won't make much difference in placement or the bracket, though.

4-5. Michigan, Miami

The CCHA teams are fairly volatile, in that they can go between the No. 4 and No. 10 overall seed fairly easily. And this includes Notre Dame — which can actually fall as low as No. 12 with two losses. If one of these two teams wins the CCHA tournament, it will be the No. 4 overall. If either goes 1-1, it will likely stay where it is. Either can drop as low as No. 10 with two losses. If Western defeats Miami in the final, with Michigan losing twice, then Miami can still get the No. 4 slot.

The bottom line is, it's very likely these two will wind up in the same bracket somewhere, just like last season, when Miami won in double overtime to take the Regional Final. But if either loses twice, then you're looking at a possible No. 3 seed somewhere.

No. 6 Denver

Denver could get the final No. 1 seed by winning the WCHA Tournament, while Michigan doesn't win the CCHA. This would get the Pioneers a berth in St. Louis, most likely, matched up with someone like Miami or Michigan in the other side of the bracket. If Denver loses to Minnesota-Duluth, it can drop down a slot, but if it loses to Bemidji State or in the final, it really isn't going anywhere. At that point, the Pioneers would be slotted wherever the No. 3 overall seed is slotted, so it depends on which team gets that No. 3. It could be a potential second-round matchup against North Dakota again.

No. 7-8-9 Union, Minnesota-Duluth, Merrimack

We finally get to the first team on the list that's not playing this weekend — Union. That of course limits Union's downside, and means it is in the NCAAs for the first time in Division I. In this scenario, with all the higher seeds winning, Union is looking at a trip West where it would play someone like Notre Dame then maybe North Dakota. But if Union drops a slot or two, you're looking at being in Yale's bracket in Bridgeport, perhaps. (Of course, it's the opposite if Yale loses twice in the ECACs and slips.)

Meanwhile, Minnesota-Duluth can still capture the final No. 1 seed slot, if it wins the WCHA Tournament while Michigan doesn't win the CCHAs. It will need to win three straight tough games again to do it, like it did a couple seasons ago.

Finally, Merrimack can move up a slot by defeating New Hampshire, but can get the last No. 1 seed with a Hockey East tournament win — and it doesn't even need Michigan to lose.

No. 10 Notre Dame

As we said above, the Irish are in a volatile slot. They look safe, because it seems they can only drop as low as No. 12, even with two losses.

In a scenario where Merrimack gets to the Hockey East final and loses, and Miami defeats Michigan in the CCHA consolation, while Notre Dame wins the CCHA Tournament — Notre Dame beats out Miami for the final No. 1 seed by .0001 RPI.

That makes five teams still with the possibility of getting the No. 1 seed. Only Union, because it isn't playing, has no ability to move up to No. 1 among the top 10 teams.

No. 11 New Hampshire

One thing we know, New Hampshire will be in Manchester — assuming it is in. The 'Cats are close to a lock, but it's not totally done. If New Hampshire defeats BC instead of loses, it goes up to No. 7. UNH could go as high as No. 5 if things break crazy. But if the Wildcats lose, the only "normal" way it falls lower than 11 is if Colorado College advances. There are other scenarios, however, where UNH could drop to No. 14, and thus be in jeopardy for losing a spot if other conference autobids go to "upset" teams.

No. 12-13 Colorado College, Nebraska-Omaha

It looks like CC is in with one win. A loss to UAA, and the Tigers will be most likely out. It's that simple. Nebraska-Omaha is in OK shape, but could start teetering if things start to break bad. See the Rensselaer section for more on that.

No. 14 Dartmouth

Dartmouth has been in this situation before with a much better roster. But here it stands again, since Bob Gaudet resurrected this program, on the precipice of the NCAAs for the first time since 1980, and needing just one win at the ECAC Tournament to get in. That should do it, but only if one of the wins isn't against Colgate (a non-TUC). But this has happened before, and Dartmouth has lost both and not gotten in.

No. 15. Rensselaer

It's allliiiiiivvvvvve. Yes, the Engineers, which would have nearly three weeks between games, can still very well make the NCAAs. As you can see, if all higher seeds win, RPI is in by the skin of its teeth. But some scenarios have the Engineers as high as No. 12.

All that really needs to happen for RPI to get in is Western Michigan losing two games at the CCHA Tournament, barring other freaky stuff. It hurts RPI if UNH wins the Hockey East Tournament, but it could still get in anyway. I think there are many more ways RPI gets in than doesn't.

In fact, there is a plausible scenario for 5 — count 'em FIVE — ECAC teams making the NCAAs. The caveat is, it starts with the assumption that Colorado College wins the WCHA Tournament — which would take three straight wins. If that happens, CC will flip the comparison with Nebraska-Omaha, knocking the Mavericks down. ... So, starting with that assumption — if Dartmouth loses the semifinal, but defeats a TUC in the consolation game, then it will get in. To play a TUC in the consolation, Yale must also lose to Colgate in the other semifinal. Dartmouth must then defeat Yale in the consolation game. Thus, Dartmouth and RPI would both sneak into the top 14, with Nebraska-Omaha being the odd one out. And the ECAC Tournament champion would get the autobid and the 15th slot. Five teams.

Actually, wait ... upon further review, the five-team scenario also works if CC loses to UAA in the WCHA play-in — thus knocking out CC — and the other ECAC things happen (as long as UAA doesn't then win the WCHAs). Also, New Hampshire can't win the Hockey East Tournament.

16. Boston University

The Terriers would likely be in by now if they had won Game 3 Sunday against Northeastern. But they can still make it. As you can see, if every higher seed won, BU would just be one slot away. This includes Western Michigan, the No. 4 seed in the CCHA, losing twice. But if Dartmouth also loses twice (which has happened a couple times before with Dartmouth on the bubble), then BU would move up.

Now, you might think that Colorado College losing on Thursday — a mild upset to Alaska-Anchorage — may also turn things in BU's favor. But actually, while it does drop CC, the bigger beneficiary would be Western Michigan. So even if WMU loses twice, so long as CC also loses, then the Broncos stay put and BU misses out.

17. Western Michigan

WMU will get in, in most scenarios, if it can just win a game in Detroit. That will be hard, however, with Michigan then Miami/Notre Dame in the way. But there's almost no way WMU fails to get in if it wins one game.

18. Maine

OK, I'm hearing some crazy stuff about there being a scenario where Maine gets in. It involves Northeastern winning the Hockey East tournament, and thus becoming a TUC. And then lots of other stuff. But it's possible, which is crazy.

By the way, a disclaimer: I've been writing about the Pairwise for 15 years, dissecting it, criticizing it, explaining it, etc... That said, it has its flaws, and those should be discussed. But just not at this time. Now is for dissecting. Anyway, like democracy, it might be a bad system, but it's better than all the others.

That's it folks. Check the Pairwise Live Blog for updates.

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