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March 17, 2012 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

NCAA Tournament Bracket ABCs: Championship Saturday Edition

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

The final Bracket ABCs before the selections, though you can follow how the games today are affecting the Pairwise through our Pairwise Live Blog.

Until then, use You Are the Committee to run different scenarios and see how it affects the final Pairwise.

There are still 17 schools battling for 15 at-large spots. Only Harvard at this point can take a spot from those 15. There are seven games remaining, so the number of scenarios has gone from more than 1.1 million to 288. Still a lot.

Keep in mind — the committee will try, in a perfect world, to keep a strict serpentine order to the seedings. In other words, put 1-8-9-16 in one bracket, 2-7-10-15 in another, and so on. So when you see us referring to the teams and how they'll go wherever their correlating No. 1 seed is located, that's what it means. The No. 1 seeds are placed first, and No. 6 overall will be placed, theoretically, where No. 3 overall is, and so on. That makes everything inter-related and more complicated to predict, but then easy to predict once the final games are played.

Special thanks to Jim Dahl's invaluable Pairwise probability chart. One note: He ran all of the scenarios based on each team having a 50/50 chance to win any given game. As we know, it's more complicated than that. But for these purposes, the data works well.

Other resources to keep an eye on:

* Current Pairwise Grid of Comparisons
* Pairwise Primer (How it Works)
* You Are the Committee
* Pairwise Live Blog
* Coming Saturday night: Our Final Projections, after the final game

1-2. Boston College, Michigan

Locked into the top two slots, in that order, no matter what happens. That means Boston College will be the No. 1 seed of the Worcester Regional, and Michigan will be the No. 1 seed of the Green Bay Regional.

Boston College will play the Atlantic Hockey champ, either Air Force or RIT, unless three CCHA teams fill the 13-15 slots. In that case, BC will face one of those teams and Michigan will get the Atlantic Hockey champ. Michigan is most likely to face Cornell, but it could be Merrimack if things break crazily and the Warriors get in.

3. Union

If Union wins the ECAC championship, it will hold the third slot, and be the No. 1 seed in the Bridgeport Regional, likely against one of those CCHA teams. With a loss, there's a minuscule chance Union drops to 8th, 9th or even as far as 11th, according to Jim Dahl's calculations. I can't find how, but with 192 possibilities still existing (down from over 1 million yesterday), it's still tough to find everything. Basically, Union's RPI will dip considerably with a loss, flipping some comparisons, depending on if Maine, Denver and Miami win Saturday.

4. North Dakota

A win, and North Dakota is third or fourth overall, depending on what Union does. If all of the higher seeds win — which means a North Dakota loss — the Sioux drop to No. 7, because of a .0001 difference in RPI with Ferris State and .0012 with Miami. The differences this year are so slight, though. It could mean the difference between playing BU in the first round and, say, Western Michigan. It's not that much of a difference really.

5. Ferris State

The Bulldogs aren't playing Saturday, so it can only fluctuate depending on the teams around it. They actually have a chance to move to No. 4, if North Dakota loses and other things break right. If so, it will be No. 1 in the St. Paul Regional.

6. Maine

Maine can still become a No. 1 seed with a win, plus a loss by either Union or North Dakota. A loss drops Maine to a third seed, probably against someone like Miami, Ferris State or North Dakota.

7. Minnesota-Duluth

A limited range now because of Friday's loss. If Denver or Miami win, it could slip a spot or two, and possibly match up with BU — in what would be a meeting of the Connolly brothers. Last time I remember that happening was the Murphy brothers in 2004 when Maine defeated Harvard.

8. Denver

A win would most likely mean moving up to a No. 1 seed and hosting the St. Paul Regional. A loss means a 3 seed.

9. Miami

Similar to North Dakota and Denver, a win could move Miami to a No. 1 seed and a loss keeps it in 3 seed territory.

10. Boston University

Not playing today, unlikely to move out of this slot.

11. Minnesota

Losses by Miami, Denver and Cornell could help slide Minnesota back up as a No. 2 seed. We know the Gophers will be in St. Paul because they are hosting a regional, but the possible complications of whether Minnesota-Duluth would be in the same bracket, are now moot. The No. 1 seed in St. Paul will likely be the No. 3 or No. 4 overall team, and so won't be afforded any "protection" of moving out of Minnesota's bracket. Not to mention that, if Minnesota is a 3 seed, the committee isn't going to assume a second-round matchup with Minnesota anyway. It's likely that Denver, Miami or North Dakota will be the 1 seed in St. Paul, but the Gophers will have to get through the likes of Maine or BU to get to that point.

12. Mass.-Lowell

Lowell is most likely stuck at 12. It has sealed an NCAA bid.

13. Cornell

Cornell can do no better than 13th, which likely means a date with Michigan in Green Bay. A loss in the consolation game appears to eliminate the Big Red, but Jim Dahl's calculations say it's 50/50 with a loss. Darned if I know how that is, though. (Edit: Actually, it's 50/50 without a win — which probably means a tie. So win or tie, Cornell is in. Lose, Cornell is out.)

14. Western Michigan

Western is already losing the comparison with Cornell, so even a loss in the final game won't do that much damage. The only comparison that can flip back is Michigan State because of the change in RPI, but WMU is too far ahead of Northern Michigan to fall below its RPI. So as long as Harvard doesn't win and take the 15th spot, then Western gets in even with a loss today.

15. Michigan State

Michigan State has one major issue to watch for — RIT. If RIT wins its Atlantic Hockey championship, it actually picks up a bunch of comparisons, including one over Michigan State. That's because Air Force is a TUC no matter what, and RIT's record against TUCs would go up enough to give it a big boost. Normally that would be OK, because Michigan State would win the other criteria — but in this case, RIT has wins this year over Ferris State and Lake Superior State, giving it a better record against common opponents. That could be enough to doom the Spartans. A big off-setting factor would be Cornell losing, but the Big Red are playing Colgate, which has nothing to play for.

If Air Force defeats RIT, Michigan State could be in trouble because Harvard could take the 15th spot. If this happens, MSU will need a Cornell loss for sure.

16. Northern Michigan

If Cornell loses, Northern Michigan moves up, which is enough to get it in the tournament as long as Harvard doesn't win. Not bad odds for a sixth-place CCHA team that hasn't played in two weeks.

17. Merrimack

A lot broke right for Merrimack on Friday. It went from having a 0.8 percent chance at a bid, to 4.9%. So there you go. Merrimack needs RIT to win, Cornell to lose, and Union to win (to keep out Harvard). And then hope for other things. Good luck.

Bottom Line

There doesn't appear to be any major stumbling blocks for the committee on the horizon. Some subjective decision-making with regards to matchups was removed with neither Minnesota nor Minnesota-Duluth able to get a No. 1 seed anymore. Also, having BC and Michigan as the top two seeds, balances things out well.

The only potential trouble of any significance, as we mentioned in the last article, will still be if three CCHA teams are No. 4 seeds and Miami sneaks in to the final No. 1 seed. This appears less likely now, but it's still possible. That will cause matchup problems, since the committee is supposed to avoid first-round matchups with teams from the same conference, but will be unable to avoid it in this case.

It's still an issue though, because Boston College would not be able to play the Atlantic Hockey champ in the first round. That would have to go to Michigan so that the three CCHA teams would avoid Michigan. Then again, with the way teams like Air Force and RIT have fared in the NCAAs, maybe BC would rather play a team like Northern Michigan.

There will be a myriad of first-round intra-conference games to avoid, so we can anticipate a lot of flip-flopping of teams within the seed bands. There will be some subjective decisions to make there, either/ors, but not majorly controversial.

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