Bracket ABCs: Playoff Edition
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
A new look at the where the Pairwise stands, and what team's chances are going forward. We'll know a lot more, of course, after this coming weekend.
And, per usual, if you don't know what all of this means, see our Pairwise Primer.
Essentially still a lock to get the No. 1 overall seed and be in Providence. That is highly likely even with losses to Cornell this weekend. Even if it slips to No. 2, it will be Providence. With a bunch of ECAC teams in the 13-16 range, though, determining Quinnipiac's first-round opponent will be interesting.
Minnesota is all but assured this position and the No. 1 seed in the Grand Rapids regional. Its first-round opponent is wide open, since no WCHA teams are in the 4-seed range at the moment, though Wisconsin could get there and St. Cloud could slip there.
As long as Miami remains a No. 1 seed, it will be the top seed in the Toledo regional. It has very good odds of staying here, unless somehow it loses its series with Michigan State this weekend.
The next four teams in the Pairwise are all breathing down Lowell's neck, so to maintain this spot as a No. 1 seed, Lowell might have to win the Hockey East tournament, or at least hope that none of the four teams below, wins theirs. If Lowell hangs on, it's all but assured to be placed in Manchester, which will of course be a challenge for any team in that spot, since New Hampshire will be in that regional as a two or three seed. If Lowell slips to a two or three seed, it could be placed anywhere.
5-6. North Dakota, Denver
Neither team has a lot to gain this weekend. Denver is playing a TUC in Colorado College, but CC won't be a TUC anymore if it loses two games to Denver. So this weekend will all be about maintaining position, unless someone slips badly in this weekend series. But both teams are in good position to move into a No. 1 seed in the long run, if Lowell doesn't win the Hockey East tournament.
7-8. Boston College, New Hampshire
New Hampshire has the most to gain or lose this weekend, because it's playing a TUC in Providence — a tough road series to boot. One of the crazy things right now is that New Hampshire is the No. 5 seed in the Hockey East tournament, but No. 8 in the Pairwise. BC is actually in a three-way tie in comparisons with North Dakota and Denver — because BC wins the comparison with North Dakota. In order for North Dakota to flip that, it needs BC to lose to BU somewhere along the way, while North Dakota needs to beat Minnesota — so it will take some work.
New Hampshire is 4-0 against St. Cloud State, Denver and Bemidji State, so it matches up well with Denver and North Dakota in comparisons. If New Hampshire wins this series, it will easily flip the comparison with Notre Dame, which wins right now based on a .0001 edge in RPI. It would also flip things with Boston College. So New Hampshire could easily move up to fifth or fourth with a series win over Providence. If UNH loses the series, I see them dropping only one slot or two, so it's still comfortably in the NCAAs, it seems.
9. Minnesota State
Minnesota State needs to win this series with Nebraska-Omaha. It won't move up that much with a series win, but it could easily fall a bunch of slots if it loses the series, putting it in danger of not making the NCAAs at all. Win the series, and the most losses the Mavericks could have in the future is one, so it should be fine. Lose the series, and the season could go down in flames.
10. Western Michigan
Western Michigan is in a tough spot, because it's playing a relatively hot Michigan team that has a lot of history; but Michigan is not a TUC, so there isn't anything to gain in that department.
Yale stacks up pretty well in the criteria against the teams below them. They have a big series, obviously, with St. Lawrence, where getting swept might jeopardize its bid, but even winning one of three will probably be enough to keep the Bulldogs inside the bubble, barring numerous other upsets. Yale would prefer to stay at least a three seed, however, so it could potentially be placed in nearby Providence. If Yale is a 4 seed, it wouldn't be in Providence, because that's where Quinnipiac will be, and those two can't play each other in the first round.
12. St. Cloud State
Despite being perilously close to the bubble, the Huskies are in pretty good shape. Obviously, they can't afford to lose two games to Alaska-Anchorage this weekend, but presuming they take care of business, a bid will be all but assured. It will be interesting to watch where they wind up, though, because two WCHA teams, Denver and North Dakota, may line up as possible opponents, but that would be avoided for the first round. So there may have to be a lot of maneuvering. I could see them being in Toledo, in Miami's bracket.
As we mentioned in the last Bracket ABCs article, Niagara could become the first Atlantic team to qualify for the NCAAs at large while not winning the conference title. That would get two Atlantic teams in the NCAAs for the first time. But because of two losses against Air Force, Niagara is close to slipping off the bubble anyway if it doesn't win the conference title. If it does win the whole thing, though, the Purple Eagles could easily move up into the 10th overall seed range. Not sure how much difference there is, though, in playing any of the teams above here.
Rensselaer is playing a TUC, Brown, in its series this week. But if the Engineers win two games, it's possible Brown will no longer be a TUC. So that mitigates whatever benefit might arise. Still, obviously winning two games is imperative for RPI to stay on the right side of the bubble.
15. Notre Dame
Notre Dame plays non-TUC Bowling Green in its playoff series. Lose that series, and Notre Dame is toast. Simple as that. Notre Dame has some goofy comparisons. Because of a poor record against TUCs and some odd common opponents situations, it loses comparisons to teams like Robert Morris and Air Force. But because its RPI is so good, it wins some comparisons with teams well up the list. In fact, Notre Dame has the biggest disparity of any team between its RPI rank (9) and its Pairwise rank (15).
Union is the one team here that is playing a rock-solid TUC, in Dartmouth. So it stands the most to gain — and to lose — from among the teams on the bubble. Obviously, it must win the series.
17. Boston University
BU has a dilemma. If it defeats Merrimack in two games, Merrimack will no longer be a TUC, and BU's 5-0 record against Merrimack will disappear from the criteria. However, losing to Merrimack would hurt BU even more, so thankfully we're not in a situation, at least, where losing would help. Still, it shows the folly of the dreaded "TUC Cliff." You could look at it from this perspective — the Pairwise was not originally intended to be scrutinized like this, and you're only supposed to know at year's end which teams were TUCs and which weren't. But by scrutinizing it, we're able to see how arbitrary the TUC line is and the havoc it causes.
Wisconsin has a vested interest in Colorado College remaining a TUC, something that will be difficult to do if CC loses its playoff series to Denver. Wisconsin is playing Minnesota-Duluth, which is not a TUC, so two wins there are not all that helpful. So despite moving back up near the cutoff line, the Badgers have their work cut out for them.
Dartmouth did not get much help out of defeating Harvard, especially since the Big Green lost a game in the process. Now with games against Union, it will certainly help matters if Dartmouth sweeps. But even that might not be enough to get back on the right side of the NCAA bubble. A lot would depend upon what those other bubble teams do this weekend.
Providence is the only other team below here that could rise up high enough, given a two-game sweep against New Hampshire this weekend. But it would still probably need help or a Hockey East title, in which case it automatically qualifies.