Bracket ABCs: Final Edition
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
(Editor's Note: This was written prior to the official announcement of the brackets, but the brackets turned out exactly as written, so this discussion still stands.)
With the results of all conference tournament championship game in, we can go through the annual ritual of prognosticating the brackets.
The NCAA men's ice hockey committee will officially announce the tournament field and matchups on ESPN-U on Sunday at Noon (ET).
This is about as straightforward a year as we've seen it. These days, the committee starts with the straight Pairwise, and a premise of a "serpentine" order of matchups — i.e. 1-16, 2-15, 3-14, and so on. And then flips things around from there if need be.
Because there are six conferences now, and many old rivals were split up, it's easier to avoid first-round intra-conference matchups, resulting in less flipping. Things also lined up, seed-wise, in a fairly straightforward manner.
This is the final Pairwise in order, 1-16, given Denver taking the 15th spot from Michigan because of the automatic bid for winning the NCHC championship.
2. Boston College
5. Ferris State
8. Notre Dame
9. St. Cloud State
10. Minnesota State
14. North Dakota
16. Robert Morris
The top 4 teams are placed as No. 1 seeds in the Regional closest geographically. After that, you can line up a straight serpentine order and pretty much have your brackets.
West — St. Paul, Minn.
1. Minnesota vs. 16. Robert Morris
8. Notre Dame vs. 9. St. Cloud State
Northeast — Worcester, Mass.
2. Boston College vs. 15. Denver
7. Mass.-Lowell vs. 10. Minnesota State
East — Bridgeport, Conn.
3. Union vs. 14. North Dakota
6. Quinnipiac vs. 11. Providence
Midwest — Cincinnati
4. Wisconsin vs. 13. Vermont
5. Ferris State vs. 12. Colgate
However, in the last couple of years, the Committee has tended to emphasize "maximizing attendance" moreso than it had in the previous years of the 16-team field, dating back to 2003. That has meant shifting a lot of seeds around to different regions. I don't mind the Committee trying to maximize attendance, so long as it doesn't mess with the integrity of the bracket too much. I felt they went too far last year, although it really didn't hurt anyone in the end.
Because of this idea, the Committee will probably flip-flop Vermont and North Dakota. (Note: This is indeed what happened — ed.)
One reason I don't believe this is a good idea this year is because that benefits a 3 seed, and hurts the 2 seed in those regions. Higher seeds should get the benefit of help, all else being equal, not lower seeds.
But moreso, I don't like it because it stacks two Hockey East and two ECAC teams in one bracket. And when attendance is always a factor, you're always going to have that. I think the tournament is better served when each Region has a more national flavor.
If you move Vermont to Bridgeport, then it gets its fans down there. But attendance is not really a factor in Bridgeport, with three other schools there relatively close. Vermont isn't needed.
Meanwhile, North Dakota might help attendance in Cincinnati, but enough to make that much of a difference? Wisconsin's fans should be there in decent numbers. Although flipping UND to Cincinnati does set up the intriguing matchup with Wisconsin, the team that just helped UND get into the NCAAs by knocking off Ohio State in the Big Ten final, and a former WCHA rival.
If I had to boil down my argument into a guiding principle, I'd suggest avoiding having teams from the same conference as the top two seeds in any Regional. That means not having Quinnipiac and Union in the East Regional. Actually, this would affect two Regionals, because Boston College and Massachusetts-Lowell are 1-2 in the Northeast. In fact, the Committee used to operate this way, under the old 12-team format (prior to 2003).
I hold out hope that the Committee doesn't make that flip, and keeps the "natural" order of things. In this case, it wouldn't be that big a deal, I just don't like the precedent these things set. I'd rather teams be sprinkled around so there's a more national flavor at the Regionals, and so long as it doesn't really help attendance that much if at all, why tinker?