Bracket ABCs: Final Weekend Chaos Edition
We again approach the final weekend of conference tournament play, primed for what will unfold and what it means for who makes the NCAA tournament — and, more interestingly nowadays, where those teams will be seeded.
Our Pairwise Probability Matrix gives a pretty good sense of who will make the tournament, barring "bracket-buster" teams winning autobids in their conference.
And, of course, as always, there's CHN's original You Are The Committee, which allows you to plug in results of conference tournament games and see what the final Pairwise would look like if that scenario happened.
To follow events as they unfold, check out our Pairwise Live Blog, and follow us on Twitter @chnews.
If we use the Probability Matrix and KRACH as a baseline, and plug the most likely results into YATC, the Committee is in for a lot of headaches this year. This is not necessarily the way the final Pairwise order will go, but it's the outcome if the higher-rated team wins each game. And we can use this list as a basis for a discussion of the numerous pitfalls that lie ahead.
And they are numerous.
The Committee is going to be faced with a lot of 50/50 subjective decisions on where to place teams this year. And because everything is intertwined, one decision will lead to a snowball of others that could send the bracket into a tizzy.
Follow along, if you can, as we lay out the voodoo.
Here is the "according to Hoyle" list:
1. Denver NCHC 2. Harvard ECAC 3. Minnesota-Duluth NCHC 4. Boston University HEA 5. Minnesota Big10 6. Western Michigan NCHC 7. Union ECAC 8. Mass.-Lowell HEA 9. Air Force Atlantic 10. Ohio State Big10 11. Notre Dame HEA 12. Providence HEA 13. Cornell ECAC 14. Penn State Big10 15. North Dakota NCHC 16. Michigan Tech WCHA
I have the conferences in there because it's vitally relevant to this discussion. Teams from the same conference are not allowed to play each other in the first round.
The default position for the Committee when it comes to seeding is to attempt to line teams up in a 1-16, 8-9 bracket — then a 2-15, 7-10 bracket — and so on. But adjustments are made for a variety of reasons, the main three being: 1) avoiding matchups against teams from the same conference; 2) a team hosting a Regional must be in that region; 3) maximize "atmosphere," i.e. attendance, where possible. The latter one is not a rule, but it's something that they try to do, and in recent years, there's been more emphasis on that than ever before.
Instead of going team by team, let's try to address the various issues:
The Fargo Issue
If North Dakota is a 4 seed, as above, it throws things into chaos right off the bat. Neither Denver or Minnesota-Duluth, which are lock 1 seeds, can play North Dakota. That means it would have to be Harvard or BU in this scenario. Who should it be? Harvard-North Dakota would be the "natural" 2-15 matchup, but is that fair?
In my opinion, Harvard, as the higher overall seed, should not be punished with what's basically a road game in Fargo. The Committee tries to do 1-16, 2-15, etc... but it has the flexibility to move teams around within the four seed "bands" as it sees fit. So there's no reason not to send Boston University to Fargo. BU is the lowest 1 seed, and therefore should get the least protection.
However, there are attendance concerns. BU would draw more people to, say, the Manchester Regional than Harvard would. That much more? Probably. However, there are other teams that could play in Manchester that would help the draw, such as Lowell.
Next caveat: What if Western Michigan is the fourth 1 seed? Then you have total chaos. Then you have three NCHC teams, and none of them can play North Dakota. That solves the problem, at least. In that case, Harvard MUST be the team that goes to Fargo. Poor guys.
North Dakota can solve this problem by winning a game at the NCHC tournament and being a 3 seed.
The 1 Seed Issue
So the issue with the one seeds goes beyond just the North Dakota situation, though it all stems from there. But let's say the top three is Denver, UMD, Harvard — which it likely will be in some order. And let's say North Dakota is a 3 seed, so the 1s can go anywhere. Who goes where? And how much of it is contingent upon who gets the 4th 1 seed?
Duluth is the only team that would have a bus trip to Fargo. Does it go there because of that?
If Western Michigan is the 1 seed, is Cincinnati held for the Broncos because it's closest?
What if Minnesota is the other 1 seed? If that happens, it can go to Fargo even if North Dakota is a 4. And that gives us the epic Minnesota (at) North Dakota first-round matchup; which can also happen as a 2-3.
The Providence / 2-3 Seed Issue
Let me state this one clearly: In no way do I believe Providence (the team) should be placed in Providence (the city). Providence was a 4 seed when it received this benefit in 2015, and went on to win the National Championship. It was granted this privilege because of attendance reasons. But I'll say now what I said then: There are other teams that can bring people to Providence without the Friars needing to be there. And because they are a low seed, they shouldn't get that benefit.
That said, you may have a situation where Providence just naturally falls there, and moving them away would be more chaotic than simply leaving them there. That's a Catch-22. You have a bunch of Hockey East teams in the 2-3 seed range, and they can't play each other. Notre Dame, BU (maybe) and Lowell. So someone has to move. If BU is a 1 seed, it may not matter. Lowell can go to Manchester, Notre Dame to Cincinnati, and Providence stays home.
But if this coincides with North Dakota being a 3 seed, I'll ask again, who goes to Fargo?
It's truly chaotic at the moment. Lots of ifs.
What if Providence is the 3 seed in Providence, Notre Dame is the 3 seed in Cincy, and BU and Lowell are 2 seeds? Those teams can't play each other, so that means BU and Lowell would fight it out for which team is in Manchester and which goes to Fargo. Lowell outdrew BU this season. In fact, Lowell had the highest attendance in Hockey East the last two years.
In that scenario, you'd have two choices ... Send BU to Fargo, OR, put BU in Providence and tell Providence (the team) to take a hike. I'll vote the latter.
The Cincinnati Issue
For attendance puroposes, the best teams to wind up in Cincinnati would be Western Michigan, Notre Dame and Ohio State. However, the past has shown that it almost doesn't matter, attendance won't be great no matter what. So I'm not sure the Committee should go through hoops keeping these teams in Cincinnati if it will negatively affect things elsewhere. Depending on where things fall, it could take a lot of hoops.
The Atlantic Hockey Issue
If Air Force wins the Atlantic Hockey title, it will be a 3 seed. That will be enough to send people into a tizzy.
If Air Force doesn't win, it can still make the tournament, giving Atlantic Hockey two teams for just the second time ever, joining the 2013 tournament. That might create even more tizzy. That could keep a team like Penn State or Ohio State out.
The only teams outside the bubble with an at-large chance to make it are Air Force and Boston College. Teams like Notre Dame, Providence aand Cornell are pretty high odds to get in. It would take a lot of automatic bids going to off-the-bubble teams to knock those guys out. Ohio State and Penn state are more precarious. They both play in Thursday's Big Ten play-in games. If either loses, it would greatly jeopardize their chances. Penn State, especially, is in a tough spot, playing a Michigan team that just swept the Nittany Lions last weekend.
This bracket is complete voodoo because it's dependent upon a myriad of subjective decisions that are literally a coin flip. So I'm basing a lot of this on my opinion of what the Committee should do, as opposed to what they will. I'm telling you right here, right now that the Committee is liable to keep lower seeds closer to their home regions for attendance reasons, and I think it's a mistake. But it could very well happen. Minnesota vs. North Dakota in Fargo. Ohio State in Cincinnati.
But assuming we have the order above, here's what I think should happen:
4. Boston University vs. 15. North Dakota
5. Minnesota vs. 9. Air Force
Like I said above, I prefer to see BU shipped out because Harvard is a higher overall seed, and deserves "protection" from playing what amounts to a road game in Fargo. The 4-5 2nd Rd. pairing is preserved, and Ohio State being here is because of other factors below.
1. Denver vs. 16. Michigan Tech
8. Lowell vs. 10. Ohio State
Perfection, but had to flip Air Force with OSU because OSU can't play Minnesota.
3. Minnesota-Duluth vs. 13. Cornell
6. Western Michigan vs. 11. Notre Dame
Cornell is moved here because it can't play Harvard, and North Dakota can't be moved here, so it's the only 4 seed left.
2. Harvard vs. 14. Penn State
7. Union vs. 12. Providence
Again Union vs. Providence, a la 2014. Should be fun.
But now let's take a look what happens if BU is a 2 seed, and North Dakota is a 3 seed, with some tweaking of final results. This time, we'll go by the Pairwise Probability Matrix order, which has North Dakota 11th overall and BU 6th. I've made a couple tweaks, however, because I don't think Denver-UMD can finish 1-2; and Air Force, which is 15th in the Matrix, cannot make the tournament at that spot to the exclusion of its Atlantic bretheren. So if Air Force loses and is 15th, it means it would be out and Canisius (for example) in.
1. Denver vs. 16. Michigan Tech
5. Minnesota vs. 11. North Dakota
Ahh, we get Minnesota vs. ND after all. That would be a kick in the pants if Minnesota finishes 5th overall, but options are limited.
2. Harvard vs. 15. Canisius
8. Lowell vs. 10. Cornell
Not too shabby
3. Minnesota-Duluth vs. 14. Ohio State
7. Union vs. 12. Providence
Union-Providence again. Might be unavoidable.
4. Western Michigan vs. 13. Penn State
6. Boston University vs. 9. Notre Dame
BAM! BU cannot play Notre Dame, so we need to shift. But who?
Switching BU and Lowell is pointless. Switching Union with Lowell creates a Union-Cornell matchup that can't happen. Switching Union with BU creates a BU-Providence matchup that can't happen. North Dakota can't be switched with anyone, so something has to give.
But what? Your 2-3 seeds are filled with Hockey East and ECAC teams, so nothing works. Unless ....
Which means we're back to Lowell, Union or BU having to go to Fargo. We could tell Providence to take a hike and play Minnesota in Cincinnati, but that still doesn't solve the Fargo issue. So as much as I don't want Providence in Providence, it might make sense just to leave it there.
So then your 2-3 games would be this:
Fargo: Lowell vs. North Dakota
Cincinnati: Union vs. Notre Dame
Providence: Minnesota vs. Providence
Manchester: Cornell vs. BU
Earlier I said Lowell should get priority attendance-wise in Manchester over BU. However, if BU is the higher seed, it should get the "protection" and stay closer to home, and Lowell should go. The attendance difference is not that great. BU still brings plenty. And then you have the BU-Cornell rivalry game.
OK, all for now. Check back with us all weekend, at all of the links and resources above, to see how this unfolds. It will assuredly be chaotic — and fun.