NCAA Tournament Bracket ABCs: Final Analysis
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
ALBANY, N.Y. So here we are. We've spent a long weekend together, figuring out our future, and now we need to decide which bracket to marry. It's like hockey's version of Rock of Love.
Funny, but a team that didn't even play this weekend messed everything up.
(To wade past the witty commentary and get to the bracket prediction, see below.)
Wisconsin sat home after getting swept by St. Cloud State, with its record under .500, didn't do a gosh darned thing, and — whammo — it is in the tournament.
There are going to be two sets of enraged people, both Minnesota State fans. There will be a) the ones who have no clue about the Pairwise and go the conspiracy theory route, figuring the committee took Wisconsin because the Badgers are hosting and it would boost attendance; and b) the people who know how the system works, and would like to tell the committee where it can shove its system.
Consider that Minnesota State finished better in the WCHA than Wisconsin, won the head-to-head matchup, and had a better overall record. But the Mavericks will sit home while the Badgers go. Why?
Two reasons. First of all, Wisconsin finished with one more Pairwise Comparison Win than Minnesota State. (By the way, again, you can gloss over this and go below — or, to read up on what all this Pairwise jargon is all about, see CHN's Pairwise Primer.) Wisconsin did this, even though MSU wins the head-to-head comparison with Wisconsin. The reason is because of Minnesota State's two losses to Nebraska-Omaha earlier this season. That causes them to lose comparisons to Princeton and Northern Michigan that Wisconsin otherwise wins; Princeton and NMU were a combined 3-0 against UNO this year.
The other way Minnesota State could've improved itself was n the RPI. With a .0027 better RPI, it would've passed Notre Dame and won the tie at the No. 13 overall spot. And in the head-to-head comparison with Notre Dame, again, Record vs. Common Opponents comes into play, because Notre Dame was 2-0 against UNO also.
So, Minnesota State will be sitting home, as unfortunate as that might be.
Now, let's get back to the 16 teams at hand. Wisconsin creates a mess because you have six WCHA teams in the tournament, and two are immobile — Wisconsin and CC, because they are hosts. So the committee's typical pattern of placing teams in 1-6, 2-15, 3-14, 4-13, etc... serpentine order is really blown out of the water this year.
So, to work this out, we have to be methodical about it, and try to think like the committee will think. Take its rules, one by one, and go in order. The big rules to remember are: 1) host teams must be in the host region; 2) No. 1 seeds are placed closest to home as possible; 3) avoid first-round intra-conference games if you can; and 4) Teams cannot be moved out of their "band" ... i.e. a No. 3 seed that is No. 12 overall, can be moved into the No. 9 slot — but it cannot be moved into the No. 13 slot, because No. 13 is part of the 4-seed band.
With the dutiful help of colleague Mike Machnik, this is what we come up with:
Northeast Regional — Worcester, Mass.
4. New Hampshire vs. 13. Notre Dame
6. Denver vs. 10. Clarkson
East Regional — Albany, N.Y.
2. Miami vs. 15. Niagara
7. Boston College vs. 11. Minnesota
Midwest Regional — Madison, Wis.
1. Michigan vs. 16. Air Force
8. St. Cloud State vs. 12. Wisconsin
West Regional — Colorado Springs, Colo.
3. North Dakota vs. 14. Princeton
5. Colorado College vs. 9. Michigan State
The idea is to try to get 1-8, 2-7, 3-6, 4-5 together - and then let the others fall into place. But that quickly becomes impossible here.
Now, the committee could put North Dakota in Worcester for a 3-6 pairing with Denver, and UNH in the West for a 4-5 pairing with CC. But that would blow the idea of putting a team "closest to home." North Dakota is a higher seed than UNH so have first "choice" so to speak. On the other hand, the committee has shown time and again that it considers "a flight is a flight," so who cares if North Dakota goes to the West or Northeast. Well, except, on the other hand, that pulls UNH really far out of an area that it will draw a lot of people to. Now, UNH isn't locked into Worcester, but common sense may dictate it is there.
As you can see, we need an awful lot of "other hands" already just to keep up.
But, we're going with UNH as the No. 4 in Worcester, and North Dakota in Colorado Springs. We'll keep the No. 2 seeds where they are "supposed to be," however.
This means, a 2-7 pairing with Miami and Boston College in Albany. And a 1-8 pairing with Michigan and St. Cloud State in Madison.
Now what? Now the No. 4 seeds are pretty easy. Wisconsin being a No. 3 seed is actually the lesser of two evils. If the Badgers were a No. 4 seed, it would really have thrown things into chaos. That's because Michigan's natural location — Madison — would have meant playing the Badgers in the first round ... not exactly fair to do to the No. 1 overall seed.
But, with Wisconsin a 3 seed, Michigan can maintain its "natural" game against the No. 16 overall seed, which is Air Force.
It's possible Air Force could be kept home in Colorado Springs like last year when it was kept in Denver, despite it not being a natural spot. But this is much different. It would be too big a switch this year. Last year it was a simple 15-16 switch. This would be more drastic, allowing No. 3 overall North Dakota to get the No. 16 seed, and have Michigan play No. 15 and Miami No. 14. Too much moving for that.
Unless ... what if the committee puts Michigan in Colorado Springs, and North Dakota in Madison? Then Michigan and Air Force could play in Colorado Springs. Oh lord, let's not even think about that mess.
So, getting back ... we'll have a 2-15 matchup with Miami-Niagara, a 3-14 with North Dakota-Princeton, and a 4-13 with New Hampshire-Notre Dame.
Hey, that looked smooth.
Not so fast.
As Al Michaels said in 1980 after Mike Eruzione's goal ... "Now we've got bedlam."
It would be "natural" for the No. 9 overall, Michigan State, to be against St. Cloud State in Madison. But the Badgers have to be there. So that creates an 8-12 matchup that not only messes with the so-called "bracket integrity," but violates a sacrosanct policy of avoiding first-round matchups against teams in their own conference. Thing is, that's going to happen somewhere, no matter what. There are three WCHA teams that are No. 2 seeds. Only Boston College is not.
Could Boston College go to Madison and play the Badgers as a 7-12 matchup? It's possible. But then you still have a problem. You would have St. Cloud State in Albany playing Minnesota. OK, then you could put Clarkson back there. But then you'd have Denver vs. Minnesota in the Northeast.
So you have to do it one way or another. At least this way, St. Cloud State stays in the 8-1 blocking with Michigan.
Credit to Mike Machnik, again, for pointing out the logic there. (I only credit him so that I can blame him if the committee goes another direction.)
So now what do you do with the natural No. 9, Michigan State? Send them to the West to face No. 5 Colorado College. Now you have the 6-11 pairing of Denver-Minnesota, and the 7-10 pairing of Boston College-Clarkson. Flip Clarkson and Minnesota to avoid the Denver-Minnesota matchup, and there you go.
But it's possible the committee could say that the best 3 seed (Michigan State) should not have to play the best 2 seed (CC), especially on CC's home ice. So what if Michigan State goes to Worcester and faces Denver instead, a 6-9 matchup — and Clarkson goes to play in a 5-10 pairing? That's slightly more fair, you could say, but is it worth an extra switch? We'll see.
So much fun.
And, as we say each year, once this is figured out, it's time to just enjoy the games.