March 16, 2009 PRINT Bookmark and Share

NCAA Tournament Bracket ABCs

Conference Tournament Week Edition

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

OK, here we go. We're down the stretch for the NCAA tournament. So here are some key reminders.

The Pairwise is the NCAAs objective system for selecting and seeding the teams. See the CHN Primer for the intracacies of how it works, and what all the jargon means.

Take a look at the Pairwise page to see its current state.

The real key, however, is to check out our "You Are the Committee" tool. This allows you to forecasts your own results of this weekend's games, and then see how the Pairwise would look at the end. By doing so, you then apply the philosophies as laid out in the CHN Primer, and can figure out what the bracket would look like.

Or, you can keep reading as we walk through the scenarios.

Here's our latest Analysis, Breakdown and Comparison of what the possibilities are. Remember, however, even though there are relatively few games left before the Pairwise is set, there are still thousands of permutations. So it's hard to catch them all. If we've overlooked anything vital, please drop us a line.

1. Boston University

We've been saying for a while that BU had the No. 1 overall seed practically locked up. Now, with You Are the Committee, it's easier to play around and find scenarios that are otherwise very difficult to forsee.

And why is this so difficult? Well, the machinations of the Pairwise, as goofy as they may be sometimes, never cease to amaze me.

It's only because Boston College won its quarterfinal series, and is paired with BU in the HEA semis, that this is even possible. Why? Because Boston College is a "common opponent" of both BU and Notre Dame. And, so is Michigan.

Thus, if BU loses this weekend's semifinal to BC, and Notre Dame ends up defeating Michigan in the CCHA final, then Notre Dame will tie the "record vs. common opponents" component of the Pairwise, and surpass BU in RPI at the same time. The comparison will then be 1-1, with RPI as the tiebreaker and Notre Dame will win.

In effect, this likely means absolutely nothing, except who potentially would have last line change in the national championship game. That's because Notre Dame would go to Grand Rapids, leaving BU to be in whatever Eastern regional it was going to be in anyway. And the difference between playing Bemidji State and the Atlantic winner would be marginal anyway.

The bigger question remains — which regional would BU be placed in, Manchester or Bridgeport? It will probably come down to something like this ... with New Hampshire and Yale the host of those respective regions, and both sitting around the 2- or 3-seed band, either one could finish No. 8 overall. If so, BU will go to the region where matching up the No. 1 and No. 8 can occur. If neither UNH or Yale is No. 8, then it doesn't matter, and BU would probably wind up in Manchester, since it's slightly closer to Boston than Bridgeport is.

2. Notre Dame

See above regarding its chances for the No. 1 overall seed. Notre Dame can't fall far enough to lose a No. 1 seed, so it will come down to the Irish and Michigan for supremacy in regards to placement in Grand Rapids. Though I would not be surprised, if both wind up in No. 1 seed slots, for the committee to just give Grand Rapids to Michigan, and place Notre Dame wherever, in order to align things in perfect "serpentine" order (i.e. 1-7, 2-8, 3-6, 4-5).

3. Michigan

Michigan can stay a No. 1 seed even if it loses in Detroit, but does drop out in various scenarios. For example, Northeastern and Denver winning their tournaments, would make them No. 1 seeds over Michigan. If Michigan is a No. 1 seed, again, it may just get matched up in Yale's bracket if that keeps "bracket integrity," or it could go anywhere else to fulfill the same requirement.

Michigan can't drop much below No. 5 or No. 6, so if it does drop to a 2 seed, we can safely say it will not be in BU's or Notre Dame's region.

4-5. Denver, North Dakota

Whether Denver or North Dakota winds up with a No. 1 seed is going to come right down to the wire this weekend. If Denver wins the WCHA, it will get that No. 1 seed. If North Dakota wins it, it still needs some help to do so. So it's possible neither one will get it. That's especially true if neither wins the WCHA championship. A lot depends on what happens in the other WCHA games. If all higher seeds win, Denver can still lose the WCHA title game and be ahead of North Dakota in the Pairwise.

6. Northeastern

The Huskies can get a No. 1 seed, first off, by winning Hockey East. Then, it would take having Michigan and/or North Dakota to not win their championship. If that happens, you're looking at Northeastern being the No. 1 seed in Bridgeport, most likely.

7. Yale

Yale can finish as high as No. 5 overall, with two wins this weekend. It also seems to be assured getting into the tournament, even with two losses, under the large majority of scenarios. Though not all. (Keep playing with "You Are the Committee" to see all the possibilities.)

This is as good a place as any to discuss the ECAC's chances to getting four teams into the NCAAs for the first time ever. The best way for this to happen — no offense to Yale — is for the Bulldogs to lose two games in Albany. If they do, and other craziness doesn't occur, then the ECAC will get the four teams. That's because the other three — Princeton, Cornell and St. Lawrence — all seem to be OK with at least one win. Yale is the one team that can best absorb two losses. If that does occur, you'd probably have three ECAC teams as No. 3 seeds, and the ECAC tournament champ as a No. 2 seed. That would force ECAC teams to be dotted around the country in different brackets.

8-9. Vermont, New Hampshire

The good news for these teams is, they can't lose any more games — they both got knocked out last weekend, losing at home in the HEA quarterfinals. That's a humorous statement, but it's true. It insulates them from falling much further, and means that both are assured of NCAA bids at this point. Directly below them are four teams, two of which — at least — must lose at least one game this weekend.

10-11. Cornell, Princeton

It's possible for either team to lose twice and still get into the tournament, but it's not nearly as likely. This is the problem with having a consolation game in your tournament. Whatever team loses the semifinal between this pair, should ask the other consolation game contestant if they can just agree to tie.

Strangely, the ECAC as a whole may have been better off if either Cornell or Princeton lost their respective Game 3 on Sunday. If so, that one loss — to a non-TUC — wouldn't have hurt that badly. And this way, whatever team that went through to Albany (RPI or Union), could have been served up as the two-loss sacrificial lamb.

But, we're beyond that now. If either of these teams wins the ECACs, it will get a No. 2 seed in the NCAAs. The other will get a 3 seed if it can win the consolation game. The team that gets to the finals will get a 3 seed if it loses the final, with the ECAC champion getting a 2 seed (even if it's St. Lawrence, probably).

Let's try on this scenario: Yale wins the ECAC title, gets a 2 seed. Cornell and Princeton each go 1-1 in Albany, get 3 seeds. (St. Lawrence would be out.) New Hampshire and Minnesota get No. 3 seeds. Yale, UNH and Minnesota are all hosting. That means Cornell or Princeton would have to play Yale in the first round in Bridgeport.

12-13. Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth

Here's another case of fates being intertwined. These teams play each other in the Thursday play-in game at the Final Five. It looks like UMD has the most to lose and most to gain, among these two teams, this weekend. Duluth can climb as high as No. 6 by winning three games in St. Paul. It will also fall off the map with a loss Thursday. Because these teams can play either 1 game or 3 games, and each go 0-1, 1-2, 2-1 or 3-0 — there are just too many scenarios to filter through. Obviously, these teams need to win as much as possible, and hope for no upsets in other conference tournaments.

From what we can gather, Minnesota can go 1-2 and still get into the tournament pretty handily, because of the other forces of nature going on around it. Even losing Thursday, there are multiple scenarios that keep them in there. Still, Minnesota can beat UMD on Thursday, then lose two games, and finish below UMD in the Pairwise, if all other higher seeds win every game. This would keep Minnesota out. So things are far from set in stone.

14. Miami

The Red Hawks managed to inch back into this spot after Ohio State's loss late Sunday night. Miami goes back as high as No. 11 in some cases. And because some teams have to lose above them, the Hawks are more likely in the tournament than out.

15. St. Lawrence

The Saints got a nice boost from Ohio State and Colorado College losing this past weekend. That means St. Lawrence will get into the top 14 of Pairwise with at least one win this weekend. It helps that either Minnesota or UMD has to lose Thursday, and that both Princeton and Cornell can't each win two games. If the Saints win the ECACs, they can go as high as No. 7 overall.

16. Ohio State

Getting Ohio State in relies upon Minnesota-Duluth losing on Thursday, and one of the ECAC teams dropping down. That gets the Buckeyes up to the No. 14 slot. Ohio State can go as high as No. 12 if Minnesota also falters early.

17. Boston College

The scenario that seems to get Boston College into the tournament is, BC wins the semifinal against BU, loses the final, and all other higher seeds win. This creates a three-way tie at No. 14, with Air Force at 13, meaning the 14th and 15th team would make it — that being Minnesota and BC, in that scenario. In fact, making St. Lawrence the ECAC consolation winner over Princeton, everything else staying the same, moves BC up to No. 13.

(Note: This assumes the other finalist is Northeastern. If BC plays Mass.-Lowell in the final and loses, then Lowell gets the automatic bid, bumping BC out)

In fact, you can play around with the ECAC and CCHA winners, and BC would still be OK. What seems to affect Boston College the most, is if the higher seeds don't necessarily win all the games in the WCHA. So BC beats BU, and things stay mostly to form in the WCHA — and that's the path for the Eagles.

18. Wisconsin

If all the higher seeds win every game this weekend, Wisconsin misses the NCAAs by .0009 RPI behind Ohio State. I don't see any better scenario.

A Projection

Finally, projecting a bracket based on how the Pairwise looks today, is pretty useless. And, likewise, it's impossible to give you all the scenarios. So, for academic purposes, let's simply assume (bad assumption, but do it anyway) that all the higher seeds win the games this weekend. That would give you a final Pairwise of the following:

1. BU
2. Notre Dame
3. Denver
4. Michigan
5. Yale
6. North Dakota
7. Northeastern
8. New Hampshire
9. Vermont
10. Cornell
11. Princeton
12. Miami
13. Air Force
14. Duluth
15. Ohio State
16. Bemidji State

Thus, here would be the brackets

1. Michigan (4) vs. 4. Air Force (13)
2. Yale (5) vs. 3. Miami (12)

1. BU (1) vs. 4. Bemidji State (16)
2. New Hampshire (8) vs. 3. Princeton (11)

Grand Rapids
1. Notre Dame (2) vs. 4. Minnesota-Duluth (14)
2. Northeastern (7) vs. 3. Cornell (10)

1. Denver (3) vs. 4. Ohio State (15)
2. North Dakota (6) vs. 3. Vermont (9)

This bracket is pretty clean. It requires two flips to avoid intra-conference first-round games — Princeton with Vermont, and Minnesota-Duluth with Ohio State.


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