March 21, 2009 PRINT Bookmark and Share

NCAA Tournament Bracket ABCs (Final Pairwise Edition)

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

(NOTE: The final bracket is now in ... and CHN was very close to the mark. Here's our Instant Analysis, with more to come)

The games are done, and it's time to delve into the annual ritual of handicapping what we believe the NCAA bracket will look like.

Remember, the official selection show takes place 11:30 a.m. ET on ESPN2.

The NCAA's system of objective comparisons — commonly known as the Pairwise — is what tells us who is in the tournament, and the order of the teams. (The CHN Primer explains how it all works.)

In the final Pairwise following Saturday's championship games, the order is the following:

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

This list poses some headaches for the committee, but it's not too bad. A further one was avoided when Minnesota failed to make the tournament. Because of a combination of various happenings (as chronicled during the weekend in our Pairwise Live Blog), Ohio State made it over Minnesota, even though the Buckeyes were eliminated from the CCHA playoffs last weekend. Likewise for Miami, which had a stronger position going into last weekend. Each lost three-game quarterfinal series.

Princeton made it by tying the ECAC consolation game. The only other intrigue late Saturday was whether Mass.-Lowell would win Hockey East and take an autobid, thus bumping out Ohio State. It did not.

But what is really amazing is that Ohio State, Wisconsin and Minnesota all wound up tied in "Comparison Wins" with nine. So this tie is broken through the RPI, where Ohio State edged Wisconsin by .0002. Unreal. We noted this as a possibility earlier in the day on the Live Blog. Ohio State also wins the individual comparison against Wisconsin because of that RPI edge, so, while it's razor close, there should be no controversy — Ohio State is in.

(You can skip over the rest of the explanatory verbiage and see our picks for the brackets by looking below.)

The details

The biggest headache for the committee comes at Boston University's expense. But before getting into that, let's remind everyone of the two most sacrosanct committee policies: 1) Teams hosting regionals must be in that region; 2) Avoid intra-conference matchups in the first round.

As a result of the second of those policies, neither Ohio State or Miami can play either Michigan or Notre Dame in the first round. So, even though BU, by virtue of being No. 1 overall "deserves" to play one of the least powerful teams in the tournament — Air Force or Bemidji State — it cannot. Air Force and BSU must play Notre Dame and Michigan. Therefore, BU must play Ohio State or Miami.

It should be noted, however, that Air Force actually placed No. 14 in the final Pairwise, so it only gives more credence to BU playing Ohio State (15) in the first round.

This same thing happened to Cornell in 2003, though it handily defeated Minnesota State in the first round anyway.

Meanwhile, the committee has clearly preferred, since going to the four-region, 16-team field in 2003, as clean a bracket as possible. This means taking the straight Pairwise, as flawed as it might be, and trying to match teams up in serpentine order: i.e 1 vs. 16 and 8 vs. 9 in one bracket ... 2 vs. 15 and 7 vs. 10 in another ... and so on.

This has some challenges this year, but the committee is nevertheless locked into another sacrosanct policy — the "bands" of four teams MUST stay in their band. So teams 1-4 are No. 1 seeds. Teams 5-8 in the Pairwise are No. 2 seeds, and so on. This cannot change.

Still, this can be figured out taking it all logically. First, here's what we have, then we'll explain why.

1. Boston University (1) vs. 4. Ohio State (15)
2. North Dakota (8) vs. 3. New Hampshire (10)

1. Michigan (4) vs. 4. Air Force (14)
2. Yale (5) vs. 3. Vermont (9)

Grand Rapids
1. Notre Dame (2) vs. 4. Bemidji State (16)
2. Minnesota-Duluth (7) vs. 3. Cornell (11)

1. Denver (3) vs. 4. Miami (13)
2. Northeastern (6) vs. 3. Princeton (12)

First of all, we have Boston University staying in Manchester despite a potential second-round matchup with New Hampshire. There has been some talk about "protecting" BU — because it is the No. 1 overall seed — by making sure their matchups are most favorable. Having to play New Hampshire, potentially, could be problematic, and BU is already having to play Ohio State in the first round instead of Bemidji State.

But there are numerous reasons to keep BU in Manchester. It is technically closer than Bridgeport. Typically, this is the first consideration, but since Manchester and Bridgeport aren't a big difference, the committee could move BU. But this is why it won't:

* BU-New Hampshire would be a second-round matchup. The committee hasn't cared much about avoiding second-round matchups, or "protecting" against second-round matchups.

* Since UNH is a No. 3 seed, the presumption is it won't win, theoretically. So the committee doesn't need to "protect" BU against the No. 3 seed.

* Manchester is not UNH's home arena. It's not the big ice surface like there is in Durham, so it's not as big a concern.

* And, perhaps most importantly, putting BU in Bridgeport means matching the Terriers against the No. 5 overall seed, Yale — because Yale must be in Bridegport. So, going by the numbers, how is that more fair?

So, going off that, things fall into place. BU against Ohio State, as we said earlier, with No. 8 North Dakota matched against No. 1 BU in that bracket. UNH has to be there.

Notre Dame is next, so it gets the close Grand Rapids Regional, and is thus matched No. 2 vs. No. 7 against UMD. Notre Dame gets Bemidji State by default. Cornell is there because it is the lower of the No. 3 seeds that are left. More on that later.

Whichever team placed No. 4 overall — in this case Michigan — was going to be paired with No. 5 Yale. So Michigan gets to play in Bridgeport. This leaves Denver for Minneapolis — which works out fine, since Minnesota isn't in the tournament, so no worries there. Northeastern is here as the No. 3 vs. No. 6 matchup. Princeton is here as the lower No. 3 seed.

The only problem is, No. 13 Miami can't play Michigan — so Miami gets bounced back to the West Regional to play Denver, while Air Force gets bumped up against Michigan.

Why aren't Princeton or Cornell in Bridgeport? Because they can't play Yale. This leaves Vermont as the only remaining possibility. It's not ideal, with a No. 5 playing a No. 9 (normally it would be 5-12), so Yale gets hurt a bit as a result. But it's not a big deal.


The only main caveat here is whether the committee decides to keep Minnesota-Duluth in the Minneapolis regional. Note, however, that the committee has not made a move based on attendance purposes since the move to 16 teams in 2003. The only exception was swapping No. 15 and No. 16 in 2007, and keeping Air Force in Colorado Springs.

The committee could decide to do that here, but that would break up the natural 2-7 matchup with Notre Dame. But keep an eye on it.

The only other caveat, really, is whether BU does indeed go to Bridgeport. But we're figuring not. It's possible, too, that Cornell and Princeton could flip for some reason — but why? No. 6 (Northeastern) should play the lower of the two compared to No. 7 (UMD).

And if the committee goes "off the board" to overrule the Ohio State spot — taking Wisconsin, say, instead — then that would set a whole new precedent. Doubt it will happen, but just throwing it out there just in case.

Thanks to Mike Machnik for contributing to this article.

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