March 15, 2010 PRINT Bookmark and Share

NCAA Tournament Bracket ABCs

Pairwise Analysis Breakdown, Comparison — Championship Week Edition

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

And down the stretch we come ...

The Best-of-3 series are over, the CHA has its automatic bid — with Alabama-Huntsville mucking things up for a myriad of bubble teams by getting the autobid away from Bemidji State, which qualifies anyway — and the conference tournament championship weekends are upon us.

On Sunday, the NCAA will officially announce its selections. But, if you understand the process and follow along with the Pairwise and You Are the Committee here at CHN, you'll be ahead of the game.

In this Bracket ABCs article, we'll once again break down the current Pairwise, and see where each team stands, which ones are mostly likely to make the NCAAs, which aren't, and where the teams will probably go.

We'll have more analysis through the weekend, as the results of games come in. For that, you can follow our Pairwise Live Blog. When the games are over this coming weekend, we'll know for sure who is in the NCAAs, and then we'll have our final bracket analysis piece, explaining where we believe the teams will be placed.

So to summarize, to follow all the "action" this week/weekend, you can go to:

1. The Current Pairwise

2. Read about how the Pairwise and seeding process works in our Pairwise Primer

3. Play with our You Are the Committee tool, to project out various scenarios for how things might turn out.

4. Follow the Pairwise Live Blog throughout conference tournament championship weekend, and see how the various fluctuations are affecting the teams. And Saturday night we'll have our final bracket projection.

Here's the way things currently stand:

1-2. Denver, Miami

We've been grouping these guys together for a while now, and there's little reason to change that. But, because Miami lost a game last weekend and is still playing, there are scenarios now where losing twice — combined with Wisconsin winning the WCHA tournament — could slide Miami down a notch. I think, either way, at this point, Miami is going to play in Fort Wayne. But the difference between a No. 2 and No. 3 overall will be pretty big this year, with the Atlantic champ and Alabama-Huntsville as the bottom two seeds. It means the No. 3 will play a team like Vermont instead.

3. Wisconsin

Because of the RPI advantage Wisconsin has over the teams right below, in most scenarios, the Badgers are pretty locked in to this spot. The committee could choose to keep them within driving distance in St. Paul, with Denver going to Albany. But it will be one or the other, assuming Boston College holds a slot for Worcester.

4-5-6. Boston College, North Dakota, St. Cloud State

The interesting thing here is, there are four WCHA teams in the top six slots. All four are playing in the Final Five. So they can't all lose twice, and they can't all win twice. North Dakota is playing in the Thursday game, so it's the only team that can go 3-0, but if that happens, none of the others can win two games.

The point is, a lot will be balanced out, which could give Boston College the opportunity to sneak up a slot. Ultimately, however, it's hard to see that mattering very much. The only thing is, with Vermont and New Hampshire on the bubble, if both get in as 4 seeds, that would create the uproar of giving Boston College one of the "easier" games against UAH or the AH winner, since BC can't play a team from its own conference. So that's something to watch out for. Actually, though, there are realistic scenarios where UNH finishes with a No. 3 seed still. What hurt Boston College, oddly, is sweeping Massachusetts. As a result, UMass is no longer a "Team Under Consideration." And so, BC's 5-0 record against UMass this year is eliminated from the "Record vs. TUC" component of the Pairwise. That leaves BC vulnerable to finishing much lower than it could have otherwise — meaning, at worst, No. 6 overall.

Bottom line is, whatever team fares better in the Final Five will have a shot for a No. 1 seed, though won't necessarily get it, and would basically be in whatever bracket Boston College is. The other WCHA team would get the No. 6, and be likely matched up in Wisconsin's bracket.

Note, of course, with so many permutations of the Pairwise still possible, and people playing constantly with You Are the Committee, we are constantly getting e-mailed oddball scenarios. And there is one that legitimately exists that has BC going down to No. 7. It ain't easy, but possible.

7. Bemidji State

With Bemidji State just sitting and waiting, there won't be much shuffling. Most likely, it will wind up in the 7-9 range, with a No. 2 seed most likely.

This whole nexus of teams here is very, very interesting. The First Round matchups could be quite delicious. Just look at these teams ... Ferris State, Cornell, Bemidji State, St. Cloud State, Yale, Alaska. Three of them have never won an NCAA game. Alaska has never even made the tournament. Meanwhile, Cornell and BSU, played each other in last year's Regional Final, and you ought to believe that the Big Red are looking for revenge.

So whatever falls in this area, it's going to be darned intriguing.

8-9. Ferris State, Cornell

Here is where it starts to get dicey. Above here, teams are safe. In most other years, teams in this range would be safe here. But both of these teams can play themselves out of the NCAAs with two losses. Cornell has more room to drop than Ferris, but the Bulldogs can also fall.

Even at No. 12 or 13 these teams aren't safe. More on that in a moment.

10. Yale

It's another case where sitting home may do more help than harm. Without the possibility of losing any more games, there's only so far Yale can fall. And right now, at No. 10, the Bulldogs will only shuffle a spot or two in either direction. This is one of those cases where, if it was basketball, the committee would drop Yale a couple notches for having an injury to one of its top players. But hockey doesn't work like that. Whether it should is a philosophical discussion for another time.

The only way Yale doesn't make it is with a lot of "upsets" elsewhere. Thing is, that's more likely than usual this year. Again, more on that in a moment.

11. Minnesota-Duluth

If Duluth loses the Thursday play-in game at the Final Five, it's in immediate trouble. It automatically loses the comparison to Northern Michigan at that point. And it loses the comparison to New Hampshire. (update: losing actually makes UMD's and UNH's RPIs exactly the same, but with UMD ahead by some minuscule amount that kept UMD in the top 14.) In fact, winning the play-in then losing the next two, has the same effect. Thus, the only way for UMD to make the NCAAs is to win the Thursday game, and then win one of the next two against a field that includes four of the top six teams in the nation. A tall order, but obviously do-able, since UMD won the Broadmoor Trophy from this spot a year ago.

It's very all-or-nothing, since going 2-1 at least will get UMD a pretty good seed, maybe a matchup with Bemidji State (since it can't play SCSU or North Dakota). A loss, and the Bulldogs plummet.

12-13. Northern Michigan, Alaska

These two just played each other, and Alaska is out. So it sits tight and waits while Northern Michigan plays Ferris State in the CCHA semifinals. The winner is likely to be in. The loser would need to win the consolation game or have no shot. If both go 1-1, it's going to get very, very interesting.

Typically, if both went 1-1, I'd say they were all but assured getting in. But, as we've alluded to above, this year is not like most years for this reason:

There are so many decent teams that haven't qualified at-large still participating in their conference tournaments. In other words, the possibility of "upsets" (and we define "upset" this time of year as "a team that wouldn't otherwise qualify for the NCAAs at-large, winning its conference tournament championship") is much greater.

In both the ECAC and Hockey East, only one of the four teams remaining can qualify for the NCAAs without winning the title — Cornell and Boston College. So, in the ECAC, if Cornell loses a game, either St. Lawrence, Brown or Union is taking the 14th slot. In Hockey East, the 13th slot could then go to Boston University, Maine or Vermont.

On top of that, Michigan lingers out there in the CCHA. Does anyone doubt Michigan has a great shot to win the CCHA tournament? Now you'd be down to just 11 at-large slots.

As my momma say ... oy vey.

14-15. Vermont, New Hampshire

Obviously, if Vermont loses, it is done. (correction: not so obvious. There are a few scenarios where Vermont can get in even after losing the semis.) If Vermont goes 1-1, then its fate hinges on everything else we've mentioned already. But really, I still can't get over the Catamounts being a No. 8 seed in its own conference's tournament, and still being No. 14 in the Pairwise. In fact, both Vermont and the team it "upset" in the Hockey East Quarterfinals — No. 1 seed New Hampshire — currently have the identical record, 17-13-7. It shows you how good Vermont was early in non-league play, and how bad New Hampshire was. And how tight Hockey East was. But yeah, we know all that, and it's still incredibly weird.

New Hampshire will be rooting hard against Ferris State/Northern Michigan and Minnesota-Duluth. Basically, with FSU and NMU facing each other in the CCHA semifinal, UNH needs whatever team loses, to also lose the consolation game. If it does, UNH grabs that comparison and moves up. Likewise, if UMD goes 0-1 or 1-2 in the Final Five, UNH will flip that comparison. If one of those things happen, UNH's chances are pretty good — depending upon the "upsets" elsewhere.

16. Michigan

Michigan is still in must-win mode. If it beats Miami in Friday's semi, that will be help a lot. But a loss in the final, would drop the Wolverines down again.

17. Michigan State

Because it isn't playing this weekend, Michigan State can't do anything to directly help themselves. That makes getting into the tournament at this point a virtual impossibility. One reason is because New Hampshire, sitting at No. 15, also isn't playing. New Hampshire could lose a comparison with Union if Union wins the ECACs, but then Union takes another at-large spot away anyway. So that's just an example of why Michigan State is out.

18-19. Maine, Boston University

These teams play each other in the Hockey East semifinal. The loser is done. The winner may gain a few spots, but then, it would have to win Saturday's final to maintain it. If it does, it wins the automatic bid anyway, so this discussion is moot.

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