March 18, 2012 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Bracket ABCs: Post-Selection Analysis

Committee Chair Frazier Weighs in on Choices

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

The numbers are still the numbers.

That should be a comfort to many, especially for everyone trying to project a bracket by following the Pairwise all weekend leading up to Sunday's selections.

As a result, everyone knows the teams that are in the tournament, and anyone with a knowledge on how the system works, can get a pretty reasonably-close final bracket.

"Everyone likes the fact that the numbers are the numbers, and we don't want to be monkeying around," NCAA men's ice hockey committee chair Sean Frazier said. "It's not perfect, and I like the fact of a little subjectivity on where (teams) go. We want to have ability to be flexible. ... But, I think (the system) works for college hockey."

Our CHN Pairwise Live Blog had the exact right projection. Our alternative projection on the main site was off in a couple of spots based upon the potential for the committee to go about things slightly differently.

Each committee has its own standards of deviation from the precise mechanical nature of the process, and sometimes it's just 50/50 about which direction a necessary flip-flop should go.

"Our No. 1 deal is about trying to make sure we keep the integrity of the bracket," said Frazier, the assistant athletic director at Wisconsin. "There's a lot of stuff we can do, or things we can do relative to keeping attendance strong in the various sites, but I'm a traditionalist and purist when it comes to that."

Since 2003, when the field went to 16 teams, the committee has followed the Pairwise strictly, in 1-16 order. The Pairwise is the system of comparing one team to every other team by a set of criteria. The comparison "wins" are then totaled up, and put in Pairwise standings form. The committee, at one time, didn't use the comparisons in a standings form — it merely looked at each comparison individually, which could lead to differences. But with the Pairwise, as published at various online places, becoming so popular, the committee just started going with that too.

Since doing that, the committee has made it a priority to then sort the teams 1-16, and try to create "bracket integrity," by placing 1-16-8-9 together in a regional, and 2-15-7-10 in another, an so on. Things need to be tinkered with, however, when a certain team needs to be placed in a certain regional, or intra-conference first-round matchups need to be avoided.

That was the case this year for Minnesota, which is No. 8 overall and needs to be in St. Paul, as the host. The problem, if you will, is that the No. 1 seed in that region, North Dakota, is the No. 4 overall — so having 4-8 matched up in a potential second round is not perfect bracket integrity. However, getting it perfect would've meant putting No. 1 overall seed Boston College there, which the committee is not going to do.

Furthermore, No 4. (North Dakota) could not play No. 13 (Cornell), the natural pair. That's because No. 2 Michigan had to play No. 13 Cornell. That's because No. 15 and No. 14 were both CCHA teams, as is Michigan, so they could play each other. Michigan, as a 1 seed, must play one of the 4 seeds, but 14 and 15 were not possible, and 16 (Air Force) was paired with Boston College. So that left Cornell.

The committee could've flipped 15 and 16 and had BC play Michigan State, and Michigan play Air Force, and kept 13-14 with 3-4, but decided against that.

"We have to protect the body of work," Frazier said. "Boston College deserves to be protected, so we make sure the No. 16 (Air Force) gets (in BC's bracket)."

So that all created a trickle down effect. The main site bracket projection had it wrong, figuring that 13 and 15 would just be flipped, and Union would just be left with its natural opponent at 14. Instead, the committee just slid each team down, so that 3 (Union) faced 15, and 4 (North Dakota) faced 14.

Frazier said that was to ensure that Union faced the lower remaining 4 seed compared to North Dakota.

The only other spot of note came with Boston University going West to face Minnesota in the 8-9 matchup. Normally, 1-8 would be grouped, and 1-16, 8-9 playing each other in the first round. But 8 (Minnesota) had to be in St. Paul, and the committee wasn't going to move No. 1 Boston College with the Gophers out there. The main site projection reasoned that 9 (BU) would just stay put, but instead the committee kept 8-9 together in St. Paul, leaving 7-10 to flip to Worcester.

Again, you could keep 2-7 grouped, Michigan and Duluth, and had 7-10 play in Green Bay. But that would've grouped Boston College with the No. 6 (Ferris State) potentially in the second round, and the committee thought that was unfair to BC.

"It's not a perfect science," Frazier said. "We made it a point that higher seeds deserved a certain level of consideration with the lower seed. We look at the body of work. We make sure it's not like 5 vs. 9, because that's where we get jammed up. ... A team worked their butts off to get a higher seed, so you got to protect the body of work."

"We went through like 10-15 different brackets."

Then there's attendance factors. The committee keeps an eye on that, but in most years, doesn't use that as a major consideration. There have been years where it has given attendance more of a weight than other years, which has thrown off prognosticators.

"There's always concern about the fan base and what it's going to look like (at a Regional), especially in Green Bay," Frazier said. "I have some concerns about that.

"We played with Lowell and Maine, flipping that to do more for Bridgeport. But how does that hurt Duluth? And how does that affect Miami? We could've debated that and still been on the phone right now. But it's all about the integrity of the bracket."

Putting all the esoteric numerical data aside, Frazier is excited about this year's tournament.

"The tournament itself is well laid out. I'm excited about it," Frazier said. "The tournament is up for grabs. It should be exciting."

This will be Frazier's last year on the committee, with members serving four-year terms, and the chair is usually someone in his fourth year.

"I think college hockey is the greatest thing since sliced bread," Frazier said. "I will miss it, but I will live vicariously."

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