Bracket ABCs: Final NCAA Projection
There are two ways to look at seedings now that we have the final Pairwise list.
The way things will probably go, and the way things ought to go.
Let's look at both.
In recent years, "maximizing attendance" has become a higher priority than keeping the bracket "pure." By pure, we mean the 1-16, 2-15, 3-14, 4-13, etc... bracketing that dominated for years. It was only altered to avoid first-round matchups against teams from the same conference, which is a rule, and some other sacrosanct rules.
The "maximizing attendance" concept is a subjective decision, not mandated by the Ice Hockey Committee's official guidelines.
I have long been a proponent of flipping things around as much as the Committee wants — so long as the reasoning is good, such as avoiding unfair situations. I don't even mind a little altering for attendance.
But too much emphasis on that, sometimes to the detriment of other factors, is also not good.
Here's the final Pairwise:
6 Western Michigan
7 Boston University
9 Penn State
10 North Dakota
12 Air Force
13 Notre Dame
15 Ohio State
16 Michigan Tech
Given this, here are my brackets, based upon what I think should happen.
1. Denver vs. 16. Michigan Tech
8. Union vs. 10. North Dakota
2. Minnesota-Duluth vs. 15. Ohio State
6. WMU vs. 12. Air Force
3. Harvard vs. 13. Notre Dame
7. BU vs. 9. Penn State
4. Minnesota vs. 14. Providence
5. Lowell vs. 11. Cornell
The biggest thing here is Providence. In 2015, the Committee at the time was faced with an almost identical situation and placed the Friars, as a 4 seed, in Providence, even though it wasn't mandatory. It went through a few hoops to make it happen.
This year, not as many hoops are necessary. Harvard at 3 and Providence at 14 line up as the "natural" 3-14 matchup. End of story.
But this still doesn't address the fact that Providence doesn't deserve this game. It's bad enough we still have things like host teams. But Providence isn't a host. Here's all the reasons why I don't think Providence (the team) should be in Providence (the regional):
* It's a 4 seed, and low seeds shouldn't get this kind of benefit if avoidable
* Providence will attract a good crowd, but a Regional of Harvard, BU, Notre Dame, Penn State will draw good enough. Maybe not as much, but close enough to say we don't need to keep Providence there.
* Providence has the week off and is rested, and is one of the last teams in the tournament, just like 2015.
The other issue is Denver. To an extent, it's also unfair to Denver to be in the Fargo Regional and line up to potentially play North Dakota in the second round, basically on the road. The No. 1 overall seed in the tournament should be better protected than that. Furthermore, Minnesota-Duluth is a bus trip to Fargo whereas UMD would fly to Cincinnati. It's quite possible the Committee moves Denver to Cincy.
But, here's the thing. You don't necessarily have to protect Denver because the potential game against UND would be in the second round, not first (which isn't possible anyway because both teams are from the same conference, but that's a different story). Also, 1 vs. 8 is the natural second-round matchup you try to line up, and moving Denver sets up a chain reaction that becomes a little much. So I'm actually going to keep Denver in Fargo.
The other "un-natural" move here is having 2 vs. 6 in Cincy, and 3 vs. 7 in Providence. This would be to maximize attendance by keeping Western Michigan in Cincinnati, and I have no problem with this. Having BU in Cincinnati and WMU in Providence really makes no sense to anyone, except if you want to be a slave to those natural pairings. Like I said above, if it makes more sense to switch, the Committee shouldn't be beholden to the natural pairings.
I've also swapped Cornell and Air Force, because, again, it just makes practical sense from an attendance standpoint, with no harm to anyone.
So, what will happen?
I think the Committee will do everything I said above, except it will put Providence in Providence and justify it like it did in 2015.
Now, instead of playing Harvard, the Committee could choose to switch Harvard and Minnesota. This wouldn't surprise me. In 2015, Miami was the 4th overall seed, and as the lowest 1 seed, it was matched up with Providence. Here, Minnesota is the lowest 1 seed, so the Committee can justify it by saying Minnesota deserves the least protection.
To me, that doesn't matter, because Providence still gets an unnecessary benefit.
I could also see the Committee shifting 3 seeds around. Those 3 seeds — Cornell, Air Force and Penn State — are very fluid, and you could make sound reasoning for a few different configurations. For example, Penn State to Cincinnati, Cornell to Providence, and Air Force to Manchester. I ultimately chose the former, so Cornell can help with attendance in Manchester, even though Lowell will have a sizable contingent on its own.