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College Hockey:
Bracketology, Hockey-Style: March 17

With the expansion of the NCAA tournament to 16 teams this year, even knowledgeable people around college hockey have been thrown into confusion about the new seeding process. And since the NCAA has publicized its new guidelines for seeding, here is a third weekly peek — “bracketology”-style — at what the NCAA tournament would look like if the season ended today.

There are two teams already in the tournament — New Hampshire as the Hockey East champion and Wayne State as the CHA champion. We will assume that the tournament winners of the CCHA, ECAC, and WCHA are already in the top 14 of the PairWise Rankings. This means that no team from those conferences makes the tournament that wouldn’t already have been an at-large seed.

The facts:

  • Sixteen teams are selected to participate in the national tournament.
  • There are now four regional sites, up from previous years’ two.
  • A host institution which is invited to the tournament plays in the regional for which it is the host, and cannot be moved.
  • Seedings will not be switched, as opposed to years past. To avoid undesirable first-round matchups, including intra-conference games (see below), teams will be moved among regionals, not reseeded as in past years.
  • New Hampshire (HEA) and Wayne State (CHA) are already in the tournament.

    Here are the NCAA’s guidelines on the matter, per a meeting of the Championship Committee:

    In setting up the tournament, the committee begins with a list of priorities to ensure a successful tournament on all fronts including competitive equity, financial success and likelihood of playoff-type atmosphere at each regional site. For the model, the following is a basic set of priorities:

  • The top four teams as ranked by the committee are the four No. 1 seeds and will be placed in the bracket so that if all four teams advance to the Men’s Frozen Four, the No. 1 seed will play the No. 4 seed and the No. 2 seed will play the No. 3 seed in the semifinals.
  • Host institutions that qualify will be placed at home.
  • No. 1 seeds are placed as close to home as possible in order of their ranking 1-4.
  • Conference matchups in first round are avoided.
  • Once the six automatic qualifiers and 10 at-large teams are selected, the next step is to develop four groups from the committee’s ranking of 1-16. The top four teams are the No. 1 seeds. The next four are targeted as No. 2 seeds. The next four are No. 3 seeds and the last four are No. 4 seeds. These groupings will be referred to as “bands.”

    Additionally, the NCAA recently clarified its selection criteria to include a bonus factor for “good” nonconference wins. Since the precise workings of the bonus are not yet known, that standard is not applied in this analysis.

    Given these facts, let’s take a look at the current PairWise Rankings (as of March 17, 2003):

    1 Colorado College
    2 Cornell
    3 New Hampshire
    4 Boston University
    5 Maine
    5 Ferris State
    7 Minnesota
    8 Boston College
    9 North Dakota
    9 Michigan
    11 MSU-Mankato
    12 Ohio State
    13 Harvard
    14 Michigan State
    15 St. Cloud State
    15 Providence
    17 Dartmouth
    17 Northern Michigan
    19 Denver
    20 Massachusetts
    21 Notre Dame
    22 Minnesota-Duluth
    23 Merrimack
    23 Yale
    25 Miami
    26 Western Michigan
    27 Mass.-Lowell
    27 Brown
    29 Alaska-Fairbanks

    Step One

    From the committee’s report, choose the 16 teams in the tournament.

    Remember our assumption that the tournament winners of the CCHA, ECAC, and WCHA are in the Top 14. We break ties in the PairWise Rankings by looking at the individual comparisons among the tied teams, and add Wayne State and (by assumption) MAAC regular-season champion Mercyhurst as those conferences’ autobid representatives.

    Now that we are closer to the actual tournament let’s take the selection of the 16 teams to another level, looking at the bubble in a more detailed fashion.

    That starts with determining where the bubble is — and it seems to start with Harvard, the team that has the 13th most PairWise comparison wins. Taking it a step further, the bubble currently ends with Northern Michigan and Dartmouth, tied for 17th.

    The bubble group therefore consists of Harvard, Michigan State, St. Cloud, Providence, Northern Michigan and Dartmouth.

    Comparing the bubble teams directly with one another, we have the following list of comparison wins:

    Harvard — Michigan State, St. Cloud, Providence, Dartmouth
    Michigan State — St. Cloud, Northern Michigan, Providence, Dartmouth
    St. Cloud — Providence, Northern Michigan
    Providence — Northern Michigan, Dartmouth
    Northern Michigan — Harvard, Dartmouth
    Dartmouth — St. Cloud

    We need to pick two teams here, and Harvard and Michigan State have more comparison wins against the other teams on the bubble than the rest. We’ll choose them.

    Therefore, the 16 teams in the tournament, in rank order, are:

    1 Colorado College
    2 Cornell
    3 New Hampshire
    4 Boston University
    5 Maine
    6 Ferris State
    7 Minnesota
    8 Boston College
    9 North Dakota
    10 Michigan
    11 Minnesota State
    12 Ohio State
    13 Harvard
    14 Michigan State
    15 Mercyhurst
    16 Wayne State

    Step Two

    Now it’s time to assign the seeds.

    No. 1 Seeds — Colorado College, Cornell, New Hampshire, Boston University
    No. 2 Seeds — Maine, Ferris State, Minnesota, Boston College
    No. 3 Seeds — North Dakota, Michigan, Minnesota State, Ohio State
    No. 4 Seeds — Harvard, Michigan State, Mercyhurst, Wayne State

    Step Three

    Place the No. 1 seeds in regionals. Following the guidelines, there is only one rule which must be enforced immediately, that of the host team being placed in its own regional. In this case, the only such team is Boston University, so the Terriers are placed in the Northeast Regional.

    Now we place the other No. 1 seeds based on proximity to the regional sites.

    Colorado College is placed in the West Regional.
    Cornell is placed in the East Regional.
    New Hampshire is placed in the Midwest Regional.

    Step Four

    Now we place the other 12 teams so as to avoid intra-conference matchups if possible.

    Begin by filling in each bracket by banding groups. Remember that teams are assigned to the regional closest to their campus sites by ranking order within the banding (unless you are a host school, in which case you must be assigned to your home regional).

    No. 2 Seeds

    Minnesota goes to the West Regional as the host school.
    Maine goes to the Northeast Regional.
    Ferris State goes to the Midwest Regional.
    Boston College goes to the East Regional.

    No. 3 Seeds

    Michigan goes to the Midwest Regional as the host.
    North Dakota goes to the West Regional.
    Minnesota State/Ohio State goes to the East/Northeast Regional (No compelling reason yet).

    No. 4 Seeds

    Harvard goes to the Northeast Regional.
    Michigan State goes to the Midwest Regional.
    Mercyhurst goes to the East Regional.
    Wayne State goes to the West Regional.

    Now, let’s take a look at the brackets as we have set them up.

    West Regional:

    Colorado College vs. Wayne State
    Minnesota vs. North Dakota

    Midwest Regional:

    New Hampshire vs. Michigan State
    Ferris State vs. Michigan

    East Regional:

    Cornell vs. Mercyhurst
    Boston College vs. Minnesota State/Ohio State

    Northeast Regional:

    Boston University vs. Harvard
    Maine vs. Minnesota State/Ohio State

    Our first concern is avoiding intra-conference matchups. We see that in both the West Regional and the Midwest Regional we have this case.

    We need to try to eliminate Minnesota vs. North Dakota and Ferris State vs. Michigan.

    Addressing the Minnesota-North Dakota game first, Minnesota, as the host school, cannot be switched. So North Dakota has to move regions. North Dakota can switch with any of the other three No. 3 seeds, but, we can’t move North Dakota to the Midwest Regional since that means Michigan would have to move, and the Wolverines are the host school. And we can’t switch North Dakota with Minnesota State since that creates another WCHA-WCHA matchup.

    That leaves Ohio State. So we make the switch, North Dakota goes to either the East or Northeast Regional, while Ohio State moves to the West.

    Now we address Ferris State vs. Michigan. Once again, Michigan, as a host school, cannot be moved. Therefore Ferris State must change places with another No. 2 seed. Ferris State cannot switch with Minnesota, because Minnesota is a host school. That leaves Maine or Boston College. Boston College being the lower of the seeds in the band, would be switched, but let’s reserve this change and come back to it.

    Where to place Minnesota State and North Dakota? North Dakota is seed “3a” while Minnesota State is seed “3c.” How about Maine and Boston College? Boston College is “2d”; Maine is “2a.” Let’s match the highest with the lowest for one game, and then we’ll have our other matchup set as well. In this case Maine plays Minnesota State and BC plays North Dakota.

    Let’s take a closer look at the brackets from a financial, and then a competitive aspect.

    Financially, we have pretty good brackets. Minnesota and Colorado College as the top two seeds in the West Regional make for a good draw. The Midwest Regional with Michigan and Michigan State should be great. We can’t count Ferris State here because the Bulldogs had to be moved — though to where we’re not sure yet.

    In the East Regional, Cornell and Boston College bring great crowds. In the Northeast Regional, Boston University and Maine, along with Harvard, make for an excellent draw.

    So, looking at this, we still have to make a switch. What to do?

    In the Northeast Regional, BU and Harvard are a presence, even with Maine taken out. So should we switch Ferris State with Maine since we will still get a good financial gain in Worcester? Or do we switch Ferris State with Boston College? Switching Ferris State with Boston College would not benefit Providence.

    So what do we do? We switch Maine with Ferris State in the Northeast Regional.

    The brackets:

    West Regional:

    Colorado College vs. Wayne State
    Minnesota vs. Ohio State

    Midwest Regional:

    New Hampshire vs. Michigan State
    Maine vs. Michigan

    East Regional:

    Cornell vs. Mercyhurst
    Boston College vs. North Dakota

    Northeast Regional:

    Boston University vs. Harvard
    Ferris State vs. Minnesota State

    We now add two ad hoc steps to finish out the selections.

    Step Five

    Examine the brackets for final competitive changes — and everything looks fine.

    So the tournament is now fixed.

    Now we can bracket the Frozen Four. If all four number-one seeds advance, then the top overall seed plays the No. 4 overall, and No. 2 plays No. 3. Therefore, the winners of the West and Northeast Regionals face each other in one semifinal (Colorado College and Boston University’s brackets), while the winners of the East and Midwest Regionals (Cornell and New Hampshire’s brackets) face each other in the other semifinal.

    Step Six

    Sit back, discuss and enjoy the hockey.

    The Bonus, Once Again

    In case you haven’t seen, USCHO.com now has an interactive feature whereby one can look at the PairWise, then add in a guess at NCAA’s new bonus-points system.

    Toying around with that feature, we can produce alternative sets of selections and seeds. First, a stab at some bonus figures. It stands to reason that the NCAA would pick bonuses which can impact the field without making them so big that they totally subvert the remaining criteria.

    Since teams in the top 15 of the RPI — those being the teams against which “quality” wins can be earned, according to the NCAA — are on average about .003 apart, the bonuses should be somewhere in that vicinity. With that in mind, we take a stab and assign .001 for a home quality win, .003 for one at a neutral site, and .005 for one on the road.

    Another possibility exists, of course — that the goal of the bonus system isn’t really to have teams jump one another, but rather not to change things, keeping them status quo while adding an air of mystery back into the selection process. A clever ruse?

    At any rate, using our guess-timated bonus figures, things change.

    Here are the modified PairWise Rankings:

    1 Cornell
    2 Colorado College
    3 New Hampshire
    4 Boston University
    5 Ferris State
    5 Maine
    7 Minnesota
    8 Boston College
    9 North Dakota
    9 Michigan
    11 Minnesota State
    12 Ohio State
    13 St. Cloud State
    14 Harvard
    14 Providence
    16 Michigan State
    17 Northern Michigan
    17 Dartmouth
    19 Denver

    There are some big changes. Cornell is now the top-seeded team, and the bubble includes more viable teams. Plus, St. Cloud is now in the tournament, which it was not before.

    The selection rankings, done as before, are:

    1 Cornell
    2 Colorado College
    3 New Hampshire
    4 Boston University
    5 Ferris State
    6 Maine
    7 Minnesota
    8 Boston College
    9 North Dakota
    10 Michigan
    11 Minnesota State
    12 Ohio State
    13 St. Cloud State
    14 Harvard (by virtue of most comparison wins within the bubble group)
    15 Mercyhurst
    16 Wayne State

    The seeds:

    No. 1 Seeds — Cornell, Colorado College, New Hampshire, Boston University
    No. 2 Seeds — Ferris State, Maine, Minnesota, Boston College
    No. 3 Seeds — North Dakota, Michigan, Minnesota State, Ohio State
    No. 4 Seeds — St. Cloud State, Harvard, Mercyhurst, Wayne State

    The regionals:

    No. 1 Seeds:

    Boston University — Northeast
    Cornell — East
    Colorado College — West
    New Hampshire — Midwest

    No. 2 Seeds:

    Minnesota — Midwest
    Ferris State — Midwest
    Maine — Northeast
    Boston College — East

    No. 3 Seeds:

    Michigan — Midwest
    North Dakota — West
    Minnesota State — Northeast
    Ohio State — East

    No. 4 Seeds:

    St. Cloud State — West
    Harvard — Northeast
    Mercyhurst — Midwest
    Wayne State — East

    The matchups:

    West Regional

    Colorado College vs. St. Cloud State
    Minnesota vs. North Dakota

    Midwest Regional

    New Hampshire vs. Mercyhurst
    Ferris State vs. Michigan

    East Regional

    Cornell vs. Wayne State
    Boston College vs. Ohio State

    Northeast Regional

    Boston University vs. Harvard
    Maine vs. Minnesota State

    We have problems in the West and the Midwest. We need to move St. Cloud and North Dakota.

    St. Cloud is easy: the Huskies switch with Mercyhurst in the Midwest region. This creates a Colorado College-Mercyhurst matchup which is 2 vs. 15 in the overall rankings.

    Now we need to move North Dakota — which we switch with Ohio State — and Ferris State. It’s either Boston College or Maine for FSU, and Maine moves per the logic we used in the section above.

    The final regional brackets:

    West Regional

    Colorado College vs. Mercyhurst
    Minnesota vs. Ohio State

    Midwest Regional

    New Hampshire vs. St. Cloud State
    Maine vs. Michigan

    East Regional

    Cornell vs. Wayne State
    Boston College vs. North Dakota

    Northeast Regional

    Boston University vs. Harvard
    Ferris State vs. Minnesota State

    How do these differ from what we had before adding the bonus points? The biggest change is that Michigan State is out and St. Cloud is in. There’s also the fact that Cornell is now the No. 1 seed overall, switching with Colorado College.

    Interesting, eh?

    So many questions, so few answers. The best we can do is just wait and see.

    We’ll be back on Sunday with a final look at the potential NCAA tournament brackets.


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