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College Hockey:
Eight weeks out, and intraconference matchups cause a headache

It’s time once again to do what we like to call Bracketology, college hockey style. It’s our weekly look at how I believe the NCAA tournament will wind up come selection time.

It’s a look into what are the possible thought processes behind selecting and seeding the NCAA tournament teams.

Those of you that are veterans of the college hockey scene know that it is all about the PairWise Rankings. This is USCHO’s numerical approach that simulates the way the NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Committee chooses the teams that make the NCAA tournament.

The criteria are tweaked every so often — every so often being every year lately — in order to give what the committee believes will be the best tournament.

There were some major changes this year to the selection criteria. In short:

• PairWise comparisons are now done against all teams. There is no cutoff for the amount of teams, so the most PWR comparison wins that a team can have is 58 since there are 59 teams.

• There is now a home and away wins weighting applied to the Ratings Percentage Index. In calculation of the index, wins on the road and losses at home have a weighting factor of 1.2. Wins at home and losses on the road have a weighting factor of 0.8. All neutral-site games have a weighting factor of 1.0. A tie is one-half of a win and one-half of a loss, so home/road ties are treated accordingly for the teams involved.

• There is a quality wins bonus for wins against teams in the top 20 of the RPI. A win against the No. 1 team in the RPI is worth 0.05 points, and is scaled down by 0.0025 points for each place until you reach No. 20, where a bonus of 0.0025 points will be given.

The changes are a little complicated, so it is best to check out our FAQ.

Since USCHO has begun the PairWise Rankings, we have correctly identified all of the teams that have been selected to the NCAA tournament.

For the past three years, I am the only prognosticator to have correctly predicted the exact brackets for the NCAA tournament, meaning that I have predicted how the committee thought when putting together the brackets.

This is the next installment of our Bracketology, and we’ll be bringing you a new one every week until we make our final picks before the field is announced on March 23.

If you want to skip the inner workings and get to the results of the analysis, then click here.

Here are the facts:

• Sixteen teams are selected to participate in the national tournament.

• There are four regional sites (East — Bridgeport, Conn.; Northeast — Worcester, Mass.; Midwest — Cincinnati; West — St. Paul, Minn.)

• A host institution that is invited to the tournament plays in the regional for which it is the host and cannot be moved. There are four host institutions this year: Yale in Bridgeport, Holy Cross in Worcester, Miami in Cincinnati and Minnesota in St. Paul.

• Seedings will not be switched. To avoid undesirable first-round matchups, including intra-conference games (see below), teams will be moved among regionals, not reseeded.

Here are the NCAA’s guidelines on the matter, from the 2014 pre-championship manual:

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 the likelihood of a playoff-type atmosphere at each regional site. For this model, the following is a basic set of priorities:

1. Once the six automatic qualifiers and 10 at-large teams are selected, the next step is to develop four groups from the committee’s rankings of 1-16. The top four teams are 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. The next four are targeted as No. 2 seeds. The next four are No. 3 seeds and the last four are No. 4 seeds.

2. Step two is to place the home teams. Host institutions that qualify will be placed at home.

3. Step three is to fill in the bracket so that first-round conference matchups are avoided, unless it corrupts the integrity of the bracket. If five or more teams from one conference are selected to the championship, then the integrity of the bracket will be protected (i.e., maintaining the pairing process according to seed will take priority over avoidance of first-round conference matchups). To complete each regional, the committee assigns one team from each of the remaining seeded groups so there is a No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 seed at each regional site.

Given these facts, here is the top 16 of the current PairWise Rankings (PWR), and the conference leaders through all games of Jan. 21:

1 Minnesota
2 Boston College
3 Quinnipiac
4t Union
4t Ferris state
6t Providence
6t Northeastern
8 St. Cloud State
9 Massachusetts-Lowell
10 Wisconsin
11 Notre Dame
12t Clarkson
12t Cornell
14 Yale
15t Michigan
15t Vermont
– Mercyhurst

Current conference leaders based on winning percentage:

Atlantic Hockey: Mercyhurst
Big Ten: Minnesota
ECAC Hockey: Union
Hockey East: Boston College
NCHC: St. Cloud State
WCHA: Ferris State

Notes

• Bracketology assumes that the season has ended and there are no more games to be played — i.e., the NCAA tournament starts tomorrow.

• Because there are an uneven amount of games played inside each conference, I will be using winning percentage, not points accumulated, to determine the current leader in each conference. This team is my assumed conference tournament champion.

Step one

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

We break ties in the PWR by looking at the individual comparisons among the tied teams, and add in any current league leaders that are not currently in the top 16. The only team that is not is Mercyhurst.

From there, we can start looking at the ties and bubbles in a more detailed fashion.

The ties and bubbles consist of Union and Ferris State at 4, Providence and Northeastern at 6, Clarkson and Cornell at 12, and Michigan and Vermont at 15.

We break all of our ties based upon the RPI.

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

1 Minnesota
2 Boston College
3 Quinnipiac
4 Union
5 Ferris state
6 Providence
7 Northeastern
8 St. Cloud State
9 Massachusetts-Lowell
10 Wisconsin
11 Notre Dame
12 Clarkson
13 Cornell
14 Yale
15 Michigan
16 Mercyhurst

Step two

Now it’s time to assign the seeds.

No. 1 seeds: Minnesota, Boston College, Quinnipiac, Union

No. 2 seeds: Ferris State, Providence, Northeastern, St Cloud State

No. 3 seeds: Massachusetts-Lowell, Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Clarkson

No. 4 seeds: Cornell, Yale, Michigan, Mercyhurst

Step three

Place the No. 1 seeds in regionals.

Minnesota, as a host school, is placed first.

No. 1 Minnesota is placed in the West Regional in St. Paul.
No. 2 Boston College is placed in the Northeast Regional in Worcester.
No. 3 Quinnipiac is placed in the East Regional in Bridgeport.
No. 4 Union is placed in the Midwest Regional in Cincinnati.

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 not 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).

If this is the case, as it was last year, then the committee should seed so that the quarterfinals are seeded such that the four regional championships would be played by No. 1 vs. No. 8, No. 2 vs. No. 7, No. 3 vs. No. 6 and No. 4 vs. No. 5.

So therefore:

No. 2 seeds

No. 8 St. Cloud State is placed in No. 1 Minnesota’s regional, the West Regional.
No. 7 Northeastern is placed in No. 2 Boston College’s regional, the Northeast Regional.
No. 6 Providence is placed in No. 3 Quinnipiac’s regional, the East Regional.
No. 5 Ferris State is placed in No. 4 Union’s regional, the Midwest Regional.

No. 3 seeds

Our bracketing system has one regional containing seeds 1, 8, 9, and 16; another with 2, 7, 10 and 15; another with 3, 6, 11 and 14; and another with 4, 5, 12 and 13.

No. 9 Massachusetts-Lowell is placed in No. 8 St. Cloud State’s regional, the West Regional.
No. 10 Wisconsin is placed in No. 7 Northeastern’s regional, the Northeast Regional.
No. 11 Notre Dame is placed in No. 6 Providence’s regional, the East Regional.
No. 12 Clarkson is placed in No. 5 Ferris State’s regional, the Midwest Regional.

No. 4 seeds

One more time, taking No. 16 vs. No. 1, No. 15 vs. No. 2, etc.

But we have to place Yale first as the host in the East.

No. 14 Yale is sent to No. 3 Quinnipiac’s regional, the East Regional.
No. 16 Mercyhurst is sent to No. 1 Minnesota’s regional, the West Regional.
No. 15 Michigan is sent to No. 2 Boston College’s regional, the Northeast Regional.
No. 13 Cornell is sent to No. 4 Union’s regional, the Midwest Regional.

The brackets as we have set them up:

West Regional (St. Paul):
16 Mercyhurst vs. 1 Minnesota
9 Massachusetts-Lowell vs. 8 St. Cloud State

Midwest Regional (Cincinnati):
13 Cornell vs. 4 Union
12 Clarkson vs. 5 Ferris State

Northeast Regional (Worcester):
15 Michigan vs. 2 Boston College
10 Wisconsin vs. 7 Northeastern

East Regional (Bridgeport):
14 Yale vs. 3 Quinnipiac
11 Notre Dame vs. 6 Providence

Our first concern is avoiding intraconference matchups. We have three of them, so let’s solve them.

We have Yale vs. Quinnipiac, Cornell vs. Union and Notre Dame vs. Providence. As always, even though there are five teams from both Hockey East and ECAC Hockey, history has shown that the committee will try to avoid first-round intraconference matchups if it’s possible.

We can swap Notre Dame and Clarkson. That brings Notre Dame to the Midwest and Clarkson to the East, which is a good swap. Note that we can’t swap Lowell back, because that would create another Hockey East-Hockey East matchup.

West Regional (St. Paul):
16 Mercyhurst vs. 1 Minnesota
9 Massachusetts-Lowell vs. 8 St. Cloud State

Midwest Regional (Cincinnati):
13 Cornell vs. 4 Union
11 Notre Dame vs. 5 Ferris State

Northeast Regional (Worcester):
15 Michigan vs. 2 Boston College
10 Wisconsin vs. 7 Northeastern

East Regional (Bridgeport):
14 Yale vs. 3 Quinnipiac
12 Clarkson vs. 6 Providence

Now we have a headache, or fun, whatever viewpoint you want to take it from.

The ECAC-ECAC matchups all occur in the 1 vs. 4 band. We have Minnesota, which must be in St. Paul and Yale, which must be in Bridgeport.

But because of conference, it means that Yale and Cornell have to face Minnesota and Boston College.

Or does it?

There are some glaring things to address with this, but let’s swap what we can first.

There’s only one, Cornell and Michigan.

West Regional (St. Paul):
16 Mercyhurst vs. 1 Minnesota
9 Massachusetts-Lowell vs. 8 St. Cloud State

Midwest Regional (Cincinnati):
15 Michigan vs. 4 Union
11 Notre Dame vs. 5 Ferris State

Northeast Regional (Worcester):
13 Cornell vs. 2 Boston College
10 Wisconsin vs. 7 Northeastern

East Regional (Bridgeport):
14 Yale vs. 3 Quinnipiac
12 Clarkson vs. 6 Providence

We still have that sticky situation where Yale is playing Quinnipiac. Can we avoid it?

BC and Quinnipiac can swap, but then we still have an ECAC-ECAC matchup. Quinnipiac and Union are in the same boat.

We can’t swap Mercyhurst and Yale. Nor can we swap much else. There’s a way to avoid intraconference matchups but it conflicts with so many objectives (protecting the No. 1 overall seed, giving No. 1 seeds regionals close to their school, etc.) that it’s hard to imagine the committee going in that direction.

So it looks like we’re stuck.

And stuck with a championship rematch in Bridgeport in round one. Wow!

So my bracket for the week:

West Regional (St. Paul):
16 Mercyhurst vs. 1 Minnesota
9 Massachusetts-Lowell vs. 8 St. Cloud State

Midwest Regional (Cincinnati):
15 Michigan vs. 4 Union
11 Notre Dame vs. 5 Ferris State

Northeast Regional (Worcester):
13 Cornell vs. 2 Boston College
10 Wisconsin vs. 7 Northeastern

East Regional (Bridgeport):
14 Yale vs. 3 Quinnipiac
12 Clarkson vs. 6 Providence

So that is it.

See you here next week for the next Bracketology.

Here’s a summary of everything that we have covered.

This week’s brackets

West Regional (St. Paul)
16 Mercyhurst vs. 1 Minnesota
9 Massachusetts-Lowell vs. 8 St. Cloud State

Midwest Regional (Cincinnati)
15 Michigan vs. 4 Union
11 Notre Dame vs. 5 Ferris State

East Regional (Bridgeport)
14 Yale vs. 3 Quinnipiac
12 Clarkson vs. 6 Providence

Northeast Regional (Worcester)
13 Cornell vs. 2 Boston College
10 Wisconsin vs. 7 Northeastern

Conference breakdowns

Hockey East — 5
ECAC Hockey — 5
Big Ten — 3
Atlantic Hockey — 1
NCHC — 1
WCHA — 1

On the move

In: Notre Dame

Out: New Hampshire

Attendance woes?

None.

Last week’s brackets

West Regional (St. Paul)
16 Mercyhurst vs. 1 Minnesota
9 Massachusetts-Lowell vs. 5 St. Cloud State

Midwest Regional (Cincinnati)
15 Michigan vs. 3 Ferris State
10 Wisconsin vs. 6 Union

East Regional (Bridgeport)
13 New Hampshire vs. 4 Quinnipiac
12 Yale vs. 8 Providence

Northeast Regional (Worcester)
14 Clarkson vs. 2 Boston College
11 Cornell vs. 7 Northeastern

Interesting …

Juicy rematch of last year’s championship game in round one in Bridgeport. The state of Connecticut salivates over that one.

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