Bracketology, Hockey-Style: March 10

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 second peek — “bracketology”-style — at what the NCAA tournament would look like if the season ended today.

This, the second weekly edition of’s bracket forecaster, is designed to promote discussion and debate. Given the games left in the season and the gray areas still present in the seeding process, by no means is this what the tournament will actually look like.

But it is the best logic available, given the selection criteria currently in place.

We start by assuming that the tournament winners of the CCHA, ECAC, Hockey East 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.

    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.

    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 10, 2003):

    1 Colorado College
    2 Cornell
    3 New Hampshire
    4 Boston University
    5 Minnesota
    5 Boston College
    5 Maine
    8 Ferris State
    9 Michigan
    9 Minnesota State
    11 North Dakota
    12 St. Cloud State
    12 Ohio State
    14 Harvard
    14 Providence
    16 Denver
    16 Michigan State
    16 Dartmouth
    16 Northern Michigan
    20 Massachusetts
    21 Western Michigan
    22 Notre Dame
    22 Yale
    22 Minnesota-Duluth
    25 Miami
    26 Merrimack
    27 Mass.-Lowell
    27 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, Hockey East 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 the CHA and MAAC regular-season champions as those conferences’ autobid representatives.

    The 16 teams in the tournament, in rank order, are then:

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

    Step Two

    Now it’s time to assign the seeds.

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

    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 place 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.
    Boston College goes to the Northeast Regional.
    Maine goes to the East Regional.
    Ferris State goes to the Midwest Regional.

    No. 3 Seeds

    Michigan goes to the Midwest Regional as the host.
    Minnesota State goes to the West Regional.
    North Dakota/St. Cloud goes to the Northeast Regional (no compelling reason yet for either choice).
    North Dakota/St. Cloud goes to the East Regional.

    No. 4 Seeds

    Ohio State goes to the Midwest Regional.
    Harvard goes to the Northeast Regional.
    Alabama-Huntsville goes to the East Regional.
    Mercyhurst 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. Mercyhurst
    Minnesota vs. Minnesota State

    Midwest Regional:

    New Hampshire vs. Ohio State
    Ferris State vs. Michigan

    East Regional:

    Cornell vs. Alabama-Huntsville
    Maine vs. St. Cloud/North Dakota

    Northeast Regional:

    Boston University vs. Harvard
    Boston College vs. St. Cloud/North Dakota

    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. Minnesota State and Ferris State vs. Michigan.

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

    That leaves St. Cloud and North Dakota, so there’s no way to avoid a WCHA-WCHA matchup at the moment. We’ll come back to this.

    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. Maine 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 St. Cloud and North Dakota? North Dakota is seed “3c” while St. Cloud is seed “3d.” How about Maine and Boston College? Boston College is “2b”; Maine is “2c.” 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 North Dakota and BC plays St. Cloud.

    Let’s take a closer look at the brackets as we have them right now 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. Now in the Midwest Regional, with Michigan, should be good. We can’t count Ferris State here because the Bulldogs have to be moved. Ohio State also helps this bracket.

    In the East Regional, Cornell brings a good crowd, as does Maine. In the Northeast Regional, Boston University and Boston College, along with Harvard, make for a great draw.

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

    In the East Regional, BU and Harvard make a presence, even with BC taken out of it. So should we switch Ferris State with BC since we will still get a good financial gain in Worcester? Or do we switch Ferris State with Maine? Switching Ferris State with Maine would not be of benefit to Providence.

    So what do we do? We put Ferris State in the Northeast Regional, move Boston College to the East Regional and move Maine to the Midwest Regional. This makes sense from a gate standpoint because you have not really taken away from Worcester, but you have now added to Providence with BC’s fan base. And at the same time, Maine as the “2c” seed should travel instead of BC, which is the “2b” seed.

    We now have the Ferris State-Michigan matchup taken care of, we address the Minnesota situation. Since we can’t avoid a WCHA-WCHA matchup, and attendance isn’t a concern, we look purely at ranking position.

    Minnesota is “2a” which tells us that the Gophers should play the lowest No. 3 seed possible. The lowest No. 3 seed is St. Cloud. So we make the switch of St. Cloud and Minnesota State.

    Now, North Dakota and Minnesota State would match up with Ferris State and Boston College. Boston College is the higher of the two seeds, so the Eagles draw North Dakota and Ferris State draws Minnesota State.

    The brackets:

    West Regional:

    Colorado College vs. Mercyhurst
    Minnesota vs. St. Cloud

    Midwest Regional:

    New Hampshire vs. Ohio State
    Maine vs. Michigan

    East Regional:

    Cornell vs. Alabama-Huntsville
    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.

    Aside from the glaring WCHA-WCHA matchup in the West Regional, which we can do nothing about, the brackets look like they are set.

    So our 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.

    We’ll be back next Monday with an updated look at the potential NCAA tournament brackets.