Thoughts on the NCAA Tournament field…

Well, a wild weekend of conference tournament hockey is finally behind us and the resultant is this year’s 16-team NCAA tournament field.

Once again, the PairWise Rankings correctly predicted the tournament field. Over the years, I’ve noticed that the general public’s knowledge and understanding of the PairWise has certainly cut down on the griping after selection Sunday.

The only whines you’ll hear nowadays are from teams that believe that their team got firmly screwed with their seeding or region. But even this year, the NCAA selection committee threw us very few curveballs.

From Jayson Moy’s final installment of bracketology, the only switcharoo was the seedings of Massachusetts and Maine, with the Black Bears getting a #3 seed in the East region and the Minutemen taking the #4 seed. As I was watching the selection show, my immediate instinct was that the .003 bonus for quality wins was too low and that the NCAA used a number like .0035 or .004, thus elevating the Black Bears to the #3 seed. A closer look, though, indictated that it was the tie-breaking procedure that the NCAA used in the three-way tie between Maine, Massachusetts and St. Lawrence was done strictly by the RPI (St. Lawrence at .5384 took the 11th overall seed, Maine at .5366 took 12th and UMass at .5328 took 13th, pushing them to a #4 seed).

My only gripe about the brackets is the fact that, for the second straight year, they’re set up to have conference tournament re-matches in round two. With Hockey East getting five teams into the tournament, you knew that at least one region would have to have two Hockey East clubs but the selection committee decided to double up presence of Hockey East teams in the two eastern regionals. The same happened on the WCHA front where, despite only getting three teams in the tournament, two of those clubs – Minnesota and North Dakota – were sent to the Denver regional.

The result is that we could see Boston College-UNH play for the fourth time in a month, UMass and Maine play for the fifth time in a month and North Dakota and Minnesota faceoff for the second time in eight days.

Really, I guess that isn’t a big deal and the selection committee would prefer to protect the attendace (something I fully support) and maintain the integrity of the brackets rather than avoid these second-round conference matchups.

Taking a quick look at the brackets, it appears the West Region could be the death bracket. With Minnesota, Michigan and North Dakota all battling for survival, there’s a chance that a team that deserves to reach the Frozen Four will be left home. Add to the fact that Air Force, the region’s #4 seed, will be playing in its backyard (Denver is a just an hour drive from Colorado Springs), really makes this a tough bracket.

The Northeast Regional in Manchester will also be a bear to survive. Host New Hampshire will have to survive a battle with tough #4 seed Miami, which is looking to prove something after a loss in the CCHA quarterfinals. St. Lawrence moving from a #4 seed to a #3 seed didn’t get any reward in having to face red-hot BC. I think whichever team comes out of this region could win the national title (same goes for the West).

Though I don’t want to call Michigan State a walkover, I think that Notre Dame shouldn’t have any problem surviving. One issue in Grand Rapids could arise if Boston University can return to form after a couple of somewhat disappointing weekends.

The final region – Rochester – is a tough one to call. Clarkson didn’t get any bonus in earning a #1 seed having to now face a red-hot Massachusetts team which I think would’ve given BC a better go of it in the Hockey East title game had they gotten past UNH. If Maine goaltender Ben Bishop returns to the lineup, look for them to be a force against St. Cloud. There are a lot of question marks in this region which makes it the toughest to call in my mind.

One thing we know is that there will be a new champion in this year’s tournament with Wisconsin barely falling on the wrong side of the bubble. Ironically, as it was pointed out on the message board, had the NCAA not changed the calculation weight of the RPI last summer, Wisconsin would’ve been the final team in the tournament.