Bracketology: Taking an early look at how the 2020 NCAA tournament could potentially shake out

11 Apr 19: The University of Massachusetts Minutemen play against the Denver University Pioneer in a national semifinal of the 2019 NCAA Division I Men's Frozen Four at the KeyBank Center in Buffalo, NY. (Jim Rosvold)
Massachusetts and Denver do battle back on April 11, 2019, in a national semifinal of the 2019 Frozen Four at the KeyBank Center in Buffalo, N.Y. (photo: Jim Rosvold).

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 might look like come selection time, using what we know now.

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

This is not a be-all, end-all analysis of the bracket. I am trying to give you, the reader, an idea of what the committee might be thinking and not exactly what they are thinking.

We’ll be bringing you a new one every week until we make our final picks before the field is announced on March 22.

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 – Albany, N.Y., March 28-29); Northeast – Worcester, Mass. (March 27-28); Midwest – Allentown, Pa.(March 28-29); West – Loveland, Colo. (March 27-28).

• A host institution that is invited to the tournament plays in the regional for which it is the host and cannot be moved. The host institutions this year: None in Albany (ECAC Hockey is hosting), Holy Cross in Worcester, Penn State in Allentown and Denver in Loveland.

• 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 2019 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. 22:

1 North Dakota
2 Minnesota State
3 Cornell
4t Boston College
4t Denver
6 Massachusetts
7 Ohio State
8 Clarkson
9 Penn State
10 Providence
11 Arizona State
12 Minnesota Duluth
13 UMass Lowell
14 Northeastern
15 Quinnipiac
16 Michigan State
38 American International

Current conference leaders based on winning percentage or number one seeds in their conference tournaments BOLDED above:

Atlantic Hockey: American International
Big Ten: Ohio State
ECAC Hockey: Cornell
Hockey East: Boston College
NCHC: North Dakota
WCHA: Minnesota State


• 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 after applying the tiebreakers.

Since we are familiar with Bracketology, let’s just skip to what I think the bracket will look like if the season ended today:

The brackets as we have set them up:

West Regional (Loveland):
14 Northeastern vs. 2 Minnesota State
11 Arizona State vs. 5 Denver

Midwest Regional (Allentown):
16 AIC vs. 1 North Dakota
9 Penn State vs. 8 Clarkson

East Regional (Albany):
13 UMass Lowell vs. 3 Cornell
12 Minnesota Duluth vs. 6 Massachusetts

Northeast Regional (Worcester):
15 Quinnipiac vs. 4 Boston College
10 Providence vs. 7 Ohio State

A few questions to ponder about this bracket:

• It is tough to decide where North Dakota will go. I chose Allentown to keep bracket integrity since Penn State is the host and they are in the 8-9 matchup

• Once you place Denver in Loveland and switch Denver with Ohio State, everything else falls in line based on avoiding nonconference matchups

Each week, we’ll look a little closer at the PairWise and examine some key factors in what to look out for in the coming week’s games.

Let’s take a closer look at the PairWise bubble at the moment – specifically at 15 Quinnipiac and 16 Michigan State.

Along the bubble number 15 Quinnipiac is winning the comparisons between Michigan State, Northern Michigan and New Hampshire based upon RPI breaking the tie.

In addition, if you go further down the line, Quinnipiac is winning comparisons again Harvard, Michigan Tech and Michigan (at 24) based on RPI breaking the tie, and winning the lone comparable – RPI – against Notre Dame, Bemidji State and Army all the way down to 25.

So what does this tell you?

PairWise is highly dependent upon RPI.

So how do some of the factors regarding RPI affect this bubble between 15 Quinnipiac and 16 Michigan State?

RPI is affected in two major ways – Home/Road Factor and also the Quality Wins Bonus.

For Quinnipiac, there is no adjusted RPI based on the Home/Road Factor, as the RPI is the same before and after.

For Quality Wins against the Top 20, wins against Massachusetts and Harvard boost its RPI from 0.5324 to 0.5351.

The team right behind Quinnipiac in the Pair Wise is Michigan State. Michigan State’s RPI has been boosted by the Quality Wins Bonus by wins over Penn State and Arizona State.

Where else can both of these teams get a potential boost in RPI from winning games against Top 20 RPI teams?

Quinnipiac has games left with Cornell and Clarkson – 2 big potential bonus games.

Michigan State has games left with Penn State (2), Ohio State (2) and possibly Notre Dame (2 games and currently 21 in the RPI) and Michigan (2 games and currently 24 in the RPI). A minimum of four bonus games and a potential for eight, with even further ramifications later on.

Looking at this Bonus factor, it seems plain and simple for Michigan State – win a majority of the games against Penn State and Ohio State. In addition, root for Notre Dame and Michigan to move up into the Top 20. Don’t forget, Michigan State is already 3-0-1 against Notre Dame and Michigan this year – providing additional bonus if they make it into the Top 20.

Therefore, advantage goes to Michigan State for external factors. This doesn’t mean that Quinnipiac and Michigan State can stop winning, but it just might mean that Michigan State has a potential to affect its RPI in a larger way than Quinnipiac can.

Thus, keep a good look at this weekend’s games between Michigan State and Ohio State. It just might determine if Michigan State moves off the bubble or not.

See you next week for the next Bracketology.

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

This week’s brackets

West Regional (Loveland):
14 Northeastern vs. 2 Minnesota State
11 Arizona State vs. 5 Denver

Midwest Regional (Allentown):
16 AIC vs. 1 North Dakota
9 Penn State vs. 8 Clarkson

East Regional (Albany):
13 UMass Lowell vs. 3 Cornell
12 Minnesota Duluth vs. 6 Massachusetts

Northeast Regional (Worcester):
15 Quinnipiac vs. 4 Boston College
10 Providence vs. 7 Ohio State

Conference breakdowns

Hockey East — 5
ECAC Hockey — 3
NCHC — 3
Big Ten – 2
Atlantic Hockey – 1
Independent – 1
WCHA — 1