Wodon: Tourney Watch

March 2, 2006

By Adam Wodon
Special to CSTV.com from College Hockey News

Placing teams in NCAA brackets as if the season ended today, is not all that illuminating, since, after all, the season doesn't end today.

And, since predicting the future is futile (not to mention complicated, given the machinations of the Pairwise), placing teams into a projected future bracket is also not all that helpful.

What we can do is look at the teams under consideration, one by one, and try to at least give a sense of what they are looking at. The list goes in order of the current Pairwise, taking into account a .003/.002/.001 (road/neutral/home) projected RPI Bonus for "good wins" (see the primer for details on the bonus and how the entire process works).

1. Minnesota -- Has a No. 1 seed locked up. Have fun spanking the CHA foe, and look for a second-round game in Grand Forks against North Dakota. The interesting thing here, of course, is whether or not the committee would send Minnesota to Green Bay or Grand Forks. Green Bay is technically closer (279 miles vs. 314 according to Yahoo Maps). But will Green Bay be reserved for Wisconsin? I'd imagine a lot of people bought tickets already assuming the Badgers will be in Green Bay. But would it be fair to Minnesota? If North Dakota wasn't going to be playing in Grand Forks, then it really wouldn't matter. But it will be.

2. Wisconsin -- It appears likely Wisconsin will remain in this spot, though it's possible for BU to flip the comparison. Miami can't. So, where would the Badgers play? See above.

3. Miami -- So long as Miami gets through its second-round CCHA Tournament series, a No. 1 seed is there for the taking. That will mean a game against the likes of Boston College, New Hampshire or Denver in Albany. That's quite a trio of possibilities for a No. 1 seed without a lot of NCAA experience to be facing. The Red Hawks lost to Denver, and Enrico Blasi's mentor George Gwozdecky, two years ago.


4. Boston University -- Who a team plays in their conference quarterfinals ultimately determines whether winning or losing matters as much. Because of the way the system works, losing your conference tournament quarterfinal round to a better team has a more negative effect than losing it to a poor team. That's because the Pairwise, in a number of different criteria, takes into account win-loss record against good teams. So getting upset by a poor team has marginal effect. Point being, for BU, it can maintain a No. 1 seed so long as it doesn't lose to a good team. BU is the host in Worcester, so it will be there as a 1 or 2 seed.

5. Michigan State -- MSU may find itself in a "TUC Cliff" scenario in the second round of the CCHA playoffs. It can play any team from a 7-11 seed in the second round, depending on how the first round goes. All but No. 11 seed Western Michigan is a Team Under Consideration at the moment. And Notre Dame (8), Fairbanks (9) and Ferris State (7) could easily drop off if Michigan State beats them twice. That would actually negatively impact MSU by effectively throwing out the wins against those teams. Best case scenario for MSU would be to play Ohio State, since they are the highest TUC of those teams the Spartans can play, though that's unlikely. ... By the way, it's very likely that MSU will wind up in Worcester, one way or another.

6. Colorado College -- CC finishes up with Denver, then will get a reasonably tough first-round WCHA opponent. That means CC has a chance to make up some serious ground. Standing in CC's way is its record against Denver, Wisconsin and Minnesota, which it won't have a chance to seriously impact. CC has locked up an NCAA bid, though, the last such team we can definitely say that for.

7. Cornell -- Cornell is 15th in KRACH, but gets a boost from a non-league win over Northeastern and a tie against Minnesota-Duluth, plus its two-game split with Michigan State. Its TUC record is precarious, and if it loses a second-round series to, say, Union, and Union becomes a TUC, then Cornell could tumble. But otherwise, we're looking at a No. 2 or 3 seed.

8. Harvard -- Here's a team that is 19th in KRACH, but most positively impacted, of any team in the NCAA, of its good out of conference wins. Harvard could get a strong No. 2 seed by winning its second-round series over St. Lawrence (presumably), and winning one game in Albany. Harvard's split with North Dakota in a two-game series is helping out enormously, and a tie by North Dakota against UNH combined with Harvard's win over UNH pretty much guarantees that Harvard will stay ahead of North Dakota. In fact, "Common Opponents" is propping up Harvard for the same reason against Maine, too.

9. North Dakota -- The Sioux will host a regional, which makes things very interesting. If it is unable to go far in the WCHA playoffs, and remains a three seed, they'll probably host Cornell or Harvard in the first round, with the right to then play, say, Minnesota in the regional final. If it gets up to a 2 seed, you're looking at hosting, say, Michigan or Nebraska-Omaha, or perhaps Cornell or Harvard.

10. Maine -- Maine looks to be all but in at this point, assuming it doesn't trip up badly over the next two weeks against lesser competition. The Black Bears will have a tough time flipping enough comparisons, however, to make any big movement in the Pairwise. A No. 2 seed is possible, but unlikely because there are very few teams they are capable of flipping comparisons with. Only CC and North Dakota are possible, and if they flip both, all that might get them is a game at North Dakota anyway. If they stay where they are, they can hope for a game against Cornell in Albany, or in Worcester against Harvard again.

11. Michigan -- Frankly, it's hard to see Michigan lose its CCHA Tournament series, which, if the seeds hold, would be against Lake Superior. So getting through that should be enough to seal up an NCAA bid. You might be looking at a game against CC in Green Bay, or perhaps against Harvard in Worcester, or maybe even at North Dakota.

12. Nebraska-Omaha -- The Mavericks really lost out on a golden chance for a high seed by getting only one point against Western Michigan. Now it faces last-place Bowling Green in the first round of the CCHA Tournament. Suddenly, making the tournament is thrown into serious jeopardy. First-round wins won't help much, and a second-round series would be at Northern Michigan, where losing would probably doom them. If they get through Northern Michigan, then you're looking at a 3 or 2 seed.

13. Boston College -- This weekend holds the key, two games against New Hampshire. Hard to believe BC is on the bubble, but they are. Losses to New Hampshire would be significant, as would wins for that matter. A split is likely to keep things at status quo through the first round of the Hockey East Tournament next week. If this spot holds, you're looking at the possibility of a first-round game against Wisconsin in Green Bay. So the much-anticipated Wisconsin-BC game would finally happen, but a year too late for an Eaves-Eaves matchup.

14. New Hampshire -- See above.

15. Denver -- You have to figure either BC or New Hampshire could bop the other out. But Denver also has it tough, facing CC in two games this week. So it's imperative the Pioneers split, win their first-round playoff series, stay in the top three, and then take 1 of 2 games at the WCHA Final Five. That should be enough to sneak them in, where you'd then be looking at a game against Miami in Albany, perhaps. A sweep this weekend could provide a huge jump, though.

16. Dartmouth -- Dartmouth has no significant non-league wins, and that's the problem -- unless you count Bemidji State. One-goal losses to Vermont, Mass.-Lowell, New Hampshire and Holy Cross are what's keeping the Big Green from its first trip to the NCAAs since 1980. Last year, a three-game series loss to Vermont in the ECACs is what kept them out. Dartmouth won't get to play a good enough opponent in the ECAC quarters to make a difference, so it probably has to win the ECACs to make it.

17. Northern Michigan -- You figure they await Nebraska-Omaha in the second round of the CCHA Tournament. Sweeping that series may just allow them to swap places with UNO in the Pairwise.

Everyone below here probably needs to win their conference tournament to make it. The except could be Ohio State, where if it wins two games while Notre Dame wins its series, it could propel the Buckeyes back into the picture. Then they would probably get a series at Miami, and that would also be huge.

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