NCAA Mid-Season Hockey Tournament Projections

Well, I'm bored. Its the week before Christmas and I am at work and have nothing to do. So I think I'm going to introduce all of you to the main NCAA Hockey Selection Process today. Basically, it is the best estimate anyone has at predicting the NCAA tournament, by using the same selection process and criteria the NCAA uses in March.

First, let's lay out some ground rules that are pretty basic:

  1. There are 16 teams that make the NCAA tournament, 5 conference winners and 11 at-large bids.
  2. There are 4 regions: East (Bridgeport, CT, hosted by Yale and Fairfield), Northeast (Worchester, MA, hosted by Holy Cross), Midwest (Green Bay, WI, hosted by Michigan Tech), and West (St Paul, MN, hosted by Minnesota)
  3. Each region has exactly 4 teams.
  4. Single-elimination, repeating OTs of sudden death.

Ok, so I'll explain some more things later, but I'll give you the jump to finish writing your notes.

Ok, so there are 5 primary steps to getting a tournament set. Our first step, the most obvious one, is to pick our 16 teams. I mean, without teams, who will play the games?

Step 1: Picking the teams

Ok, this is fairly easy. USCHO.com has a ranking that nearly mimics the "ranking" process the NCAA uses, and that's all they really use. I think it's fair, as it uses a whole year's worth of games, rather than one or two good series down the stretch (although in basketball that does work, in hockey things rarely change drastically). This ranking process is called Pairwise. These are the current pairwise rankings.

We use those, and the current conference leaders to get our teams, with their Pairwise rankings:

1. Ohio State (CCHA Champ)
2. Minnesota-Duluth (WCHA Co-Champ who I deem better)
3. Boston College (Hockey East Champ)
4. Notre Dame
5. Boston U
6. Minnesota
7. Western Michigan
8. Merrimack
9t. Northern Michigan
9t. Michigan State
11t. Ferris State
11t. UMass-Lowell
13t. Colgate
13t. Lake Superior State
16. Cornell (ECAC Champ)
31t. Air Force (AHA Champ)

One note: Cornell just barely made it in. They lead by 1 point over Colgate, and the difference is huge in that Colorado College, and their 11-5-0 record, will be sitting at home for this because of their 15th spot on Pairwise.

Other bubble teams (after CC), in order, include: Michigan, Union, Miami, Northeaster, Quinnipiac, North Dakota, and Denver.

These projections leave us with these conference numbers: CCHA 7, Hockey East 4, WCHA 2, ECAC 2, Atlantic Hockey .

Now onto step 2, assigning seeds.

Step 2: Assigning the seeds.

Ok, so this is simple: 4 bands of 4 teams

Number 1 seeds: Ohio State, Minnesota-Duluth, Boston College, Notre Dame
Number 2 seeds: Boston U, Minnesota, WMU, Merrimack
Number 3 seeds: NMU, Michigan State, Ferris State, UMass-Lowell
Number 4 seeds: Colgate, LSSU, Cornell, Air Force

Next up, step 3: placing hosts.

Step 3: Place host institutions

The NCAA requires all host schools to play in their host region. If we look, we see only one host school: Minnesota. So we place them in the West and tell them they can't move.

Now we have one more step before we begin the fun.

Step 4: Place the Number 1 Seeds

The 1-seeds get priority picking to their location. Think of it like priority registration. They get to be closest to home and can't move.

So if we look, Minnesota-Duluth goes to St. Paul and Boston College goes to Worchester because in-state says so. Our next part is harder, splitting the mid-west teams (ND and Ohio State) to the East and West. I'm going to have to give Ohio State the worst possible seeding for them, a trip to Bridgeport, only because ND is close to Green Bay.

Therefore, we have the following seedings:

No. 1 Ohio State in the East Regional (Bridgeport, CT)
No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth in the West Regional (St. Paul, MN)
No. 3 Boston College in the Northeast Regional (Worchester, MA)
No. 4 Notre Dame in the Midwest Regional (Green Bay, WI)

Now we may begin the final, and most "fun" step:

Step 5: Seed the remaining teams, avoiding intra-conference match-ups if possible.

To do this, we HAVE to seed by using the bandings, and make it so that the Regional Finals would be 1 vs 8, 2 vs 7, 3 vs 6, and 4 vs 5. Now we have a problem: Minnesota (#6) has to be in the West Regional. No biggie, we just swap 6 and 7 so WMU would head to the Northeast, leaving us with:

No. 8 Merrimack is placed in the East Regional with No. 1 Ohio State
No. 7 Western Michigan is placed in the Northeast Regional with No. 3 Boston College
No. 6 Minnesota is locked in the West Regional with No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth
No. 5 Boston is placed in the Midwest Regional with No. 4 Notre Dame

We do the same for the 3 and 4 seeds so that we have the most balanced tournament (i.e. 8 vs 9, 1 vs 16, ect). RPI rankings break any ties.

3-Seeds Placed:

No. 9 Northern Michigan is placed in the East Regional against No. 8 Merrimack
No. 10 Michigan State is placed in the Northeast Regional against No. 7 Western Michigan
No. 11 Ferris State is placed in the West Regional against No. 6 Minnesota
No. 12 Massachusetts-Lowell is placed in the Midwest Regional against No. 5 Boston

4-Seeds Placed:

No. 13 Colgate is placed in the Midwest Regional against No. 4 Notre Dame
No. 14 Lake Superior State is placed in the Northeast Regional against No. 3 Boston College
No. 15 Cornell is placed in the West Regional against No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth
No. 16 Air Force is placed in the East Regional against No. 1 Ohio State

Whew, glad that's done. Ok, so our bracket so far looks like:

East Regional (Bridgeport, CT)
1 Ohio State vs 16 Air Force
8 Merrimack vs 9 Northern Michigan

West Regional (St. Paul, MN)
2 Minnesota-Duluth vs 15 Cornell
6 Minnesota vs 11 Ferris State

Northeast Regional (Worchester, MA)
3 Boston College vs 14 Lake Superior State
7 Western Michigan vs 10 Michigan State

Midwest Regional (Green Bay, WI)
4 Notre Dame vs 13 Colgate
5 Boston vs 12 Massachusetts-Lowell

Ok, so have you all been taking notes? What do we look for now? Not boogers, but intra-conference match-ups. I see 2: WMU vs Michigan State and Boston vs UML. This is a REALLY easy fix. Since both Michigan State and UML are both in the 3 seed ring, we can just switch them around. This also helps with those fanbases, as UML stays in MA, and Michigan State heads to Green Bay, in the Midwest.

We are now looking at:

East Regional (Bridgeport, CT)
1 Ohio State vs 16 Air Force
8 Merrimack vs 9 Northern Michigan

West Regional (St. Paul, MN)
2 Minnesota-Duluth vs 15 Cornell
6 Minnesota vs 11 Ferris State

Northeast Regional (Worchester, MA)
3 Boston College vs 14 Lake Superior State
7 Western Michigan vs 12 Massachusetts-Lowell

Midwest Regional (Green Bay, WI)
4 Notre Dame vs 13 Colgate
5 Boston vs 10 Michigan State

The last thing we want to do is try to boost attendance by moving teams around in their bands. I'd personally move the 4 seeds around. LSSU and Air Force are West based teams, and Cornell and Colgate are New York teams. If we did some moving around, we'd be set. Remember, LSSU cannot play Notre Dame, so we just avoid that.

East Regional (Bridgeport, CT)
1 Ohio State vs 15 Cornell
8 Merrimack vs 9 Northern Michigan

West Regional (St. Paul, MN)
2 Minnesota-Duluth vs 14 Lake Superior State
6 Minnesota vs 11 Ferris State

Northeast Regional (Worchester, MA)
3 Boston College vs 13 Colgate
7 Western Michigan vs 12 Massachusetts-Lowell

Midwest Regional (Green Bay, WI)
4 Notre Dame vs 16 Air Force
5 Boston vs 10 Michigan State

One last thing I want to do is improve reward the 2 seeds. I said earlier that moving UML and MSU would help their fan bases travel better. Well, then they get the advantage while WMU and Boston travel far. I don't like that. So we flip-flop those match-ups and are left with:

East Regional (Bridgeport, CT)
1 Ohio State vs 15 Cornell
8 Merrimack vs 9 Northern Michigan

West Regional (St. Paul, MN)
2 Minnesota-Duluth vs 14 Lake Superior State
6 Minnesota vs 11 Ferris State

Northeast Regional (Worchester, MA)
3 Boston College vs 13 Colgate
5 Boston vs 10 Michigan State

Midwest Regional (Green Bay, WI)
4 Notre Dame vs 16 Air Force
7 Western Michigan vs 12 Massachusetts-Lowell

That looks good. We really can't do much more moving. Besides the Northeast Regional, this is a pretty fair and balanced bracket. Now what if Cornell loses the ECAC? Well then if we placed Colorado College in there, we would still have to move them around and they would probably have ended up playing Notre Dame in the Midwest (at least by my math).

So this would be pretty nice. In the East we would have two surprise teams in Ohio State and Merrimack. In Minnesota we would have 2 Minnesota teams playing against two decent CCHA teams. In Massachusetts we would have 2 Boston teams and an upstart Michigan State team. And lastly, in Green Bay we would have our very own WMU squad with a powerful Notre Dame team. Not bad.

Again, there is still an entire 2nd half of the season, and conference tournament games, so this is not set by any means. Who knows, maybe Ohio State will regress and not make the tournament entirely. Maybe the perennial powers will finish strong.

These are missing some expected powers. They are missing from the pre-season USCHO.com poll, (2) Miami, (3) North Dakota, (4) Denver, (6) Michigan, (7) Colorado College, (9) Yale, (11) Union, (12) New Hampshire, and (14) Nebraska-Omaha. Those are all powerful teams, and to have only 4 of the top 10 teams, and 6 of the top 15 is incredible. Again, still a whole 2nd half of the season, so anything can happen.

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