NCAA Hockey Tournament Projections: One Month To Go

Yeah, that's right. One month from now is the CCHA Awards Show. The next two nights will feature the CCHA semi's and finals. The rest of the country will follow a similar path, leading to Selection Sunday that afternoon. Until then, there will continue to be madness in the NCAA like we have this year.

Alright, so lets recap the basics:

  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.

The five auto-bids we'll use will be the conference leaders as it stands now. They are: Air Force (AHA), Ferris State (CCHA), Union (ECAC), UMass-Lowell (Hockey East), Minnesota (WCHA).

We go through the entire process below.

OK, so if you read the mid-season projections, you know what we do next. We pull the 11 at-larges and rank the entire field using the Pairwise rankings. As they sit, the field looks like this:

1. Ferris State (CCHA Champs)
2. Boston Collge
t-3. Boston U
t-3. Minnesota-Duluth
t-5. Michigan
t-5. Massachusetts-Lowell (Hockey East Champs)
7. Denver
8. Maine
t-9. Northern Michigan
t-9. Union (ECAC Champs)
11. Merrimack
12. Michigan State
13. Miami
14. Minnesota (WCHA Champs)
15. (hang on)
16. Air Force (AHA Champs, not in at-large territory)

Ok, so we have 15 of the teams, but what about 16? Who gets the last at-large bid? The Pairwise gives us 3 choices: Ohio State, North Dakota, and Cornell. The NCAA will pick the team that would probably travel the best because it would generate the most revenue. Ohio State can't even fill their home arena, so we will scratch them. That leaves Cornell and North Dakota. I'm going to pick UND for now, because their prestige as a hockey school would probably the be the choice to start.

Next Step: Banding The Seeds

OK, so now this is pretty easy.

Number 1 seeds: Ferris State, Boston College, Boston U, Minnesota-Duluth
Number 2 seeds: Michigan, UMass-Lowell, Denver, Maine
Number 3 seeds: Northern Michigan, Union, Merrimack, Michigan State
Number 4 seeds: Miami, Minnesota, North Dakota, Air Force

Now we place the teams

We first place the host teams. There is one: Minnesota. The go right to the West and stay there like a statue.

Now we place the Number 1 seeds. Keep in mind that since Minnesota is a 4 seed, UMD can't go to the West, because the 1-seeds can't move after they've been placed. Therefore we have:

No. 1 Ferris State goes to the Midwest Regional (Green Bay, WI)
No. 2 Boston College goes to the Northeast Regional (Worchester, MA)
No. 3 Boston U goes to the West Regional (St. Paul, MN)
No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth goes to the East Regional (Bridgeport, CT)

I really don't like doing that, but because Boston U and UMD are tied right now, I simply gave UMD the first choice between the two. We have to give Ferris their best choice, which is a simple ferry ride away after a drive to Ludington.

Now we place the 2-seeds. We want to keep it so that the "ideal" regional finals would feature 1 vs 8, 2 vs 7, 3 vs 6, 4 vs 5. That puts:

No. 5 Michigan in the East Regional (Bridgeport, CT)
No. 6 UMass-Lowell in the West Regional (St. Paul, MN)
No. 7 Denver in the Northeast Regional (Worchester, MA)
No. 8 Maine in the Midwest Regional (Green Bay, WI)

Oh boy. We will be moving these around. Well right now, we can switch Michigan and UML because they are tied. So now we have:

No. 5 UMass-Lowell in the East Regional (Bridgeport, CT)
No. 6 Michigan in the West Regional (St. Paul, MN)
No. 7 Denver in the Northeast Regional (Worchester, MA)
No. 8 Maine in the Midwest Regional (Green Bay, WI)

I still think we'll be moving these around, but until then, we place the 3 seeds so that we have 5 vs 12, 6 vs 11, 7 vs 10, and 8 vs 9. That leaves us with:

No. 9 Northern Michigan in the Midwest Regional (Green Bay, WI)
No. 10 Union in the Northeast Regional (Worchester, MA)
No. 11 Merrimack in the West Regional (St. Paul, MN)
No. 12 Michigan State in the East Regional (Bridgeport, CT).

And now we place the 4 seeds. Keep in mind that Minnesota is already in the West so we want to keep the rest as close to format as possible (1 vs 16, 2 vs 15, etc). And we have:

No. 13 Miami in the East Regional (Bridgeport, CT)
No. 14 Minnesota in the West Regional (St. Paul, MN)
No. 15 North Dakota in the Northeast Regional (Worchester, MA)
No. 16 Air Force in the Midwest Regional (Green Bay, WI)

OK, so remember how I said we would have North Dakota? I'm kinda regretting it. There is no way we are moving Air Force out of Green Bay since they are the 16 seed, and from the West. UND is so far east, that it doesn't make sense to have them in there. If I'm the NCAA, I switch them out for Cornell once I see this since they are a coin flip. (Honestly, right now it doesn't matter since there is still a month to figure all this out)

That leaves us with the following match-ups:

Midwest Regional (Green Bay, WI)

No. 1 Ferris State vs No. 16 Air Force
No. 8 Maine vs No. 9 Northern Michigan

Northeast Regional (Worchester, MA)

No. 2 Boston College vs No. 15 North Dakota
No. 7 Denver vs No. 10 Union

West Regional (St. Paul, MN)

No. 3 Boston University vs No. 14 Minnesota
No. 6 Michigan vs No. 11 Merrimack

East Regional (Bridgeport, CT)

No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth vs No. 13 Miami
No. 5 Massachusetts-Lowell vs No. 12 Michigan State

*Note. While doing the regional match-ups I realized I switched Michigan and UMass-Lowell off the bat, thus avoiding a MSU-Michigan match-up. Which coincidentally is the next step........

Do we have any conference on conference match-ups? Well since I made that switch off the bat, we avoided two (Merrimack and UML are in Hockey East). Otherwise, we have nothing.

Now we want to improve for attendance. Remember the 2-seed cluster(insert bad word here) we had earlier? Yeah, now we can move it around. Well, I want to put Michigan in the Green Bay regional, but I cannot move NMU because traveling purposes. Basically, Michigan can travel well anywhere, while NMU probably wouldn't. That said, I want to switch Maine and Denver. Keep travel light for both teams.

After that, we really can't do anything with the other seeds. I want to put Merrimack out East, but Union is already there, and switching them with Michigan State would give us that dual conference match-up problem.

That leaves us with:

Midwest Regional (Green Bay, WI)
No. 1 Ferris State vs No. 16 Air Force
No. 7 Denver vs No. 9 Northern Michigan

Northeast Regional (Worchester, MA)
No. 2 Boston College vs No. 15 North Dakota
No. 8 Maine vs No. 10 Union

West Regional (St. Paul, MN)
No. 3 Boston University vs No. 14 Minnesota
No. 6 Michigan vs No. 11 Merrimack

East Regional (Bridgeport, CT)
No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth vs No. 13 Miami
No. 5 Massachusetts-Lowell vs No. 12 Michigan State

And that's about all we can do with this bracket. If you look back at our mid-season projections, you'll see that we had quite a change. Our top seed at that time, Ohio State, is now out. That entire list is (with "then" rankings):

No. 1 Ohio State
No. 4 Notre Dame
No. 7 Western Michigan
No. 13 Colgate
No. 14 Lake Superior State
No. 15 Cornell

We dropped one MAC school for another, and some of the "power schools" are coming back into focus. Notre Dame and Western Michigan dropping out are surprising, since they were expected to finish in the top portion. Again, still a whole month to go including conference tournaments. We'll do this again before the tournament finals, since USCHO comes out with a "predictor" model to use.

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