MAC Hockey Bracketology: The Way Too Early Edition

Ferris State and Boston College faced off in the 2012 National Title game. Could they meet again in Philadelphia? - Douglas Jones-US PRESSWIRE

While the NCAA Hockey Tournament doesn't get underway for another two and a half months, we take a look at what the NCAA tournament would look like if the season started today.

It's January.  You can't drive anywhere without seeing at least 1 car in a ditch per 2 miles traveled, the wind chills are below 0, and hockey is in full swing.  Yet, the NCAA won't decide their National Champion for another 3 months.  In spring.  When ice is only good for cold drinks.  But yet, it's a perfect time to look ahead to the potential field.

The USCHO does their own bracketology, and unveiled their first edition of 2014 this week.  They do a good job and are generally more right than wrong.  But that's because picking and placing the field can sometimes be really simple.  Sometimes it can be a mess.  But there are some general guidelines to follow when anyone tries to pick the field.

  1. The NCAA uses a 16-team field.  Each of the now six conference champions get an auto-bid while the remaining ten spots are filled with at-large teams.
  2. The NCAA uses a system extremely similar to the Pairwise, which was adjusted this past off-season.  I could explain how it works, but you could just click here
  3. There are 4 regions, each with a regional host.  The host school is placed in their own region if they make the field.
  4. You can move teams around within their seed buckets, but not between seedings (i.e. a 2-seed in a regional [teams 5-8] cannot become a 3-seed or vice versa)
  5. No conference on conference match-ups in the first round if possible

So with that in mind, let's go ahead and break this puppy down.

Step One:  Get Our Participants

So this part is fairly easy.  First, we get our conference champions.  The USCHO used conference winning percentage due to a disparity in conference games played.  I'm going to use points, only because that results in one (meaningless) change, where Minnesota wins the Big Ten and Michigan hopes for an at-large (which they will get later).

AHA: Mercyhurst
ECHC: Union
Big Ten: Minnesota
NCHC: St. Cloud State
Hockey East: Boston College
WCHA: Ferris State

Now we have to get our 10 auto-bids.  And we use the Pairwise to get them.  So here are the top 16 teams currently via the Pairwise.  (Yes, the polls are completely meaningless now in college hockey)

1.  Minnesota
2.  Boston College
3.  St. Cloud State
4.  Ferris State
t5.  Union
t5.  Quinnipiac
t7.  Providence
t7.  UMass-Lowell
t9.  Michigan
t9.  Northeastern
11.  Clarkson
12.  Cornell
t13.  New Hampshire
t13.  Vermont
15.  Wisconsin
16.  Minnesota State

So as you can see, we have 5 of our 6 conference champions in the top 16, with all of them oddly sitting 1-5 right now.  That's really rare, so take a moment to appreciate it.  Unfortunately for Minnesota State though, Mercyhurst is (not surprisingly) not in the top 16, so they are the first team out of the tournament if the season ended today.  In fact, if the Pairwise assumed teams were as good as their ranking, they'd tie with UMass each game.  (again, huge theory).

All ties are broken by RPI, but since we have no banding ties (1-seed bands/buckets/etc), we don't have to worry too much, since we can move teams around later.  So our field, in order from 1-16:

1.  Minnesota
2.  Boston College
3.  St. Cloud State
4.  Ferris State
5.  Union
6.  Quinnipiac
7.  Providence
8.  UMass-Lowell
9.  Michigan
10.  Northeastern
11.  Clarkson
12.  Cornell
13.  New Hampshire
14.  Vermont
15.  Wisconsin
16.  Mercyhurst

Step Two:  Throw The Teams Into Buckets

Fairly simple, and could be banded into step one, but we'll just go really slow today.  Here are the bands.

#1 Seeds: Minnesota, Boston College, St. Cloud State, Ferris State
#2 Seeds: Union, Quinnipiac, Providence, UMass-Lowell
#3 Seeds: Michigan, Northeastern, Clarkson, Cornell
#4 Seeds: New Hampshire, Vermond, Wisconsin, Mercyhurst

Step Three:  Place The Hosts and Top Seeds

Hosts get first dibs and must play at home.  There is no moving them.  Then the top seeds get placed as close to home as possible, and moving them is generally considered a no-no.

This year, the four regional sites are as followed, with the host school in parenthesis:

East Regional - Bridgeport, Connecticut (Yale)
Northeast Regional - Worcester, Massachusetts (Holy Cross)
Midwest Regional - Cincinnati, Ohio (Miami)
West Regional - St. Paul, Minnesota (Minnesota)

We got lucky and have only one host school in the tournament, and they are our first seed to be placed as well.  Minnesota stays at home.  After that, we put Boston College in the Northeast, staying in their home state.  St. Cloud State will then get placed in the Midwest Regional, and Ferris State gets put in the East as the only spot left.  That's tough since we have 3 Western schools and only 2 "Western" regionals, with Cincinnati not that great of a location honestly for our 1-seeds.  Below is the tl:dr breakdown.

#1 Minnesota to the West Regional
#2 Boston College to the Northeast Regional
#3 St. Cloud State to the Midwest Regional
#4 Ferris State to the East Regional

Step Four:  Place Remaining Teams

Now we put each of the remaining teams in initial spots for the moment.  Consider it like a basketball regional, where the 1-seed would play the 16-seed.  Only we do that for the whole tournament.  So the 5-seed is in the same regional as the 4-seed and the 8 and 9 seeds play each other, etc.  Anyways........

#5 Union is placed with #4 Ferris State in the East
#6 Quinnipiac is placed with #3 St. Cloud State in the Midwest
#7 Providence is placed with #2 Boston College in the Northeast
#8 UMass-Lowell is placed with #1 Minnesota in the West

#9 Michigan is placed with #8 UMass-Lowell in the West
#10 Northeastern is placed with #7 Providence in the Northeast
#11 Clarkson is placed with #6 Quinnipiac in the Midwest
#12 Cornell is placed with #5 Union in the East

#13 New Hampshire is placed with #4 Ferris State in the East
#14 Vermont is placed with #3 St. Cloud State in the Midwest
#15 Wisconsin is placed with #2 Boston College in the Northeast
#16 Mercyhurst is placed with #1 Minnesota in the West

That gives us a tournament of:

West Regional (St. Paul, MN)
#1 Minnesota vs #16 Mercyhurst
#8 UMass-Lowell vs #9 Michigan

Northeast Regional (Worcester, MA)
#2 Boston College vs #15 Wisconsin
#7 Providence vs #10 Northeastern

Midwest Regional (Cincinnati, OH)
#3 St. Cloud State vs #14 Vermont
#6 Quinnipiac vs #11 Clarkson

East Regional (Bridgeport, CT)
#4 Ferris State vs #13 New Hampshire
#5 Union vs #12 Cornell

Whew.  But we aren't done.

Step 5:  Avoid Intra-Conference Match-ups

Well, the East is VERY heavy this year.  We have 6 teams from the Hockey East and 4 teams from the ECAC.  That's going to create a LOT of problems.  We currently have three match-ups to fix, as Union vs Cornell, Quinnipiac vs Clarkson, and Providence vs Northeastern all are no-nos.

I want Providence in the East since the drive from Rhode Island to Bridgeport is short.  Fans will show.  It's a win-win for everyone, so I switch Union and Providence around.  That fixes two issues, but we still have the pesky Quinnipiac vs Clarkson match-up.  That fix is easy, as I move Clarkson out West and bring Michigan closer to home with a trip down I-75 to Cincinnati.  That gives us the following bracket:

West Regional (St. Paul, MN)
#1 Minnesota vs #16 Mercyhurst
#8 UMass-Lowell vs #11 Clarkson

Northeast Regional (Worcester, MA)
#2 Boston College vs #15 Wisconsin
#5 Union vs #10 Northeastern

Midwest Regional (Cincinnati, OH)
#3 St. Cloud State vs #14 Vermont
#6 Quinnipiac vs #9 Michigan

East Regional (Bridgeport, CT)
#4 Ferris State vs #13 New Hampshire
#7 Providence vs #12 Cornell

Looks like a feasible tournament.  However, we want good attendance, so we still have some work to do.

Also, a note:  The NCAA could've left the Providence/Northeastern match-up alone since the Hockey East has more than 5 schools in the tournament.  However, since we could easily make a switch, we did because the NCAA wants fresh match-ups if possible.

Step 6:  Move Teams for Attendance

I want Wisconsin out West, but we can't put them in the ideal location of St. Paul due to Minnesota holding the 1-seed.  The next best thing is to put them in Cincinnati.  However, to do that, I need to do a three-way swap, since both Vermont and New Hampshire are in the Hockey East with Boston College.  So we grab Mercyhurst and pair them up with the Eagles, move Vermont to the West, and bring Wisconsin closer to home.  That gives us the following bracket:

West Regional (St. Paul, MN)
#1 Minnesota vs #14 Vermont
#8 UMass-Lowell vs #11 Clarkson

Northeast Regional (Worcester, MA)
#2 Boston College vs #16 Mercyhurst
#5 Union vs #10 Northeastern

Midwest Regional (Cincinnati, OH)
#3 St. Cloud State vs #15 Wisconsin
#6 Quinnipiac vs #9 Michigan

East Regional (Bridgeport, CT)
#4 Ferris State vs #13 New Hampshire
#7 Providence vs #12 Cornell

Can we do anything else?  I like the 1vs4 match-ups, so I'm not touching them.  In the 2vs3's I like where Northeastern, Michigan, Providence, and somewhat Union and Cornell are located.  I can't move UMass-Lowell closer to home without moving Quinnipiac further away, and the trade would be worse for attendance in my opinion.  Same with Clarkson.  So that West Regional is just screwed.  We're going to have to sit with what we have, and call it a day.  So our bracket is as followed:

West Regional (St. Paul, MN)
#1 Minnesota vs #14 Vermont
#8 UMass-Lowell vs #11 Clarkson

East Regional (Bridgeport, CT)
#4 Ferris State vs #13 New Hampshire
#7 Providence vs #12 Cornell

Northeast Regional (Worcester, MA)
#2 Boston College vs #16 Mercyhurst
#5 Union vs #10 Northeastern

Midwest Regional (Cincinnati, OH)
#3 St. Cloud State vs #15 Wisconsin
#6 Quinnipiac vs #9 Michigan

Frozen Four
East Regional winner vs West Regional Winner
Northeast Regional winner vs Midwest Regional Winner

Is it perfect?  No.  We'll have a more balanced field as the season goes on and conference play gets into full swing.  We only have ONE team from the NCHC, and that doesn't include perennial powerhouses Denver, North Dakota, or Miami.  Also, we have no MAC school, but Miami and Bowling Green (yes, BGSU) are knocking on the door.

Last Four In:

Wisconsin (Big Ten)
Vermont (Hockey East)
New Hampshire (Hockey East)
Cornell (ECAC)

First Four Out:

Minnesota State (WCHA)
Notre Dame (Hockey East)
Maine (Hockey East)
Miami (NCHC)

Next Four Out:

Yale (ECAC)
North Dakota (NCHC)
Lake Superior State (WCHA)
Bowling Green (WCHA)

Western Michigan sits at a paltry 32nd in the Pairwise, and UMass sits tied for 39th, losing the RPI tie-breaker.

We'll keep updating the field as Miami, Bowling Green, and Western Michigan all hope to make the tournament.  Sorry UMass, but you need to make the Hockey East tournament finals first before we can talk seriously.

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