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2017 Hockey Bracketology: Our Guess at the NCAA Tournament Bracket

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With the field set to be announced tomorrow at noon, we breakdown the final Pairwise rankings and guess the road to Chicago

Our resident hockey bracketologist breaks down the field before tomorrow’s selection show

What a fantastic Conference Championship evening. After it was all said and done, the six conferences in D-I hockey decided their champions, and only the ECAC failed to provide some excitement at the end. Air Force held off Robert Morris, UMass-Lowell denied Boston College a spot in the tourney, Michigan Tech survived scares in the first OT period before winning in the 2nd, Duluth’s late goal to break a 3-3 tie for the NCHC title, and Penn State winning 3 times in 3 days with the last two being double OT victories over the top two seeds!

But in the end, we decided our Champions and we have our teams for the tournament, thanks to the Pairwise. Now it’s time to see who’s going where on the road to Chicago, where the 2017 Frozen Four will be held. There are some rules to how this is done, but mostly, the NCAA tries to retain as best of a competitive balance as possible, while maximizing attendance at the regional sites. So let’s get to it!

What To Know

16 teams participate in the NCAA Tournament. 6 teams are awarded auto-bids as their conference champion, while the other 10 slots are filled with at-large teams. Those 16 teams are sent to the four regional sites. This year, the regional sites are as followed, with their hosts in parentheses:

East Regional - Providence, RI (Brown University)
Northeast Regional - Manchester, NH (University of New Hampshire)
Midwest Regional - Cincinnati, OH (Miami University [hey, that’s our guys!])
West Regional - Fargo, ND (University of North Dakota)

Other things to keep in mind! If a host team makes the tournament, they are automatically placed in that regional. Additionally, teams cannot jump “seed bands”. You’ll see what that means later, but if you’re a 2-seed in a regional, you’re a 2-seed period. You cannot be dropped to a 3 or bumped up to a 1 to make a more interesting match-up. Lastly, and this is pretty self explanatory, 1-seeds play 4-seeds and 2-seeds play 3-seeds in the first round, and the regionals are laid out so that if the four 1-seeds advance to the Frozen Four, that same format is retained.

Team Selection

OK, now time for the fun! Here are the final Pairwise rankings and the auto-bids. If you’re new to this, the Pairwise is the tool that mimics the NCAA Committee’s selection and seeding process. You can dispute it all you want, but it has yet to be wrong.

Atlantic Hockey- Air Force
ECAC - Harvard
Hockey East - UMass-Lowell
NCHC - Minnesota-Duluth
WCHA - Michigan Tech
Big Ten - Penn State

  1. Denver
    2. Minnesota-Duluth
    3. Harvard
    4. Minnesota
    5. Massachusetts-Lowell
    6. Western Michigan
    7. Boston University
    8. Union
    9. Penn State
    10. North Dakota
    11. Cornell
    12. Air Force
    13. Notre Dame
    14. Providence
    15. Ohio State
    16. Boston College
    27. Michigan Tech

Since we have to take 16 teams, and Michigan Tech falls outside of the Top 16 in the Pairwise, the last “at large” contender is eliminated. Sorry Boston College. Thanks for playing, but better luck next year! With that, here are the final “seedings” of our tournament teams.

  1. Denver
    2. Minnesota-Duluth
    3. Harvard
    4. Minnesota
    5. Massachusetts-Lowell
    6. Western Michigan
    7. Boston University
    8. Union
    9. Penn State
    10. North Dakota
    11. Cornell
    12. Air Force
    13. Notre Dame
    14. Providence
    15. Ohio State
    16. Michigan Tech

Seed The Teams

Pretty easy and straightforward. Since the teams are in bands of four, we just go right down that list.

1-seeds: Denver, Minnesota-Duluth, Harvard, Minnesota
2-seeds: UMass-Lowell, Western Michigan, Boston University, Union
3-seeds: Penn State, North Dakota, Cornell, Air Force
4-seeds: Notre Dame, Providence, Ohio State, Michigan Tech

Place The One-Seeds

Again, straightforward. We work from the #1 overall seed on down, going with best regional by distance until we’re out of slots.

No. 1 Denver is placed in the West Regional in Fargo
No. 2. Minnesota-Duluth is placed in the Midwest Regional in Cincinnati
No. 3 Harvard is placed in the Northeast Regional in Manchester
No. 4 Minnesota is placed in the East Regional in Providence

Quick notes: Duluth kinda gets screwed, but Denver was easily the best team throughout the year and earned the Fargo Regional, for better or worse (since you’ll note that host North Dakota made the field). Still, Cincy isn’t bad. Harvard has a toss-up between Manchester and Providence, but we put them in Manchester since conference member New Hampshire is host there. Minnesota gets royally screwed by heading East, and it only gets worse later on.

Place Everyone Else Based On Seeding

So this works like the NCAA hoops tournament, except the whole hockey tournament is just one regional for your “March Madness” bracket. 1 vs 16, 2 vs 15, 8 vs 9, etc. The only deviation from this is placing the hosts when we get to their seed bands, when we’ll do our best to keep that integrity intact.

2-seed band

No. 5 UMass-Lowell is placed in the East Regional with No. 4 Minnesota
No. 6 Western Michigan is placed in the Northeast Regional with No. 3 Harvard
No. 7 Boston U is placed in the Midwest Regional with No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth
No. 8 Union is placed in the West Regional with No. 1 Denver

3-seed band

No. 10 North Dakota is placed in the West Regional by virtue of being host with No. 8 Union
No. 9 Penn State is placed in the Midwest Regional with No. 7 Boston U
No. 11 Cornell is placed in the Northeast Regional with No. 6 Western Michigan
No. 12 Air Force is placed in the East Regional with No. 5 UMass-Lowell

4-seed band

No. 13 Notre Dame is placed in the East Regional with No. 4 Minnesota
No. 14 Providence is placed in the Northeast Regional with No. 3 Harvard
No. 15 Ohio State is placed in the Midwest Regional with No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth
No. 16 Michigan Tech is placed in the West Regional with No. 1 Denver

So here are the brackets as we have them now

West Regional (Fargo)
No. 1 Denver vs No. 16 Michigan Tech
No. 8 Union vs No. 10 North Dakota

East Regional (Providence)
No. 4 Minnesota vs No. 13 Notre Dame
No. 5 UMass-Lowell vs No. 12 Air Force

Midwest Regional (Cincinnati)
No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth vs No. 15 Ohio State
No. 7 Boston U vs No. 9 Penn State

Northeast Regional (Manchester)
No. 3 Harvard vs No. 14 Providence
No. 6 Western Michigan vs No. 11 Cornell

Avoid intraconference match-ups

One thing I forgot to mention earlier: if possible, interaconference match-ups are to be avoided. This is rarely a serious issue nowadays, with the CCHA and WCHA of old broken up and the ECAC keeping pace with the Hockey East in terms of quality. Therefore, we just check the match-ups for any and move the seeds around if necessary.

/checks brackets

Holy hell, we have none! Moving on to the final step!

Improve Bracket for Attendance

This is the biggest, and most controversial step. The goal here is to keep bracket integrity as close as possible (i.e. don’t put the 1, 5, and 9 seeds in the same regional just to get slightly better attendance), while simultaneously moving teams around so that you get the most butts in seats. If you’ve ever watched a college hockey regional on TV, this is a big thing, because sometimes these arenas are full of empty seats.

Let’s start by swapping Providence and Notre Dame out East. It does little to hurt bracket integrity, and we put Providence in its hometown to get the best draw. Now you see what I meant when I said Minnesota was getting royally screwed by getting that last 1-seed. However, I’m not putting Harvard against the Friars in Providence, because the gap between #3 and #4 is massive this year. Sorry, Gophers.

Other than that, the 1 vs 4 pairings are pretty damn perfect. Duluth has to play Ohio State in the state of Ohio, but Denver earned the right to play the No. 16 seed, and keeping Ohio State matched-up against Duluth maintains maximum bracket integrity for that band. Moving Notre Dame to Cincy hurts everything, and I’m not doing that. Irish fans already play in the Hockey East, so they should have no issue traveling to New Hampshire if they desire.

Now we turn to the 2 vs 3 match-ups, and things get really hairy. Remember, we cannot move North Dakota from its spot, so the only 3-seeds that can move are Air Force, Penn State, and Cornell. As for the two-seeds? We have one Midwest team and three Eastern teams, so deciding who draws the short-straw and plays North Dakota in Fargo is pretty bittersweet. Sure you put the best attendance in the other three regionals (and with how rabid North Dakota fans are, that regional is pretty set for attendance regardless of the other three teams), but you pretty much screw over a better seeded team in the process.

I want the Midwest team in the Midwest Regional. Those Eastern teams are flying no matter what, so let’s try to get three drives if possible and let the Fargo massacre happen. We move Western Michigan to Cincinnati to play Penn State, and move Boston U to Manchester to play Cornell.

As for which two East teams? That’s easy for me. Remember how I said Harvard was a toss-up between the East and Northeast? It’s because Boston is an hour’s drive to both regional. Boston U goes out with Harvard, and Lowell goes to Providence. I do this knowing that Lowell, MA is only a 40 minute drive to Manchester, but Providence is only a 70 minute drive (thanks, Google Maps), so the bracket integrity is maintained for potential Regional Final match-ups by forcing that extra half hour. RiverHawk fans can’t complain all that much.

So here are the brackets as we have them.

West Regional (Fargo)
No. 1 Denver vs No. 16 Michigan Tech
No. 8 Union vs No. 10 North Dakota

East Regional (Providence)
No. 4 Minnesota vs No. 14 Providence
No. 5 UMass-Lowell vs No. 12 Air Force

Midwest Regional (Cincinnati)
No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth vs No. 15 Ohio State
No. 6 Western Michigan vs No. 9 Penn State

Northeast Regional (Manchester)
No. 3 Harvard vs No. 13 Notre Dame
No. 7 Boston U vs No. 11 Cornell

I actually love this bracket. Am I punishing a 1-seed in Minnesota by having to play Providence in Providence? Probably. But if it gets attendance, it’s a sacrifice we have to make. Union getting North Dakota in Fargo stinks as well, but again, we’re dealing with the last team on the seed line. If sacrifices have to be made, they’re going to be made to those teams.

You can see how well I did on Sunday at noon EDT when the 2017 NCAA Hockey Tournament is announced on ESPNU.