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NCAA hockey bracketology: Wildcats slip, but not too far

January 18, 2012
By MATT WELLENS - Journal Sports Editor (mwellens@miningjournal.net) , The Mining Journal

The Northern Michigan University hockey team didn't help its NCAA tournament chances this weekend when it could only muster a tie at Michigan State, leaving its 2011-12 record against the Spartans at 1-2-1.

The Wildcats didn't hurt their chances either, in part, with a little help from their friends.

The key to the Wildcats current No. 8 ranking - down from No. 6 - in the latest edition of the PairWise rankings lies with the bottom three teams in the rankings this week.

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MATT WELLENS

Wisconsin, St. Cloud State and Michigan Tech are all currently teams under consideration (TUCs) - though barely - and the Wildcats' 4-1-0 record against the three is turning comparisons in favor of NMU in both the TUC category and record against common opponents, specifically against the WCHA.

Michigan Tech, who Northern plays at 7 p.m. Saturday in Houghton, swept Alaska-Anchorage over the weekend to return to the rankings while St. Cloud State split with Colorado College and Wisconsin split with Minnesota State-Mankato.

Tech, SCSU and the Badgers are all on the bubble for TUC status (a .5000 ratings percentage index or better) with all three RPIs being less than .5070.

If the Wildcats are unable to muster more than a tie in a two-game series on the road in the second half, and their WCHA opponents slide as well, NMU will be back where it was last year - the couch.

Here's a look how this week's bracket shakes out, starting with the top 16 in the PairWise according to USCHO.com. Two-way ties are broken via a head-to-head PairWise comparisons and three-way ties via the RPI.

For instance, NMU, Merrimack and Minnesota have each won 22 comparisons, tying them for seventh. Merrimack has the best RPI, followed by Northern.

Pairwise top 16: 1. Minnesota-Duluth; 2. Ohio State; 3. Boston University; 4. Boston College; 5. Michigan; 6. Notre Dame; 7. Merrimack; 8. Northern Michigan; 9. Minnesota; 10. Western Michigan; 11. UMass-Lowell; 12. Cornell; 13 Ferris State; 14. Colorado College; 15. Michigan State; 16. Miami.

Atlantic Hockey does not have anyone in the PairWise rankings, so I'll use the league's leader right now, Mercyhurst, as the automatic bid. The Lakers bump off Miami, leaving the CCHA still with seven bids.

To determine the final bracket, I'll begin placing the top seeds closest to home, so Minnesota-Duluth goes to St. Paul, Ohio State goes to Green Bay, Boston University is in Worcester, Mass. and Boston College is in Bridgeport, Conn.

From here, the other 12 teams are placed based on bracket integrity, not proximity, so No. 1 vs. No. 16, No. 8 vs. 9, etc.

So based on that criteria, here's how the bracket shakes out, with Minnesota guaranteed to play in the West Regional in St. Paul because the Gophers are the host. Once again, the Gophers land there naturally.

West Regional (St. Paul): 1. Minnesota-Duluth vs. 16. Mercyhurst; 8. Northern Michigan vs. 9. Minnesota.

East Regional (Bridgeport): 4. Boston College vs. 13. Ferris State; 5. Michigan vs. 12. Cornell.

Northeast Regional (Worcester): 3. Boston University vs. 14. Colorado College; 6. Notre Dame vs. 11. UMass-Lowell.

Midwest Regional (Green Bay): 2. Ohio State vs. 15. Michigan State; 7. Merrimack vs. 10. Western Michigan.

There is one intraconference matchup right now in the Midwest Regional between the No. 2 Buckeyes and No. 15 Spartans. Because there are seven CCHA teams in the tournament, the NCAA may just leave the bracket, however, there's an easy swap of the 15 and 16 seeds that won't drastically alter travel plans or kill attendance, so here's how my final bracket shapes out.

West Regional (St. Paul): 1. Minnesota-Duluth vs. 16. Michigan State; 8. Northern Michigan vs. 9. Minnesota.

East Regional (Bridgeport): 4. Boston College vs. 13. Ferris State; 5. Michigan vs. 12. Cornell.

Northeast Regional (Worcester): 3. Boston University vs. 14. Colorado College; 6. Notre Dame vs. 11. UMass-Lowell.

Midwest Regional (Green Bay): 2. Ohio State vs. 16. Mercyhurst; 7. Merrimack vs. 10. Western Michigan.

Of all the regionals, Green Bay is the most concerning, but I'm not sure keeping the Spartans in Titletown would help that much. The only school to guarantee great attendance there is Wisconsin and the Badgers are 29th in the PairWise.

St. Paul would be strong with the Gophers and Bulldogs and both eastern regionals have a pair of east coast teams in each city to boost attendance.

As for the Wildcats, this week's bracket is great for the fans because NMU is playing somewhere within driving distance. In terms of reaching the Frozen Four, it's a disaster and worse-case scenario since the 'Cats would have to get through the Gophers and Bulldogs in Minnesota. Ouch.

Mining Journal Sports Editor Matt Wellens will have another bracketology analysis on Wednesday of next week and keep it up right until the field is announced on Sunday, March 18. Matt can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.

 
 

 

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