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NCAA Hockey Bracketology: Committee strives for bracket integrity

February 1, 2012
By MATT WELLENS - Journal sports Editor ( , The Mining Journal

Each week, I rank and seed the NCAA Division I hockey tournament from No. 1 through No. 16, but as many of you that follow college hockey know, that's not how the NCAA seeds teams come March.

At least that's not how the NCAA does it on the outside.

After watching the top two teams in tournaments meet in the semifinals, leaving less than desirable championship matches for television audiences, the NCAA has gotten aboard the bracket integrity bandwagon recently from hockey to hoops.

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On college hockey's "Selection Sunday" on March 18, teams will be given a No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 or No. 4 seed, however, the NCAA selection committee behind closed doors is ranking all 16 qualifiers from top to bottom and organizing the bracket that way.

When all is complete, then teams 1-4 are awarded a No. 1 seed, teams 5-8 receive a No. 2 seed, teams 9-12 are No. 3s and No. 13-16 are the No. 4 seeds.

The practice is meant to reward the best team from the regular season with theoretically the easiest path to the NCAA tournament should the top seeds win and advance. In the end, the top two teams from the regular season would meet for the National Championship in the final game of the season, and not in the quarterfinals or semifinals.

Of course, tournaments never work out that way as there are always upsets. It's what makes the one-and-done format of postseason play so exciting, right Holy Cross and Minnesota?

The NCAA hockey tournament must often stray from bracket integrity for a number of reasons. The NCAA prefers to avoid intraconference matchups unless a league has move than five qualifiers. Also, schools like Minnesota get to play in the regional it is hosting if it qualifies for the tournament.

There is also the all-mighty dollar to think of, so the NCAA will try to maximize attendance at all sites and limit the number of teams having to fly instead of bus.

This week an intraconference matchup breakup pure bracket integrity, but the NCAA has built in provisions to try and preserve it as much as possible.

For example, when trying to break up an intraconference matchup, teams may only be shuffled within their band, so a No. 2 can switch spots with another No. 2.

Taking all of that into consideration, here are the top 16 teams in the PairWise rankings after Tuesday night's games out East, as of 11 p.m.

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

Atlantic Hockey is the lone league without a team in the top 16 of the PairWise, so Colorado College will get bumped in favor of AHA-leading RIT and it will get the No. 16 seed.

Placing the top seeds closest to home beginning with Minnesota-Duluth, here is how the initial bracket will shake out, with the Gophers playing in the West Regional that they are hosting. Thankfully, they naturally fall there.

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

Midwest Regional (Green Bay): 4. Ferris State vs. 13. Northern Michigan; 5. Boston College vs. 12 Notre Dame.

Northeast Regional (Worcester, Mass.): 2. Boston University vs. 15. Union; 7. Ohio State vs. 10. Maine.

East Regional (Bridgeport, Conn.): 3. UMass-Lowell vs. 14. Denver; 6. Merrimack vs. 11. Miami.

There is one intraconference matchup in Green Bay involving Ferris State and NMU, who happen to play each other at 7:35 p.m. on Friday and Saturday at the Berry Events Center. Since NMU is the lower seed, it will be moved, not FSU.

I could just do a simple swap of NMU and RIT, but in order to preserve some bracket integrity and cut down on flights, I'll send NMU to Duluth, RIT to Bridgeport and Denver to Green Bay.

Another possible tweak that could be made involves sending Ohio State and Maine to the Green Bay regional and Boston College vs. Notre Dame to Worcester to boost attendance at both sites, but I'm not going to make it. The Buckeyes won't boost Green Bay enough and Worcester will be fine with Boston University in the regional.

So here is what my final bracket will look like this week, if the season ended today:

West Regional (St. Paul): 1. Minnesota-Duluth vs. 13. Northern Michigan; 8. Michigan vs. 9 Minnesota.

Midwest Regional (Green Bay): 4. Ferris State vs. 14. Denver; 5. Boston College vs. 12 Notre Dame.

Northeast Regional (Worcester, Mass.): 2. Boston University vs. 15. Union; 7. Ohio State vs. 10. Maine.

East Regional (Bridgeport, Conn.): 3. UMass-Lowell vs. 16. RIT; 6. Merrimack vs. 11. Miami.

Wildcats have a big series with the Bulldogs this weekend not only in the CCHA standings, but for in the NCAA tournament picture. A sweep for the 'Cats could go a long way.

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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