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NCAA hockey bracketology: Wildcats back are against the wall

February 23, 2012
By MATT WELLENS - Journal Sports Editor ( , The Mining Journal

The Northern Michigan University hockey team, which sits tied with Lake Superior State at No. 17 in the PairWise rankings, didn't help itself in the NCAA tournament picture this week with a pair of losses at Michigan. However, it hasn't gotten much help as of late from a pair of its 2011-12 foes, either.

Michigan Tech and Alaska continue to sit right outside the threshold of being teams under consideration (TUCs) - both with a ratings percentage index score of .4949.

The magic number is .5000.

A school's record against TUCs is one of the four criteria used when comparing teams in the PairWise rankings. Currently, NMU has a 9-12-5 mark.

The Wildcats, who have an RPI of .5356, went 3-0-1 against the Huskies and Nanooks this season, meaning the reemergence of those two would bring NMU back to the crucial .500 mark against TUCs.

Tech, 1-3-2 since taking three of four points from Minnesota-Duluth, closes the year with a pair of games this weekend against another nonconference opponent of Northern's in St. Cloud State. Next week, Tech hits the road for a pair at Colorado College.

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Alaska, swept by Michigan State last weekend, closes the regular season with the Governor's Cup against Alaska-Anchorage. With the Seawolves being below the Nanooks in the RPI, it's a must sweep for the Nanooks if they hope to help their CCHA brethren.

With St. Cloud State sitting at .5050 in the RPI, it's probably best for the Huskies and Huskies to split their series, while a Tech sweep of Colorado College would be a big boost for Northern because it could also sink the Tigers, who are No. 19 in the PairWise.

If Tech and Alaska can close the year strong, and Northern can get a pair of wins over Lake Superior State, odds are NMU could overturn up to five comparisons it's currently losing with LSSU, Cornell, North Dakota, Ohio State and Denver.

A pair of wins for Northern would break its tie with LSSU, while the other four teams just ahead of the 'Cats in the PairWise are all within 17-33 thousandths of a point.

For NMU, the best bet from here on out is to just win. Any loss could result in the Mason Cup being the Wildcats only ticket to the NCAAs.

Minus Northern - the second-to-last team out after Merrimack - here is how the field shapes up this week, starting with the top 16 in the PairWise rankings as of noon on Feb. 22.

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

Atlantic Hockey once again has no one in the top 16, so league-leading Air Force will get the No. 16 seed, bumping out Merrimack.

Here is how this week's initial bracket looks with the four No. 1 seeds being placed closest to home. After that, the only team placed base on proximity is Minnesota, since it is hosting the West Regional in St. Paul. The rest of the field is seeded based on bracket integrity, so No. 1 vs. No. 16, No. 8 vs. No. 9, etc.

Northeast Regional (Worcester, Mass.) - 1. Boston College vs. 16. Air Force; 7. Union vs. 10. Michigan State.

West Regional (St. Paul, Minn.) - 4. Ferris State vs. 13. Ohio State; 8. Minnesota vs. 9. Maine.

Midwest Regional (Green Bay) - 2. Michigan vs. 15. Cornell; 6. Boston University vs. 11 Miami.

East Regional (Bridgeport, Conn.) - 3. UMass-Lowell vs. 14. North Dakota; 5. Minnesota-Duluth vs. 12. Denver.

There are two intraconference matchups in this bracket right now that must be broken up, starting with Ferris State vs. Ohio State. To do that, I'll flip the Buckeyes and the team for now known as the Fighting Sioux. It's an easy switch that not only breaks up the CCHA showdown, but improves attendance.

The other intraconference matchup involves Duluth and Denver. Typically, I would flip the lower seeds -Denver and Miami - but to help boost attendance in both Green Bay and Bridgeport, I'll flip the high seeds - Duluth and BU - instead.

There's one last final tweak I'll make for the sake of attendance and that's Michigan State and Maine. Normally, I'd tell these two to suck it up and travel, but the move will increase attendance and it barely leaves a scratch on the bracket integrity.

So here's my final bracket heading into the final week of the ECAC, CCHA and AHA regular seasons. The WCHA and Hockey East wrap up after next week.

Northeast Regional (Worcester, Mass.) - 1. Boston College vs. 16. Air Force; 7. Union vs. 9. Maine.

West Regional (St. Paul, Minn.) - 4. Ferris State vs. 14. North Dakota; 8. Minnesota vs. 10. Michigan State.

Midwest Regional (Green Bay) - 2. Michigan vs. 15. Cornell; 5. Minnesota-Duluth vs. 11 Miami.

East Regional (Bridgeport, Conn.) - 3. UMass-Lowell vs. 13. Ohio State; 6. Boston University vs. 12. Denver.

Mining Journal Sports Editor Matt Wellens will have another bracketology analysis on Thursday 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. Follow him on Twitter at



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