Tuesday, February 10, 2009

HSR Bracketology

If you've been keeping a close eye on the NCAA Pairwise Rankings for college hockey, you might have noticed that, after this weekend's sweep of Lake Superior State, Michigan slid up into a tie with Notre Dame for 3rd. And if you already knew that, you're well aware of the volatility of the Pairwise. Well, after last night's Beanpot win by Boston University, there have been some additional shuffles. Notre Dame is now tied with Vermont for second (the Catamounts hold the tie-brekers), leaving us alone in fourth.

I started to think about what that means for us. The NCAA assigns the #1 seeds to their closest regional and does so in order of overall ranking. BU would go to Manchester, NH, and Vermont to Bridgeport, CT. Next up is Notre Dame. By virtue of their one place advantage in the Pairwise, the Irish are sent to Grand Rapids and Michigan is sent up to Minneapolis. Where Minnesota is hosting. At a TOTALLY NEUTRAL SITE that's 7.5 miles from their home rink. (UPDATE:  They're at Mariucci this year, then at the X in 2010 and 2011. Three years in a row hosting. Un-friggin'-believable)

The Gophers aren't the same team we played in the College Hockey Showcase and beat 6-4. They've long shed that #1 ranking, and they're hanging on by a thread to the last available at-large birth in the tournament. But they're still a dangerous team and I don't want to play them on their home turf in the first round, especially if Don Lucia can get his health back in order by then (We sincerely wish you good luck with that, Coach).

Now, if Michigan were to drop down a spot or two, there's an excellent chance that we'd be sent to Grand Rapids, in keeping with the NCAA's new emphasis on keeping teams close to home to reduce travel expenses. So this could be like two years ago, when our reward for beating Michigan State in the CCHA semi-finals was a trip out to Denver and the Regional of Death. This year's Minneapolis offering doesn't project to quite that level of hellaciousness, but for selfish reasons I'd definitely rather see them in Grand Rapids.

Speaking of that Minneapolis regional, let's figure out who'd be there as things now stand.

Start with the current Pairwise and fill in according to basic bracketing. I've penciled in Air Force and Niagara as the highest-ranking teams by KRACH in the CHA and Atlantic Hockey, respectively, and thus most likely to grab their conferences' auto-bids.

1BU2Vermont3Notre Dame4Michigan
16Niagara15Air Force14Minnesota13OSU

We now assign the top seeds to their closest regional in order of overall seeding; BU to Manchester, Vermont to Bridgeport, Notre Dame to Grand Rapids, and Michigan to Minneapolis. Next, we have to ensure host insitutions are sent to that regional (New Hampshire in Manchester and Minnesota at their NEUTRAL SITE home rink in Minneapolis). UNH is a straight-up swap with Miami. We can't do the same with Minnesota, as placing OSU in the Grand Rapids regional creates an intra-conference first-round matchup with Notre Dame. OSU is bumped over to the Bridgeport regional and Air Force is sent to Grand Rapids. Final result:

 Manchester  Bridgeport  Grand Rapids  Minneapolis 
1BU2Vermont3Notre Dame4Michigan
16Niagara13OSU15Air Force14Minnesota

There a couple of factors still looming out there. If the NCAA were to recognize the huge gulf between Minnesota and the CHA and Atlantic Hockey champions, they might put bracket integrity ahead of avoiding an intra-conference matchup, sending OSU to Grand Rapids.

Another factor in play is the new emphasis on travel costs. Right now we have 7 teams who would be traveling more than 400 miles, meaning they get to fly (Note: It's unclear to me whether the barrier is 400 miles by road or as the crow flies): Michigan, Denver, Cornell, Northeastern, Niagara, OSU, and Air Force. Michigan can't be touched, and Denver and Air Force will have to fly no matter what. But if our emphasis on bracket integrity (and the perfection of the Pairwise) is lessened, we can save a couple of flights. If we flip Denver into Grand Rapids for Cornell, we create an intra-conference matchup with Yale, but save a flight. We could also put OSU back into Grand Rapids at the expense of putting three CCHA teams in one regional, or flip Air Force with Niagara if we don't care about potentially screwing over BU.

Lurking out there is also the issue of New Hampshire. If they slip down to a #4 seed, that will create a mandatory intra-conference matchup in the first round and will force BU to play a much better opponent than the CHA/Atlantic Hockey can provide. Conceivably, the committee could opt to send BU down to Bridgeport and force Vermont to play UNH. At least Manchester and Durham are a little farther apart than Minneapolis and Minneapolis. It would be like Michigan hosting a regional at the Joe. We'll see how this plays out.

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