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Minnesota and North Dakota last met in the 2014 Frozen Four semifinals (photo: Jim Rosvold).

It’s time once again to do what we like to call Bracketology, college hockey style. It’s our weekly look at how I believe the NCAA tournament will wind up come selection time.

It’s a look into what are the possible thought processes behind selecting and seeding the NCAA tournament teams.

We’ll keep bringing you a new one every week until we make our final picks before the field is announced on March 20.

Those of you that are veterans of the college hockey scene know that it is all about the PairWise Rankings. This is USCHO’s numerical approach that simulates the way the NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey committee chooses the teams that make the NCAA tournament.

Since USCHO began the PairWise Rankings, we have correctly identified all of the teams that have been selected to the NCAA tournament.

I am the only prognosticator to have correctly predicted the exact brackets for the NCAA tournament in four of the last five years, meaning that I have predicted how the committee thought when putting together the brackets.

This is not a be-all, end-all analysis of the bracket. I am trying to give you, the reader, an idea of what the committee might be thinking and not exactly what they are thinking.

If you want to skip the inner workings and get to the results of the analysis, then click here.

Here are the facts:

• Sixteen teams are selected to participate in the national tournament.

• There are four regional sites (East — Albany, N.Y.; Northeast — Worcester, Mass.; Midwest — Cincinnati; West — St. Paul, Minn.).

• A host institution that is invited to the tournament plays in the regional for which it is the host and cannot be moved. There are four host institutions this year: Union in Albany, Holy Cross in Worcester, Miami in Cincinnati and Minnesota in St. Paul.

• Seedings will not be switched. To avoid undesirable first-round matchups, including intraconference games (see below), teams will be moved among regionals, not reseeded.

Here are the NCAA’s guidelines on the matter, from the 2016 pre-championship manual:

In setting up the tournament, the committee begins with a list of priorities to ensure a successful tournament on all fronts, including competitive equity, financial success and the likelihood of a playoff-type atmosphere at each regional site. For this model, the following is a basic set of priorities:

1. Once the six automatic qualifiers and 10 at-large teams are selected, the next step is to develop four groups from the committee’s rankings of 1-16. The top four teams are No. 1 seeds and will be placed in the bracket so that if all four teams advance to the Men’s Frozen Four, the No. 1 seed will play the No. 4 seed and the No. 2 seed will play the No. 3 seed in the semifinals. The next four are targeted as No. 2 seeds. The next four are No. 3 seeds and the last four are No. 4 seeds.

2. Step two is to place the home teams. Host institutions that qualify will be placed at home.

3. Step three is to fill in the bracket so that first-round conference matchups are avoided, unless it corrupts the integrity of the bracket. If five or more teams from one conference are selected to the championship, then the integrity of the bracket will be protected (i.e., maintaining the pairing process according to seed will take priority over avoidance of first-round conference matchups). To complete each regional, the committee assigns one team from each of the remaining seeded groups so there is a No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 seed at each regional site.

Given these facts, here is the top 16 of the current PairWise Rankings (PWR), and the conference leaders or highest remaining seed in the conference playoffs through all games as of March 2:

1 Quinnipiac
2 North Dakota
3 St. Cloud State
4 Providence
5 Boston College
6 Michigan
7t Denver
7t Yale
9t Notre Dame
9t Boston University
11 Harvard
12 Massachusetts-Lowell
13 Omaha
14t Penn State
14t Minnesota-Duluth
16t Minnesota
16t Michigan Tech
19t Robert Morris
19t Minnesota State

Current conference leaders based on winning percentage or highest seeds remaining in conference tournaments:

Atlantic Hockey: Robert Morris
Big Ten: Minnesota
ECAC Hockey: Quinnipiac
Hockey East: Boston College
NCHC: North Dakota
WCHA: Minnesota State

Notes

• Bracketology assumes that the season has ended and there are no more games to be played — i.e., the NCAA tournament starts tomorrow.

• For those teams still in regular season play, I will be using winning percentage, not points accumulated, to determine the current leader. This team is my assumed conference tournament champion after applying the tiebreakers.

• For conference that are in the postseason, the highest seed remaining is my assumed conference tournament champion.

Step one

From the committee’s report, choose the 16 teams in the tournament.

We break ties in the PWR by looking at the individual comparisons among the tied teams, and add in any current league leaders that are not currently in the top 16. The only teams that are not are Minnesota, Minnesota State and Robert Morris.

From there, we can start looking at the ties and bubbles in a more detailed fashion.

The ties and bubbles consist of Denver and Yale, Notre Dame and Boston University, and Robert Morris and Minnesota State.

We break all of our ties based upon the RPI.

Therefore, the 16 teams in the tournament, in rank order, are:

1 Quinnipiac
2 North Dakota
3 St. Cloud State
4 Providence
5 Boston College
6 Michigan
7 Denver
8 Yale
9 Notre Dame
10 Boston University
11 Harvard
12 Massachusetts-Lowell
13 Omaha
14 Minnesota
15 Robert Morris
16 Minnesota State

Step two

Now it’s time to assign the seeds.

No. 1 seeds: Quinnipiac, North Dakota, St. Cloud State, Providence

No. 2 seeds: Boston College, Michigan, Denver, Yale

No. 3 seeds: Notre Dame, Boston University, Harvard, Massachusetts-Lowell

No. 4 seeds: Omaha, Minnesota, Robert Morris, Minnesota State

Step three

Place the No. 1 seeds in regionals.

No. 1 Quinnipiac is placed in the Northeast Regional in Worcester.
No. 2 North Dakota is placed in the West Regional in St. Paul.
No. 3 St. Cloud State is placed in the Midwest Regional in Cincinnati.
No. 4 Providence is placed in the East Regional in Albany.

Step four

Now we place the other 12 teams so as to avoid intraconference matchups if possible.

Begin by filling in each bracket by banding groups. Remember that teams are not assigned to the regional closest to their campus sites by ranking order within the banding (unless you are a host school, in which case you must be assigned to your home regional).

If this is the case, as it was last year, then the committee should seed so that the quarterfinals are seeded such that the four regional championships would be played by No. 1 vs. No. 8, No. 2 vs. No. 7, No. 3 vs. No. 6 and No. 4 vs. No. 5.

So therefore:

No. 2 seeds

No. 8 Yale is placed in No. 1 Quinnipiac’s regional, the Northeast Regional.
No. 7 Denver is placed in No. 2 North Dakota’s regional, the West Regional.
No. 6 Michigan is placed in No. 3 St. Cloud State’s regional, the Midwest Regional.
No. 5 Boston College is placed in No. 4 Providence’s regional, the East Regional.

No. 3 seeds

Our bracketing system has one regional containing seeds 1, 8, 9, and 16; another with 2, 7, 10 and 15; another with 3, 6, 11 and 14; and another with 4, 5, 12 and 13.

No. 9 Notre Dame is placed in No. 8 Yale’s regional, the Northeast Regional.
No. 10 Boston University is placed in No. 7 Denver’s regional, the West Regional.
No. 11 Harvard is placed in No. 6 Michigan’s regional, the Midwest Regional.
No. 12 Massachusetts-Lowell is placed in No. 5 Boston College’s regional, the East Regional.

No. 4 seeds

One more time, taking No. 16 vs. No. 1, No. 15 vs. No. 2, etc.

Since Minnesota is a host institution, we must place Minnesota in the West Regional.

No. 14 Minnesota is sent to No. 2 North Dakota’s regional, the West Regional.
No. 16 Minnesota State is sent to No. 1 Quinnipiac’s regional, the Northeast Regional.
No. 15 Robert Morris is sent to No. 3 St. Cloud State’s regional, the Midwest Regional.
No. 13 Omaha is sent to No. 4 Providence’s regional, the East Regional.

The brackets as we have set them up:

East Regional (Albany):
13 Omaha vs. 4 Providence
12 Massachusetts-Lowell vs. 5 Boston College

Northeast Regional (Worcester):
16 Minnesota State vs. 1 Quinnipiac
9 Notre Dame vs 8 Yale

Midwest Regional (Cincinnati):
15 Robert Morris vs. 3 St. Cloud State
11 Harvard vs. 6 Michigan

West Regional (St. Paul):
14 Minnesota vs. 2 North Dakota
10 Boston University vs. 7 Denver

Our first concern is avoiding intraconference matchups. We have Massachusetts-Lowell vs. Providence.

Let’s take a look at the third band and attendance drivers. We have to get Massachusetts-Lowell out of that spot, and the only team that can slot in there is Harvard.

Therefore, we know Harvard will play Boston College in Albany.

Now, how about the rest?

We have stated in previous blog posts that we would love to see Notre Dame in Cincinnati. So we put Notre Dame there to play Michigan, which is the other team we would have loved to have seen there.

Now, does Massachusetts-Lowell or Boston University get to go to Worcester?

The higher seed does.

Thus, we have:

East Regional (Albany):
13 Omaha vs. 4 Providence
11 Harvard vs. 5 Boston College

Northeast Regional (Worcester):
16 Minnesota State vs. 1 Quinnipiac
10 Boston University vs 8 Yale

Midwest Regional (Cincinnati):
15 Robert Morris vs. 3 St. Cloud State
9 Notre Dame vs. 6 Michigan

West Regional (St. Paul):
14 Minnesota vs. 2 North Dakota
12 Massachusetts-Lowell vs. 7 Denver

We move onto attendance aspects of the bracket.

I think that we are OK at the moment, even in Cincinnati.

The only thing to look out for here are the Eastern brackets. You have to ask whether they would swap the entire bracket. After all, you have one regional that has Providence, Boston College and Harvard. Would you think about this regional being in Worcester?

But for this week, we’ll stick with what we have.

See you here next week for the next Bracketology.

Here’s a summary of everything that we have covered.

This week’s brackets

East Regional (Albany):
13 Omaha vs. 4 Providence
11 Harvard vs. 5 Boston College

Northeast Regional (Worcester):
16 Minnesota State vs. 1 Quinnipiac
10 Boston University vs 8 Yale

Midwest Regional (Cincinnati):
15 Robert Morris vs. 3 St. Cloud State
9 Notre Dame vs. 6 Michigan

West Regional (St. Paul):
14 Minnesota vs. 2 North Dakota
12 Massachusetts-Lowell vs. 7 Denver

Conference breakdowns

Hockey East — 5
NCHC — 4
ECAC Hockey — 3
Big Ten — 2
WCHA — 1
Atlantic Hockey — 1

On the move

In: None

Out: None

Attendance woes?

Cincinnati is looking a little better this week.

Last week’s brackets

East Regional (Albany):
15 Robert Morris vs. 3 Boston College
12 Harvard vs. 5 Providence

Northeast Regional (Worcester):
16 Minnesota State vs. 1 Quinnipiac
10 Boston University vs. 7 Yale

Midwest Regional (Cincinnati):
13 Massachusetts-Lowell vs. 4 North Dakota
11 Omaha vs. 6 Michigan

West Regional (St. Paul):
14 Minnesota vs. 2 St. Cloud State
9 Notre Dame vs 8 Denver

  • Joe C

    Thanks for the update!

    Change finally happens east of Ohio (other than the Penn State addition).

    The western half of hockey looks set, with WCHA, NCHC and BTHC done. I hope that WCHA makes one more move and invites UAH.

    It would be awesome to know what is going on at Hockey East headquarters, especially as it relates to the twelvth program and television (more please)

    • Spanky

      WCHA is not going to invite UAH. UAH best hope is atlantic hockey. WCHA may invite Air Force both because it makes sense geographically and also because presumably they would be able to afford to provide the full number or scholarships. If Air Force leaves, then MAYBE atlantic hockey invites UAH but travel money is always a problem with atlantic hockey schools, hence thier stupid conference playoff seedings system last year.

  • Anonymous

    I think it is time for one of the eastern conferences to take on UAH.  The western conferences have traditionally taken care of outlier programs like Alaska and UAA, despite the increased travel costs.  At the same time the  eastern conferences have not been willing to go out on limb to help programs despite the fact that that their programs are clustered close together and, comparitviely, their travel costs are minimal.  Huntsville, Alabama is an eastern community and it is time for HE, AHA, or the ECAC to step up.

    • FrozenFourFan

      You are exactly right.  It will be interesting to see what school if any Hockey East takes to get to 12.  Whoever it is, that conference should pick up Huntsville and get them a home.  Also agree with Spanky, Air Force should move to the WCHA.

    • Joe C

      Huntsville Alabama is west of Ohio. There is no difference in travel for the majority of WCHA schools compared to Hockey East, ECAC or AHA. It is all plane travel. In fact, the closest conference geographically to UAH is BTHC. 

      The big eastern conferences do help out other programs, protecting smaller programs like Merrimack, UMass Lowell, Clarkson, St Lawrence, the D-II programs that had to move up to keep hockey relevant but are D-II or D-III in all other sports. HE and ECAC schedule games with AHA to help those schools out.

      To expect AHA to pick up additional travel is a tough pill to swallow, given the size of most of these schools or their overall commitment to athletics. UConn is the only exception and I do not expect them to foot the bill for AHA. The purpose of the AHA is to incubate fledging programs and give them a stable place to grow.

      I would say that the BTHC should be the conference to help UAH by playing non-conference games against them during conference play. I am still trying to figure out the BTHC conference schedule. Four games against each school seems pretty bland and leads to tie-breaker nightmares. Five games against each school eliminates tie-breaker issues but seems a tad excessive. Then again, there IS all that air time on BTN. Hey look, Ohio State hosting Penn State…AGAIN!

      Honestly, we all know that BTHC will be playing NCHC non-conference during conference play for the first ten years because some of those matchups will sell lots of tickets and have decent television ratings. I feel bad for UAH and wish things were not this way, but things are this way.

      • Anonymous

        Huntsville being west of Ohio doesn’t change the fact that is it is closer to most AHA and HE schools than it it is to the 2013-14 WCHA programs (other than BG) .  Or the fact that eastern schools are clustered together with lower travel costs than the western conferences.  What a Hockey East school calls a long road trip is considered a trip to the grocery store in the WCHA and CCHA.  After Hockey East poaches someone to become their 12th team, the conference who got their pocket picked should take UAH.    

        • Joe C

          Other than Notre Dame, which Hockey East school is less than 1,000 miles from UAH? Yes, it is true that all of Hockey East is very close. The longest bus ride time-wise is UVM to Maine because there is no straight shot. The price for schools being close is that the programs are more expensive to run in urban/suburban locations. Not everyone has a Big Ten football team and 40-60,000 students to support their hockey programs.

          Honestly, as I have said before, it is not up to AHA, HE, ECAC or WCHA to pick up the slack for UAH. It is really up to BTHC and NCHC, the two conferences that changed the landscape of WCHA and killed CCHA. But we know they will play each other in non-conference games and let WCHA and AHA figure out how to add non-Hockey East/ECAC out of conference games.

          Why did Notre Dame go to Hockey East? Because there was no CCHA worth saving. I am not a fan of what happened to WCHA and CCHA, but that is what Big Ten bylaws required.

      • FrozenFourFan

        Couple of things…   First regarding commitment to athletics and conference “obligations” to smaller schools… Atlantic Hockey currently has 8 Div-I schools and 4 schools that are normally DII or DIII.  When it comes to “protecting” DI hockey programs, the new look WCHA will have 1 Div-I school and 8 schools that are normally DII. 

        The average distance between the WCHA schools and Alabama Huntsville is 1,602 miles.  The average distance between AHA schools and Alabama Huntsville is 955 miles. 

        BTHC will not allow non-B1G schools to join their conference period.

        There is no reason why a NCAA school with a DI program that is committed to hockey should be playing as an independent, especially with the current realignment that is occuring.  The reality is, HE will probably add another team from AHA or the ECAC.  If this occurs, the sensible thing to do is add Huntsville to that conference.  The other option is that Air Force moves to the WCHA, because other than Army being in the AHA, the fact that Air Force is traveling to NY, MA, CT and PA for every away game is plain stupid.

        Air Force to WCHA, Alabama to AHA, best option overall.

        • Joe C

          If you include the two Alaska schools, you are selectively using statistics. Also, I said the the BTHC is the closest conference that could play NON-conference games. Since UAH is not an AAU member, no Big 10. Compare the closest schools in NCHC, BTHC, WCHA, AHA, ECAC and HE and you will find that there is a different read. Also, if you use the median schools distance, this changes things, too. It was very hard to figure out the median school for AHA, since Air Force is next to CC and Bentley is next to the Boston schools. It might be easiest to treat is like ECAC. The brutal reality is that is a long ways away from every other program.

          Here are the mileages to select schools
          Miami 419 Closest NCHC
          Ohio State 494 Closest BTHC
          Notre Dame 542 Closet HE
          Michigan 636
          Western Michigan 642 Closest WCHA
          Michigan State 648
          Robert Morris 707 Closest AHA
          Niagara 710
          Wisconsin 713
          Mercyhurst 734
          Ferris State 746
          Penn State 796
          Princeton 881 Closet ECAC
          Nebraska-Omaha 960
          Minnesota 979
          Minnesota Duluth 1033
          RPI 1047 Median HE (guess)
          UConn 1064
          Boston 1140 Median HE (guess)
          Vermont 1205
          Denver 1269
          North Dakota 1290
          Maine 1376
          Fairbanks 4024
          Anchorage 4140

          • Joe C

            RPI is the median ECAC school. Pinrceton is closest, not closet.

          • FrozenFourFan

            Fact is, BOTH Alaska schools are in the new WCHA, therefore, it is only reasonable to use them when factoring travel.  Fortunately for the rest of us, you will not decide where Huntsville will wind up.

          • FrozenFourFan

            Western Michigan is not in the WCHA

      • FrozenFourFan

        Also, since when did Ohio become the center of the US?  The Mississippi River is about the closest thing we have to a East/West Divide, and Alabama is no doubt east of that, over 200 miles east.

        • Joe C

          See the mileage list below. The closest D-I hockey programs to UAH are in OH, IN, MI and PA. That sounds like BTHC is the closest, just like the old CCHA used to be the closest. I never said that Ohio is the center of the United States. I wrote the UAH is west of Ohio. The map of the US confirms this to be the case.

          Hunstville, Alabama is almost directly south of South Bend, Indiana. The more you know….

          • FrozenFourFan

            Again, Alabama is in the eastern US, that is a fact.  Second fact, BTHC will under no circumstance take Huntsville.  Therefore, they are left with either the AHA, ECAC, or WCHA.  What everyone other than you is trying to say is, the best option would be the AHA.

  • Anonymous

    Since NCHC seems done b/c of Notre Dame moving on, Minnesota State-Moorhead is the best 12th WCA candidate. If not, Air Force is a good candidate. After that I don’t care too much for the options. The good thing about the dilemma for WCA is that they have time to find out whether Moorhead can get a division 1 program and if not, Air Force would likely jump at the opportunity to play in a better division.

  • NCAAHockeyFan

    I agree that Air Force would be a good addition to the WCHA (to make it 10 teams). That would leave Atlantic Hockey with the odd number of 11. Too bad UCONN doesn’t have a larger program because they could be a cool fit in Hockey East; it would include all the New England state universities (that have hockey…sorry URI). 

  • We’re not done yet in the East.  What happens if the NE-10 forms a full fledged conference when St. Anselm and St. Michael’s get kicked out of the ECAC-E??  They’ll have the same standing as the WCHA (sans BGSU).

  • EAGLES

    Alabama Huntsville deserves a home WCHA  seems to not really want them.
    .Rumor has Holy Cross going to Hockey East if they do which is a longshot AHA would invite Huntsville.I would not be surprised if Hockey East stays at 11 I do know the Garden will be rocking for BC Notre Dame at the Hockey East Championship   .
    Air Force to the WCHA makes the most sense for them less travel and it opens the door for the Chargers .

  • Ams1117

    I agree that it is a shame that UAH has not found a home yet with all the conference changes.  I wonder if they finally committed to remaining a D1 program if someone would have offered them a slot.  As a Hockey East fan, now that we have expanded to Indiana and unless UCONN raises the status of their hockey program or Syracuse, URI or VIllanova add D1 hockey, HE should reach out to UAH.  
    Another option for Air Force should be NHCH with DU and CC.  I have heard the only reason they stay at AH is for the Army rivalry, then NHCH should expand to 10 and take in AF and Army.  
    Or Ivy does a B10 and creates their own conference, then ECAC can add NU, RIT, CU and other AHA schools. . .

  • JamesDee

    I wish Miami, WMU and Bowling Green would have gone out east and formed with lower halves of the Hockey East like Northeastern, Merrimack, UMass and  UMass Lowell.

    The Upper Half of East could form their own league
    Boston University, Boston College, Vermont, Maine, Notre Dame, RPI, Providence, and UNH. 

    Eight team leagues are nice. I

  • Robert8_fun

    I really wish Navy, the Naval Academy, would take its club program to varsity status. Army and Air Force are both varsity. Navy would be a great addition to college hockey. Navy could perhaps join Hockey East. The Navy Midshipmen adding hockey is my hope.

  • Knaeble4

    Sensible approach:

    WCHA: AK,AK,CC,DU,AFA,UC-boulder,other western schools (Utah, Montana,Washington,etc)

    Heartland: UND,MN,WI,Mich,MSU,OSU,PSU,UN-omaha

    CCHA-west: Mankato,SCSU,Duluth,Bemidji,NMU,Mtech,LakeSt,NDSU

    CCHA-east: NotreDame,Miami,BowlingGreen,UAH,Mercyhurst,Niagara,Ferris,WMich

    HockeyEast: Maine,Vermont,UNH,BU,BC,Umass,Uconn

    ECACacademic: Cornell,Princeton,Harvard,Yale,Colgate,RPI,possiby ARMY,etc

    ECACother:  all other remaining east coast teams

    preserves rivalries, keeps travel costs down, is sustainable (with perhaps an exception in the west), makes for exciting hockey, results in parity within conferences

    Someone step in and force this on the college hockey world.

    Otherwise why play or watch?  College hockey will end with the current plans.  College hockey is a regional phenomenon.

    notes: I wouldn’t be opposed to having Nebraska-Lincoln and NDSU-fargo come into Heartland and then just leaving OSU and PSU out to dry.