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NCAA Hockey Bracketology: Northern Michigan dominates WCHA foes

January 25, 2012
By MATT WELLENS - Journal Sports Editor (mwellens@miningjournal.net) , The Mining Journal

Editor's note: The original bracketology posted Wednesday morning did not reflect a pair of Tuesday night games. This version now does, with the original Tuesday bracketology at the end.

The Northern Michigan University hockey team wrapped up its out-of-league schedule with a 5-2 victory over Michigan Tech on Saturday, giving the Wildcats a 5-1 non-conference record with all six games being against the WCHA.

It's not perfect, but it's still a darn good recipe to make the NCAA tournament.

Of the nine WCHA teams currently in the PairWise rankings, NMU is winning eight of those comparisons. If Michigan Tech can rejoin the PairWise with a win over Minnesota-Duluth this weekend - the Bulldogs are the only WCHA team to win a comparison with NMU - the Wildcats will own a ninth.

A big reason NMU is winning its comparisons with the WCHA despite an 11-8-5 record overall and 8-8-4 record against teams under considerations, is because of its record against common opponents (COPs), one of the key categories in the PairWise.

The Wildcats are winning five tight comparisons against WCHA teams with Northern's record against common opponents deciding three in its favor - Denver, Minnesota and Nebraska-Omaha.

NMU currently is winning a comparison over Colorado College via the ratings percentage index (RPI), with both teams holding a 3-1-0 record against common opponents. The Tigers have yet to play Tech and the Huskies may need a split to keep CC from overtaking NMU.

Northern is losing a common opponents comparison with St. Cloud State as well, but a sweep of the Huskies gives them a 3-2 win overall.

With the Tigers, North Dakota and Nebraska-Omaha charging late to steal one of the CCHA's seven current spots in the NCAA tournament, that 5-1 record against the WCHA will come in handy.

Now here's a look at this week's field, starting with the top 16 in the USCHO.com PairWise rankings as of noon on Wednesday. UMass-Lowell fell 1-0 to Providence Tuesday evening, dropping the River Hawks from No. 3 overall to No. 10.

Ties were broken via the RPI.

USCHO.com PairWise Top 16:

1. Boston University

2. Minnesota-Duluth

3. Ohio State

4. Notre Dame

5. Michigan

6. Merrimack

7. Northern Michigan

8. Ferris State

9. Boston College

10. UMass-Lowell

11. Cornell

12. Denver

13. Minnesota

14. Michigan State

15. Miami

16. Colorado College

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 the Tigers.

To determine the 2012 bracket if the season ended today, I'll start by placing the No. 1 seeds (1-4) in regionals closest to home, so Boston University goes to Worcester, Mass., Minnesota-Duluth goes to St. Paul, Ohio State goes to Green Bay and Notre Dame is left heading to 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. Only the top seeds (1-4) get to stay as close to home as possible).

Here is my initial bracket, which has some major flaws.

East Regional (Worcester): 1. Boston University vs. 16. Mercyhurst; 8. Ferris State vs. 9. Boston College.

Northeast Regional (Bridgeport): 4. Notre Dame vs. 13. Minnesota; 5. Michigan vs. 12 Denver.

Midwest Regional (Green Bay): 3. Ohio State vs. 14. Michigan State; 6. Merrimack vs. 11. Cornell.

West Regionals (St. Paul): 2. Minnesota-Duluth vs. 15. Miami; 7. Northern Michigan vs. 10. UMass-Lowell.

Now my first priority is to put Minnesota in St. Paul because it is the host. I also want to avoid intraconference matchups and keep Duluth, a No. 2 seed, as close to home as possible.

My other top priority is to keep bracket integrity in tact, so that the second round is No. 1 vs. No. 8, No. 2 vs. No. 7, etc. The committee's goal is to have No. 1 vs. No. 4 and No. 2 vs. No. 3 in the Frozen Four.

So with that in mind, and me always favoring the quickest route to get to where we want to go, I'll send Minnesota-Duluth's entire grouping to Green Bay, Ohio State's entire grouping to Bridgeport and Notre Dame's entire grouping to St. Paul.

It's unfair to Ohio State, but the most fair to UMD. If the Bulldogs can't play in St. Paul thanks to the Gophers being in that No. 4-seed band, then I'll send UMD to Green Bay.

Here's how my bracket now looks, prior to my final tweaks.

East Regional (Worcester): 1. Boston University vs. 16. Mercyhurst; 8. Ferris State vs. 9. Boston College.

West Regionals (St. Paul): 4. Notre Dame vs. 13. Minnesota; 5. Michigan vs. 12 Denver.

Northeast Regional (Bridgeport): 3. Ohio State vs. 14. Michigan State; 6. Merrimack vs. 11. Cornell.

Midwest Regional (Green Bay): 2. Minnesota-Duluth vs. 15. Miami; 7. Northern Michigan vs. 10. UMass-Lowell.

Finally, I want to break any intraconference matchups and there is one between CCHA teams - Ohio State vs. Michigan State.

Now, the selection committee is not required to break up this intraconference matchup because there are more than five CCHA teams - seven to be exact.

To preserve perfect bracket integrity, I could leave my bracket the way it is with all four regional seeds adding up to 34. I'm going to throw the Buckeyes a bone, however, and give them the No. 16-seeded Lakers. The Bulldogs will get the No. 14. Spartans and the Terriers will get No. 15 Miami.

This move not only breaks up an intraconference matchup, but it strengthens the Bridgeport regional giving it three Eastern teams.

Obviously BU and BC keep Worcester strong while NMU, State and Duluth give Green Bay it's best shot at being successful without Wisconsin being in the tournament.

So here is my final bracket:

East Regional (Worcester): 1. Boston University vs. 15. Miami; 8. Ferris State vs. 9. Boston College.

West Regionals (St. Paul): 4. Notre Dame vs. 13. Minnesota; 5. Michigan vs. 12 Denver.

Northeast Regional (Bridgeport): 3. Ohio State vs. 16. Mercyhurst; 6. Merrimack vs. 11. Cornell.

Midwest Regional (Green Bay): 2. Minnesota-Duluth vs. 14. Michigan State; 7. Northern Michigan vs. 10. UMass-Lowell.

For NMU fans, it's great for travel. For competitive reasons, I'm sure some of you are liking Jason Moy's bracketology posted today at www.uscho.com where NMU and Lowell play in St. Paul while Michigan and Denver are in Green Bay.

My problem with Jason's version is it ignores bracket integrity for the regional finals with a No. 4 possibly playing a No. 7 and a No. 2 playing a No. 5. Duluth shouldn't be given a harder road to the Frozen Four just because the Gophers get to play in St. Paul. That's why I moved Duluth's entire regional from St. Paul to Green Bay, to keep bracket integrity.

Below is a look at the bracketology I did on Tuesday for the print version of The Mining Journal before that night's games took place.

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

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 the Tigers.

To determine the 2012 bracket if the season ended today, I'll start by placing the No. 1 seeds (1-4) in regionals closest to home, so Boston University goes to Worcester, Mass., Minnesota-Duluth goes to St. Paul, UMass-Lowell goes to Bridgeport, Conn., and Ohio State heads to Green Bay.

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.

Here is my initial bracket, which has some major flaws.

East Regional (Worcester): 1. Boston University vs. 16. Mercyhurst; 8. Merrimack vs. 9. Boston College.

Midwest Regional (Green Bay): 4. Ohio State vs. 13. Minnesota; 5. Notre Dame vs. 12. Denver.

West Regional (St. Paul): 2. Minnesota-Duluth vs. 15. Miami; 7. Ferris State vs. 10. NMU.

Northeast Regional (Bridgeport): 3. UMass-Lowell vs. 14. Michigan State; 6. Michigan vs. 11. Cornell.

The two problems with this bracket that stand out include Minnesota not playing in the regional it's hosting, the West Regional in St. Paul. The Gophers are guaranteed to play in St. Paul, so how do I get them there?

Teams can only be flip-flopped within their bands, but I can't flip No. 1-seeds UMD and OSU or No 4 seeds Minnesota and Miami, because it creates intraconference matchups, which the NCAA does not want.

So, I'll take the easy way out, and just send Ohio State's entire regional to St. Paul and the Bulldogs' entire regional to Green Bay.

The other concern is two intraconference matchups between Hockey East's Merrimack and BC, as well as the CCHA's Ferris State and NMU. The easy move is swapping Ferris and Merrimack.

That gives me my final bracket.

East Regional (Worcester): 1. Boston University vs. 16. Mercyhurst; 7. Ferris State vs. 9. Boston College.

West Regional (St. Paul): 4. Ohio State vs. 13. Minnesota; 5. Notre Dame vs. 12. Denver.

Midwest Regional (Green Bay): 2. Minnesota-Duluth vs. 15. Miami; 8. Merrimack vs. 10. NMU.

Northeast Regional (Bridgeport): 3. UMass-Lowell vs. 14. Michigan State; 6. Michigan vs. 11. Cornell.

This bracket looks pretty good, and not just because NMU lands in Green Bay. Bracket integrity is pretty close and attendance should be solid in all four regionals.

That's all for this week. It will be interesting to see where NMU stands come next week following Tech's series with Duluth and Northern's two games at Miami.

The 'Cats hold a tight 3-2 comparison over the RedHawks, who can overtake NMU with two wins in regulation or overtime. Shootout wins are no good for Miami in the NCAA's eyes.

 
 

 

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