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NCAA hockey bracketology: NMU still alive for at-large bid, but barely

March 8, 2012
By MATT WELLENS - Journal Sports Editor ( , The Mining Journal

The Northern Michigan University hockey team suffered a potentially fatal blow this weekend in dropping a three-game, first-round CCHA playoff series at home to the lowly Bowling Green State Falcons.

The defeat has left the Wildcats on life support and in a deep, deep coma for the time being, with no guarantees they will ever wake up.

But there is hope.

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Northern only fell to No. 16 in the PairWise rankings - not as far as I or anyone else projected they would - thanks to some favorable results out East.

Some late-season victories by the Falcons over top teams like Michigan also helped increase BGSU's value, despite being the last-place team in the CCHA.

Northern will need a lot of help still to get back into the top 15 of the PairWise, which would make them the final at-large bid for the tournament as long as no other conference champion besides the one from Atlantic Hockey comes from outside the PairWise top 15.

To be safe, it would be best for the Wildcats to reach No. 14, which is possible. No. 13 would be stretching it.

Jim Dahl, a PairWise expert for, broke down the chance every NCAA college hockey team has this week of climbing or falling in the PairWise. Northern has a 20.8 percent chance of reaching No. 15 if things go right, 4.4 precent chance of climbing to No. 14 if a perfect storm emerges and 0.3 percent chance if a miracle would take place.

Odds say NMU either remains No. 16 - 31.5 percent chance - or drops to No. 17 - 25.8 percent chance. There's a 13.8 percent chance NMU falls to No. 18, a 3.4 percent chance NMU lands at No. 19, and in a worse-case scenario, NMU falls to No. 20, but there's only a 0.1 percent chance that happens.

So how does Northern beat the odds this week?

Dahl was kind enough to answer my query and break down what needs to happen for NMU to pull off a PairWise upset.

Merrimack, who sits at No. 15 in the PairWise, needs to lose its first-round, best-of-three, Hockey East series at Maine this weekend with the Black Bears preferably pulling off the sweep.

In the ECAC tournament, Dartmouth needs to upset Cornell, which sits at No. 14 in the PairWise, in a best-of-three series.

Because the Wildcats only trail the Big Red and Warriors by a few thousandths of a percentage point in the ratings percentage index, those are the two comparisons NMU is most likely to overturn this week.

With no more games themselves, NMU is unlikely to overturn any team under consideration or common opponents comparison.

Besides getting some help out East, NMU will need some help from its friends in the CCHA, including an Upper Peninsula rival.

To at least maintain a No. 16 spot, Northern needs Michigan to sweep Notre Dame, which is No. 18 in the PairWise.

In another tricky matchup, the Wildcats need Lake Superior State to pull off the upset of Western Michigan in Kalamazoo, so the No. 17 Broncos don't leap frog the Wildcats.

Of course, with LSSU and Dartmouth pulling upsets this weekend, it would be best for both to lose in their conference semifinals the following weekend.

If the Lakers or Big Green win conference titles, NMU would be bounced. The Lakers, who sit at No. 20 in the PairWise, may even leapfrog NMU if they reach the Mason Cup finals.

Here's a look at how my bracket shakes out this week, plus a quick explanation of how I got there. For a complete analysis of how I came up with this week's, plus an alternate bracket, visit the Inside 1401 Sports blog at

Northeast Regional (Worcester, Mass.) - 1. Boston College vs. 16. Air Force; 8. Union vs. 9. Miami.

West Regional (St. Paul) - 4. Minnesota-Duluth vs. 15. Merrimack; 7. Minnesota vs. 10. Maine.

Midwest Regional (Green Bay, Wis.) - 2. Michigan vs. 13. North Dakota; 5. Ferris State vs. 11. Denver.

East Regional (Bridgeport, Conn.) - 3. UMass-Lowell vs. 14. Cornell; 6. Boston University vs. 12. Michigan State.

Notes: Minnesota was placed in the West Regional because it is the host. ... To avoid an intraconference matchup between CCHA rivals No. 12 Michigan State and No. 5. Ferris State, the Bulldogs and No. 6 Terriers were swapped. This also increases attendance in both regionals. ... There is also n intraconference WCHA matchup between No. 13. North Dakota and No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth. To fix that, I swap UND with No. 15 Merrimack.

Mining Journal Sports Editor Matt Wellens will have another bracketology analysis on Thursday of next week. The field is announced on Sunday, March 18.

Matt can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.



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