Saturday night was a wild night of college hockey, especially as the college hockey world kept close watch on the Big Ten championship, where the final bid tournament was on the line for either Ohio State, or North Dakota, if their old buddies from the WCHA, Wisconsin, could come back to win.
But when the dust settled, it ended up being the simplest and least controversial bracket to put together in my memory. Our final Bracketology post on Saturday night had the correct NCAA tournament field, and while I'd like to claim it was the result of personal genius, the truth is that there just wasn't much up for debate.
Let's start with the tournament bubble. Maybe it was the new Pairwise formula that didn't create the same wild swings we're used to seeing late in the season. Maybe it was just the way teams on the bubble played this year, but it looks like the computer got this one right.
Michigan was the first team left out of the tournament field. Heading into last week, Michigan knew what they had to do. Win against Penn State and they would likely be in--as it played out, they would have been in. Lose to Penn State--their third loss in five tries against the Nittany Lions--and nearly every agreed they didn't deserve to be in the tournament anyway. Given the level of frustration Wolverine fans felt with their team in the second half of the year, seeing North Dakota grab that last at large almost had to feel like a relief.
Northeastern was the second team out of the tournament, and while Hockey East was a meat-grinder this year, the Huskies were a bubble team that didn't advance out of the second round of the Hockey East tournament, so it's tough to argue they really deserved a spot.
If Ohio State had held on to win and North Dakota had been the last team, I'm sure there would have been plenty of noise about a 23-win that finished in second place in (what their supporters would like to believe is) an extremely conference. But even that could have been chalked up to three autobids from outside the top 16 stealing bids.
When it came to creating the bracket itself, the final Pairwise numbers worked out like the NCAA tournament committees dream. Five Hockey East teams made the field, and three teams each made it from the ECAC and NCHC, but when the bracket was aligned with straight 1 vs. 16, 2 vs. 15, etc. bracket integrity, there were zero intra-conference match-ups that needed to be switch. I can't do that math, but I'd have to guess the odds of that happening are pretty rare.
There weren't any problems with host teams either. Minnesota was the only host in the tournament, but the Gophers locked up the number one overall seed the week before the conference tournaments, so no one could complain about their placement.
That left the NCAA with just a few options to switch things around for sake of regionality, and even there, there were very few moves the NCAA could have made because everything fell into place so perfectly with no intra-conference match-ups. There was the opportunity to switch fourth seeds Vermont and North Dakota, which the NCAA took advantage of. North Dakota would have had to fly to either Bridgeport or Cincinnati. Vermont would have had to fly to Cincinnati, but could bus to Bridgeport, so the NCAA chose them to place them in Bridgeport.
The only other possible move might have been moving Colgate out of the Midwest regional to an eastern regional, but switching Colgate with Providence would have created a Colgate/Quinnipiac intra-conference match-up, while moving Colgate to the Northeast would have created a Minnesota State/Ferris State intra-conference match-up.
In any case, this current version of the Selection Committee proved once again that they're going to be aggressive as possible in terms of keeping teams as close to home as possible, though this year ended up that there was not much opportunity to do so.