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Bracket Analysis: Committee Opts for Regionalization

The NCAA chose to move two teams to closer regionals rather than strictly following the Pairwise Rankings.

Douglas Jones-US PRESSWIRE

Despite the best efforts of ESPN to convince us otherwise, pretty much everything was known about the NCAA tournament bracket heading into Sunday's selection show. There were just three possible scenarios that people were waiting on to see.

Behind Door Number 1:

The NCAA goes with straight bracket integrity, which would have put a match-up between Boston College and Minnesota State in the West regional along with Minnesota/Yale, while a match-up between North Dakota and Niagara would be played in Providence.

Behind Door Number 2:

The NCAA makes a slight tweak by switching the BC/MSU match-up with North Dakota/Niagara, putting Boston College close to home in Providence, and keeping North Dakota paired in a region with rival Minnesota.

Behind Door Number 3:

The NCAA really sells out in terms of regionalizing the tournament by making the BC/MSU switch with UND/NU AND swapping Minnesota State, who would have had a long travel anywhere, to Toledo, and moving Union College, who has just a 180 mile journey to the Providence regional, to the East.

I chose Door Number 2 in my bracket projection. The NCAA tournament committee chose to go with Door Number 3, opting for as little travel as possible for teams, while going against what the final PWR numbers said.

Personally, I didn't have a huge problem with this, if only because I've always been of the belief that once a team gets into the tournament, every game is basically a 50/50 coin flip anyway, especially given the single elimination nature of the tournament.

Also, it's not really a big deal given the volatile nature of the Pairwise Rankings. When I'm less than 48 hours removed from saying, "Well, Notre Dame could either end up third overall in the PWR, or miss the tournament completely," it's hard to get too worked up about switching the 6th and 8th spots in the PWR.

It's quite refreshing, if anything, to finally have someone involved with college hockey realize that it's stupid to have a team take an expensive plane trip to go play somebody else in front of very few fans, when they can play competition just as good much closer to home.

For the latter half of the year, there were a lot of conspiracy theories flying around out west about how the NCAA tournament committee would do whatever possible to get Minnesota and North Dakota into the same bracket, regardless of bracket integrity. It's interesting that those theories ended up proving correct, although not necessarily for that reason, since keeping Boston College in Providence seemed to be the motivating factor. Of course, I see no problem with Minnesota and North Dakota potentially meeting. The two teams only met twice this year, didn't meet in the WCHA tourney, and won't meet at all next year, so there's not the same fatigue fans might have felt in other years.

There's also the annual conspiracy theories about how the NCAA will never allow an all-WCHA Frozen Four ever again after the meh experience of the 2005 Frozen Four in Columbus. Again, that seemed to be proven correct with six WCHA teams squeezed into three brackets, leaving Providence WCHA-free, though not necessarily for that reason.With all due respect to the Mavericks, I think the committee was likely more concerned with keeping Union close to home--although any hope of increased attendance there is negligible--than they were with Minnesota State steamrolling through Boston College and Quinnipiac.

So what does this all mean for the future? I expect these types of switches for regional match-ups to become more common in the future, especially with the western teams splitting into three conferences instead of two, giving the committee more options due to less possibility of intra-conference match-ups. But as long as the NCAA keeps their current, single elimination, neutral site format--still the worst playoff format in all of hockey--it probably doesn't make all that much difference.

UPDATE: College Hockey News got some great, must-read quotes from committee chair Tom Nevala that they posted via Twitter (@chnews), and will likely have on their website as soon as they can. The gist of the comments from Nevala was that the NCAA tournament committee made those decisions because they are concerned about bringing a better atmosphere to their first round tournament games.

Those comments from Nevala don't really come as much of a surprise, considering he made comments last November saying he would like to move the NCAA tournament back to home ice, best two-out-of-three series in the first round, despite facing resistance from the coaching body.

If this year's bracket decisions are a sign of shifting attitudes towards eventually moving tournament games back to campus sites, then I think it is a great decision for the sport, and it is very refreshing to see them moving in the right direction in regards to that. Ultimately, bringing the game back to the fans is much better for the sport than super strict adherence to an arbitrary math system.