Welp, we came close.
Figuring out a final bracket this year was a much tougher exercise, and took a lot more guesswork than last year, when the decision was fairly straightforward. In the weeks prior to the tournament many guessed that with six NCHC teams in the field of 16, that would limit options for the committee or force potentially awkward situations. Instead, the opposite turned out to be true. There were so many possible ways the committee could have gone and still come out with a plausible bracket.
And as much as we try to base our decisions on what "The Committee" has done in the past, it's worth remembering that the individuals that make up that group are always changing, and there's no way to predict which way they might lean.
So why did we end up with the tournament field that we did? Let's delve a little deeper and see what the Committee might have been thinking.
Once again, if the Committee had gone with pure bracket integrity based on rankings, we would have had a bracket that looked like this:
Now let's look at the changes that the Committee made. Here's how the final bracket ended up.
You'll notice that all the #1 and #2 seeds stayed unchanged. The one decision the Committee had to make that was speculated about was the decision between Minnesota State and Miami. Some argued using the reasoning that a "flight is a flight" and that justified sending Minnesota State to Providence rather than South Bend while putting Miami a bus drive away in South Bend.
It feels like the right decision to keep Minnesota State in South Bend though. Any thoughts of "attendance help" Miami would bring South Bend are overstated if the number is in the double digits. And while Minnesota State's team will likely fly to South Bend, it is a driveable distance for fans that want to attend and likely gives them more support than if they were in the East.
The #3 and #4 seeds are where things went crazy. We'll start with the #3 seeds.
Denver and St. Cloud State were scheduled to meet in the first round, and while the Committee could have allowed an intra-conference first round match-up with six NCHC teams in the field, avoiding them is a very high priority. The Committee made two changes to fix that. St. Cloud State was shipped to the West Regional, swapping places with Minnesota. Then Minnesota was swapped with Boston College to keep the Eagles in Providence and help attendance there.
That was exactly as I had speculated. The only difference is that I went one step further by switching Minnesota and Harvard to keep Harvard in the east and Minnesota in the west. In this instance, bracket integrity won out over regionality in the eyes of the Committee.
All the controversy over the next week will focus on the decision by the Committee to play around with the #4 seeds. They did not need to make any switches, as our pure bracket looked pretty good. But it did involve Providence, the last at-large bid in the Tournament being shipped to the West when there is a regional in their hometown. (As a reminder, Providence is not the host in Providence, cross-town rival Brown is.)
In my final guess, I decided to opt for simplicity and bracket integrity rather than playing around with the seeds to cram Providence into the Providence regional. But the Committee decided it was worth the trouble and put the Friars at home, switching around the four seeds to make it fit(other than #16 RIT, who was essentially locked in to playing #1 Minnesota State).
That's not going to make many people happy that a #1 seed plays what is essentially a road game in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. It's not like Providence did anything to earn that. If there's any solace, it's that the weakest #1 seed is drawing the second weakest #4 seed, which in theory is a slightly easier match-up, but overall there's very little difference between #13 and #15 in the field.
So what's the takeaway from this year's selection?
It's hard to say, because there's no really consistent pattern. There were basically two big decisions--Switching Harvard/Minnesota and keeping Providence at home or not--and opposite reasoning won out in those two instances. But that's the risk when there are so many plausible scenarios that could work. Outside of the Providence decision, there is nothing too outrageous in the final decision's that they made.