The NCAA Tournament committee released their final bracket this morning. Even though the NCAA Tournament is largely dictated by the strict rules of the Pairwise Rankings, there are usually a couple interesting decisions they have to make and are worth analyzing.
Creating this year's bracket was not simple. I, and the other professional bracketologists out there, worked deep into the night last night after the last game was played trying to figure out how to break up a bunch of Hockey East intra-conference match-ups and create a bracket that made sense.
It took some work, but ultimately, the projected bracket I created matched up with the projected brackets selected by USCHO and College Hockey News, and ended up matching exactly the final field released by the NCAA.
That doesn't mean it was simple though. And it doesn't mean the final announced field wasn't without some tough decisions and maybe a little bit of controversy.
Here's a breakdown of some of the big decisions that the committee made with this year's field.
Quinnipiac to Albany
One of the tenets of Bracketology we try to follow if possible is to give the #1 seed the regional closest to their home. It makes sense. Being close to home has a huge correlation to success in the tournament for number one seeds.
Technically, the closest regional for Quinnpiac would have been the Northeast regional in Worcester, which was 50 miles closer than the regional in Albany.
The committee likely place the Bobcats in Albany for two reasons though. First, 50 miles isn't that big of a deal. Second, there was a compelling reason to put the other #1 seed, Providence closer to home in Worcester, rather than in Albany. It also made sense as you worked further down the bracket. If Quinnipiac was the #1 seed in Worcester, #8 UMass Lowell would have had the virtual home game in Worcester. But with Providence in Worcester, that meant #5 Boston University got the regional closest to home. Those advantages ultimately seemed to outweigh the relatively insignificant difference of 50 miles of travel for Quinnipiac.
The biggest issue I had with putting Quinnipiac in Albany is that first round match-up against RIT. The Tigers still have a pretty good 228 mile drive to Albany, but in 2010, the Tigers turned the Albany regional into a virtual home game on their way to two huge upsets to make the Frozen Four. Playing that game in Worcester would have been a much more neutral atmosphere.
So there are pros and cons whichever way the committee decided. Ultimately, I think they went the right direction. But if RIT pulls off another major upset in what looks like a home game for them again, it should raise another round of serious questions about why these games are played at neutral("neutral") sites.
Regionality Creates a Tough Bracket and a Weak Bracket
Add up the rankings of two teams playing in the first round and it should equal 17 in an ideal bracket. Any number above 17 makes for a weak bracket. Anything below 17 is a strong bracket. All first round match-ups this year are within one of 17--the best you could hope for once teams started switching around to break up the four intra-conference match-ups--except for Michigan/Notre Dame at 19(a very weak bracket) and Denver/Boston University at 15(a very strong bracket)
The easiest flip to make would have been switching Michigan and Denver, or switching Notre Dame and Boston University. That would have brought all the first round match-ups to within one of that magic 17 number. Instead, the committee opted to keep two midwestern teams in Michigan and Notre Dame in the Midwest regional, reducing overall travel and potentially increasing attendance in college hockey notbed Cincinnati. As an attendee of the 2013 Toledo regional, also held on Easter weekend, I highly doubt Notre Dame makes any sort of difference in the attendance.
There are pros and cons to this approach. The pro is that it's nice to have true "regionals" and that the option for travel is at least there for fans that want to, even if most don't. The con is that there is the potential for a St. Cloud State/Denver rematch that people saw the week prior. I think the pros of the decision outweight the cons though, and the committee agreed.
It's a tough break for St. Cloud State, who is the #2 overall seed, but gets what is mathematically, the toughest road to the Frozen Four. The Huskies high seed did earn them the protection of staying in their home state though, which seems to be of bigger importance in the NCAA Tournament. And of course, this is all moot if the Huskies can't get past a streaking Ferris State team on Saturday.
Overall, it seemed the committee did the best they could with what they were presented. There are certainly downsides to the final bracket they picked, but there would have been downsides if they had gone in any other direction too. The bracket they picked seems like the one with the fewest flaws.