Late Saturday evening, we tried to take our best guess at which 16 teams will be selected for this year’s NCAA Tournament. Now that we have, or at least think we have, 16 teams in the field, we can start trying to figure out who will be playing where next weekend in the NCAA Tournament.
The biggest thing to keep in mind with this, or anyone else’s bracketology posts, is that none of this really matters a great deal. We’re discussing a tournament where the absolute best team in the tournament is barely batting above .500 in the first round in recent history. The worst at-large team in the field has won the whole tournament twice in the past seven tournaments. My eyes tend to glaze over whenever I have to read people Mad on the Internet about to correct placement of seeds because we’re talking about one 60-minute game in a sport where if five goals total are scored, it’s considered a shootout. Whatever minute differences there might be over a 30-ish game season in team quality are completely swallowed in the massive amounts of variance baked into the format.
I could try at ranking all 16 teams, but I’m not sure that’s really necessary. Instead, I just broke the teams down into the four seed bands with which to work from. I have them like this:
One seeds: North Dakota, Boston College, Minnesota, Wisconsin
Two seeds: Minnesota State, UMass, St. Cloud State, Michigan
Three seeds: Minnesota Duluth, Boston University, Quinnipiac, Omaha
Four seeds: Providence, American International, Lake Superior State, St. Lawrence
The first three one seeds seem pretty clear to me. I think there is a debate to be had between Wisconsin, Minnesota State, and UMass for the final number one seed. If I had to pick the best team out of the three, I’d go with Wisconsin. I could see the committee going with UMass just to keep the East/West split even, though I don’t know if that saves on travel at all since that gives you four western teams among the twos instead. I went with Wisconsin, though this might be the first place where I could screw this up.
Among the other seeds, Boston University is a wildcard because of their good record with few games played. They could be a two seed or a three seed. I went with three, but again, that’s another place where this could all go left. One of the last at-large teams will get a three seed and one will get a four seed. I went with Omaha as the three because again, that keeps east/west splits even among the threes and fours.
In building my bracket, I started with the one given. North Dakota makes things pretty easy as the presumed #1 overall team, and also locked into the Fargo regional because they are the hosts. They’ll be there no matter what.
I gave them St. Lawrence as a first round match-up since the Saints are the weakest team in the field. Lake Superior State is geographically closer to Fargo, but still a flight away, and with the Saints being so much weaker than the field, I think it’s fair #1 overall gets them.
The bottom half of the Fargo bracket gets interesting. There are three western teams to choose from among the two seed band in Minnesota State, St. Cloud State, and Michigan. If I were ranking the three, Michigan has the weakest resume, so usually you’d give them the strongest one seed. But with travel being a major consideration and these rankings being so malleable anyway, I think the committee goes in a different direction. Michigan has to fly regardless of where they go, so I think one of St. Cloud State or Minnesota State ends up in Fargo. I gave Minnesota State the nod because then you can squeeze another NCHC team in as a third seed. That would make the third seed a toss-up between Omaha and Minnesota Duluth. Omaha would be the choice for bracket integrity, but is just outside the magic 400-mile radius requiring them to drive while Minnesota Duluth is not, so I went with Minnesota Duluth.
I went with Boston College as the #2 overall and placed them in their closest regional, which is Bridgeport. Lake Superior State is the weakest remaining seed, but I gave them American International because AIC is close to Bridgeport. Among the two seeds, UMass is geographically close and Michigan is likely going out east. I picked Michigan because you can still keep UMass in an eastern regional and I’d rather avoid potential intra-conference match-ups if possible. Boston University or Quinnipiac are the two options as three seeds. Both are close and one will likely have to go out west. I went with Quinnipiac just because I like the idea of four different conferences in one regional.
I have Minnesota ahead of Wisconsin on the one line by virtue of their Big Ten playoff victory. It doesn’t really matter since both teams are a long ways from either regional, but I gave Minnesota the Loveland regional. Lake State gets the four seed to keep our last remaining four seed, Providence, in the east. St. Cloud State gets the two seed to keep our last remaining two seed, UMass, in the east. Boston University draws St. Cloud State because the Huskies can’t play Omaha.
That would leave Wisconsin, Providence, UMass, and Omaha as the four remaining teams for the Albany Regional.
That gives us a final bracket that looks like this:
#1 Minnesota vs. #4 Lake Superior State
#2 St. Cloud State vs. #3 Boston University
#1 North Dakota vs. #4 St. Lawrence
#2 Minnesota State vs. #3 Minnesota Duluth
#1 Boston College vs. #4 American International
#2 Michigan vs. #3 Quinnipiac
#1 Wisconsin vs. #4 Providence
#2 UMass vs. #3 Omaha
Do I think that is 100% how the bracket will look when it is revealed tonight? Probably not. There are about a 100 different decision points along the way that can break the chain and change everything else. More interesting than anybody’s guess at what the field will look like will be sifting through the aftermath once the bracket is revealed and determining what decisions the committee made along the way and why they made them. But this feels like as good a guess as any and a good place to start from.