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2021 Men’s Tournament Bracket Analysis

COLLEGE HOCKEY: JAN 03 Bemidji State at Bowling Green Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For all the uncertainty surrounding this year’s men’s tournament and how teams would be selected with no Pairwise Ranking to prevent any sort of smoke-filled room skullduggery, the bracket has been released and it is.......good?

I’ve got no real issues with the bracket the committee put together; a welcome departure from the fiasco of the women’s tournament selection. It certainly helped that with no good choices for the final few spots in the field, it made it almost impossible to make a bad choice. But regardless, the committee had a very difficult job and came out of with a bracket that makes sense.

It’s a little different from the final bracket that we came up with, but it was always going to be. There’s just too many assumptions, each one built upon the other, to get it 100% right. The more interesting part is why the final bracket ended up being different. So let’s dive into those reasons.

There were two basic assumption that I, and I think a lot of other people, made about the selection process this year that turned out to not to be true.

The first is that I assumed some sort of effort towards geographic equality. I ended up giving Providence the nod for the last at-large spot, figuring the committee would prefer a 9-7 west/east split to loading the tournament with western teams. Not the case at all. This year’s tournament will feature 11 western teams and just five teams from the east. Bemidji State got the nod over a fourth Hockey East team for the final bid initially. Then when the committee got another pick once St. Lawrence had to withdraw, they went with another western team in Notre Dame over a fourth Hockey East.

Just to be clear, that’s exactly the way it should be. The best teams should be in regardless of what conference they play in, even if it might not be a popular decision. If the committee believed Bemidji State and Notre Dame were better than Providence—and I can’t see a strong argument that says they’re wrong in that belief—then they should be in the field.

The other big assumption most everyone missed on, was the belief that the committee would place particular emphasis on keeping teams as close to home as possible and try to eliminate travel costs by avoiding flights. There were definitely hints that the committee would go that way leading up to the selection. But in the end, again, that was not the case at all. College Hockey News estimated the bracket has nearly twice as many flights as it potentially could have had.

Again, good for them for sticking to that. I don’t think the rankings are exactly rock solid this year with almost no inter-conference play for comparison. And every game, regardless of how teams are seeded is basically a toss-up. But if that’s how the committee had them ranked, then it’s the right thing to do to keep as much bracket integrity as possible. It’s not my money they’re spending, after all.

As for the big decisions of the last three teams into the tournament, here is how the committee had the final few teams ranked for at-large bids:


Bemidji State


Notre Dame


Notre Dame snuck into the tournament thanks to St. Lawrence being forced to withdraw. Providence is on the bubble until 7pm EST Monday night, ready to take a spot if anyone has to drop out due to Covid. After 7pm, if anyone has to drop out, it’s a no contest advancement for whomever the departing team was scheduled to play.

Did the committee get that order right? Who knows. Both Bemidji State and Quinnipiac played Bowling Green. That’s the only common opponent between any of those teams. There’s just no way to make a really definitive argument for anyone. And anyone that got left out and ample opportunity to help their case, and more often than not, did not do so. So it’s hard to feel too sad for anyone.

My personal belief is Denver’s head-to-head record outweighs Omaha’s mastery of the 3-on-3 overtime, but that’s still a tough argument given how difficult the optics are, and I have no problem with Omaha getting in given how difficult of a schedule they played.

I’m a little surprised the biggest beneficiary of this year’s choose-your-own-field process was little Bemidji State out of the WCHA, while the big loser seems to be powerful Hockey East. But maybe that was the correct way to go. Just like our projected field, I think what we ended up with makes as much sense as any other option.

All in all, we escaped this weird pandemic year selection with surprisingly little outrage. That’s not an endorsement of this year’s process. I strongly hope we go back to the straight math of the Pairwise next year and forever on. But for this one strange year, the committee ended up doing an excellent job making the best of a difficult situation.