Opinion corner: Time to talk tourneyIt’s time to crank up our NCAA tournament watch, where we will prove that Bracketology is not just an exercise enjoyed by basketball fans. The PairWise rankings will be in the spotlight for the next month or so as teams make their final push for the national tournament. Let’s begin with a brief overview of the process.
By: Mark Schuttenhelm For The Sun, The Jamestown Sun
It’s time to crank up our NCAA tournament watch, where we will prove that Bracketology is not just an exercise enjoyed by basketball fans.
The PairWise rankings will be in the spotlight for the next month or so as teams make their final push for the national tournament. Let’s begin with a brief overview of the process.
The NCAA selection committee uses a complex series of statistical comparisons to fill out the field of 16. The PairWise rankings, which can be found at most any college hockey website, mimic the method the NCAA uses to select the field. There are also five automatic bids, which go to the winners of the five (Atlantic Hockey, ECAC, CCHA, Hockey East, WCHA) conference tournaments.
Conference tournament winners who happen to be outside the top 16 in the PairWise essentially reduce the number of ‘at-large’ bids that are available. As a result, a team generally needs to be ranked 14th or higher as the conference tournaments wind down to be considered “safe.” UND is currently tied for 9th in the PairWise.
The 16 teams will be seeded, bracketed and sent out to the four regional sites. This season the locations are as follows. Northeast: Manchester, N.H.. East: Providence, R.I. Midwest: Toledo, Ohio. West: Grand Rapids, Mich. I know, Grand Rapids isn’t very far west on any map I’ve ever seen, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes.
The committee follows a few general rules in setting up the brackets. These include financial success (attendance), competitive equity and ensuring a playoff type atmosphere at each regional site. The No. 1 seeds are placed as close to home as possible, and intra-conference matchups are avoided in the first round, if possible. UND fans hoping for a relatively short “road-trip” to Grand Rapids must keep one thing in mind. Western Michigan’s campus is in Kalamazoo, Mich., right down the road from Grand Rapids. If WMU makes the tournament, which seems likely at this point, the committee will make every effort to get them to the Grand Rapids regional to improve attendance there.
It’s impossible to predict at this early stage, but a scenario like this could result in North Dakota being moved further east, increasing those travel bills. The four regional winners, or “Frozen Four,” will head to Pittsburgh for this season’s national championship showdown. Four of the last five national champions have come out of Hockey East.
UND coach Dave Hakstol was looking for six solid periods against a red-hot Wisconsin squad last weekend, and the team definitely came through, grabbing three out of a possible four points with a 1-1 tie on Friday and a convincing 4-1 win on Saturday. A lot of good can be taken from the weekend, including the play of Zane Gothberg in goal, excellent penalty killing, and a balanced scoring attack.
Friday’s tie did include a few negatives though. UND was clearly outplayed in the third period and the OT, and some ill-advised penalties were taken late in the game by Drake Caggiula and Mark MacMillan. The penalty kill did an excellent job preserving the tie though, killing off 7 minutes of penalties in the last 12 minutes of play. Gothberg was outstanding in net, and coach Hakstol had him right back between the pipes for Saturday’s game.
The 4-1 win on Saturday was a total domination by UND, and ended a 5-game winless streak for the green, white and black. Scoring for the weekend was spread around, with Danny Kristo, Joe Gleason, Michael Parks, Dillon Simpson, Carter Rowney and Rocco Grimaldi picking up two points each. Thanks to the UND penalty kill, the anemic (11 percent) Badger power play was 0-for-8 on the weekend.
Looking at a few stats, Corban Knight is leading UND forwards in plus/minus at plus-11, while Nick Mattson still leads the blue-liners at plus-9. Knight and Mark MacMillan are both winning about 58 percent of their faceoffs. The power play is converting at 21.6 percent, while the penalty kill is 84 percent effective. UND has played the third-toughest schedule in the nation, behind Northern Michigan and Boston University. And it doesn’t get any easier. North Dakota heads to Omaha this weekend to face the 16-10-2 Mavericks of UNO. Friday’s game is being televised on the NBC Sports network. Saturday’s game is an afternoon special, played outdoors at TD Ameritrade Park.
Around the WCHA
With coach George Gwozdecky in Thunder Bay, Ontario, mourning the loss of his father, the University of Denver hockey team did its leader proud by sweeping a pair against Minnesota-Duluth. After blanking UMD 3-0 on Friday, Denver was trailing 3-1 late in the third period Saturday. The Pioneers scored three goals in a 91 second span to complete the sweep and stun the crowd in Duluth. … St. Cloud State continues to play well, with 4-0 and 4-1 wins at Bemidji. UND nemesis Ryan Faragher continues his fine play in goal for the Huskies. St. Cloud is 5-0-1 in its last 6. … Michigan Tech and Nebraska-Omaha split a pair of one-goal games in Omaha. St. Cloud leads the WCHA standings by three points over UNO. … The top six teams host the bottom six in the first round of the WCHA playoffs. There’s a pretty big logjam in the middle of the league right now, and you can expect the next month to be very entertaining as teams jockey for position and attempt to get those home playoff games.
I probably put the columnist jinx on Alaska last week when I mentioned the nice streak it was on. Of course, it dropped a pair at Miami over the weekend. Miami, winner of five in a row, holds a one-point lead over WMU in the CCHA standings. With a tie and loss against Ohio State, Notre Dame’s struggles continue. The Irish are 1-6-1 in their last 8. … Western Michigan, after a win and tie vs. Ferris State, is 6-1-3 in its last 10. … Ferris State, with a 13-11-4 record, still has hopes of making a run at the NCAA tournament. The Bulldogs have it pretty easy down the stretch, with Northern Michigan, Bowling Green and Michigan remaining on the schedule. Five out of six, and Ferris might have a shot at a return trip to the NCAA tournament.
With a 1-1 tie at Brown on Friday and a huge 6-2 win at Yale on Saturday, Quinnipiac solidified its position as No. 1 in the country in the PairWise and KRACH rankings. The eyebrow-raising national polls still have the Gophers on top. The Bobcats are unbeaten in 19. I’ve been banging the drum on behalf of Quinnipiac for a few weeks now, but the polls continue to favor the larger and more glamorous Minnesota program. Just for the record, Quinnipiac is 16-games over .500 and has played the 27th-toughest schedule in the country. The Gophers are 14 games over .500 and have played the 32nd-toughest schedule in the nation. You make the call. Elsewhere in the ECAC, Union and Dartmouth played to a 2-2 tie Friday night on national TV.
Hockey East Roundup
Merrimack College is my team of the week. With wins against 2 ranked teams, UMass-Lowell and New Hampshire, the Warriors, from the north side of Boston, are a few more wins away from thrusting themselves right into the middle of the NCAA tournament conversation. … With the Friday loss, UMass-Lowell’s 11-game unbeaten streak came to an end. Lowell wound up 0-2 on the weekend, losing in OT to Maine on Sunday. Boston College and UNH were winners on Friday, over Vermont and Northeastern, while Boston University lost to Massachusetts. … The first Monday in February means it’s time for the annual Beanpot Tournament in Boston. Now in its 61st year, the Beanpot is truly one of the great traditions in college hockey. Northeastern upset Boston University 3-2 in the early game. BU is 1-4-1 in its last six. The late game went to Boston College 4-1 over Harvard. BC will try to win its 4th consecutive Beanpot Championship on Monday against Northeastern.
St. Cloud State and Minnesota State have both moved up four spots in this week’s uscho.com national poll, while UMass-Lowell fell three. Merrimack is in and Alaska is out.
My Frozen Dozen for this week. 1) Quinnipiac, 2) Minnesota, 3) Miami, 4) New Hampshire, 5) Boston College, 6) Denver, 7) St. Cloud State, 8) North Dakota, 9) Western Michigan, 10) Yale, 11) Minnesota State, 12) Niagara.
Mark Schuttenhelm is a frequent contributor to the Opinion Corner