by Mathieu Webb
Senior Writer, D3hockey.com
It's always hard to believe this part of the season comes around as fast as it does, but yet again it has. Though far from a secret to anyone at this point, the NCAA released its first Pairwise Rankings on Tuesday.
|UW-Eau Claire is in the midst of a fantastic season and sits at No. 8 in the Pairwise, but will the Blugolds again find themselves on the outside looking in?
Photo: Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com
The official release of the rankings that will be used to determine at-large tournament selections as well as tournament seeds means it's once again time to embark on our annual four-edition journey through Men's Bracketology. As many are surely aware, that's the exercise in which we usually attempt to implement the NCAA selection process in the best manner possible to yield a bracket as if the season ended today.
But before doing that, the standard housekeeping is in order as a new season once again brought some changes to the process. While there are always some annual tweaks, this year's are the biggest in some time and will directly impact the way the tournament field is selected and seeded.
This year's notable changes are:
1. At-large selection will no longer be governed by the primary and selection criteria we have all grown to know so well. Rather, they will be selected by the NCAA Pairwise Rankings, which is the same method used in Division I. While discussed in more detail below, the simple version is that the highest-ranked teams in the Pairwise will be the at-large teams selected for the tournament. Related, the Pairwise Rankings will also be used to seed the tournament field.
2. The UCHC now has a Pool A automatic bid so its tournament champion will receive a berth in the tournament. As a result there are no longer enough teams playing as independents or in conferences that do not have a Pool A bid to foster a Pool B bid, so this year's 12 teams will make the field via one of eight Pool A bids or four Pool C bids.
3. There is not a pre-determined site for the Frozen Four. It will instead be hosted at the campus rink of one of the final four participants. This will also be the case in 2021, and previous NCAA publications indicate a West Region preference for this year and an East Region preference for 2021. It should also be noted that a preference is not a guarantee.
For this first edition we're going to have a bit of fun. You'll see what that means a bit later on, but we're going to deviate just a bit from what we usually do. However, we believe that it will prove illustrative as it will give us something to contrast with what we do next week. And recall, that is always our stated goal with this: to be illustrative and educational and not predictive, and to be so with no regard for anyone who wants to whine about it.
Away we go...
- The 2019 Men's Division III Ice Hockey Championship will consist of 12 teams.
- Eight conference playoff champions will receive automatic qualifying bids (Pool A) to the tournament. They are: CCC, MASCAC, MIAC, NCHA, NEHC, NESCAC, SUNYAC & UCHC.
- Four teams that do not receive Pool A bids will receive at-large (Pool C) bids into the tournament. Every team that did not receive a Pool A bid is eligible for a Pool C bid.
For the purpose of Pool C selection the committee will use the Pairwise Rankings and select the four highest remaining teams. The components used to generate the Pairwise comparisons, and thus rankings, are as follows:
- The committee will release three editions of Pairwise Rankings prior to tournament selection, with the release dates being February 12, 19 and 26. A fourth will be generated on Selection Sunday (March 3) and is slated to be released to the public on March 4.
NCAA Pairwise Rankings - February 12 (Top 32 -- see the full rankings here)
|14||University of New England||17-5-2|
|18||New England College||16-4-5|
Analysis: Unlike in prior years where the regional rankings were often unpredictable to the point of being inexplicable and there was plenty of analysis to be had, not much is required here. These are the final word and we know how they were created. These and these alone will dictate at-large selections and seeds, so proceed we shall...
- Pool A
As Bracketology assumes this would be the tournament field were the season to end today, we will use the teams leading the eight Pool A eligible conferences as our automatic qualifiers. Thus, the eight Pool A bids go to:
- Pool C:
We now must determine which teams will get at-large bids to the tournament. Usually this leads to having to make a plethora of statistical comparisons, but we already know that now we just have to identify the four highest-ranked teams in the Pairwise that are not currently projected to win a Pool A bid. So let's take a look at the top of the Pairwise to learn who the fortunate four are:
Analysis: Yet again not too much is required as we know the top four remaining teams are in and it speaks for itself. One interesting thing this amended selection process yields is that we will definitively know which team was the last to crack the field as well as which was the first team out. Were the season to end right now we can see Adrian would be the last in, Hobart the first out.
The Pool C bids are awarded to: UW-Stevens Point, Oswego State, Norwich, Adrian
Setting the Field
Thus, our full tournament field is:
|Pool C:||UW-Stevens Point|
|Pool C:||Oswego State|
Seeding the Field
Now the field must be seeded. Using this week's Pairwise Rankings, we'll do exactly that and seed the teams 1-12 and also include their Pairwise rank in parentheses.
|1||UW-Stevens Point (1)|
|5||UMass Boston (5)|
|6||St. Norbert (6)|
|11||Salve Regina (17)|
|12||Plymouth State (32)|
Setting the Bracket
Well here we go again....the "Adrian Problem" is once again in play. Of course it's not a problem per se, but Adrian's presence in the field does create complexity when it comes to figuring out the best way to drop teams into the bracket as the Bulldogs can play teams in either region -- though not all of them due to the NCAA's 500-mile travel restriction on early-round games.
So for this week, what should we do? Spend a sixth year explaining the rules and options for the 100th time and then try to figure out which bracket option that fits within those rules might prove preferential to the rest? Well, we could, but if it hasn't registered yet it's never going to, so instead let's pay a bit of of homage to Division I.
Wait, what? Well, as Division III has adopted the Division I selection process for the next two seasons, let's go full-blown Division I and adopt absolutely everything for this week's exercise. Therefore we'll drop teams into the bracket the same way DI does and see what sort of (admittedly excellent, if you ask us) bracket we end up with. Then next week we'll bring in the Division III rules, including its self-congratulatory and inconsistently applied travel restrictions, to illustrate the significant impacts such restrictions place not only on the bracket but also on the committee members who are responsible for the creation thereof.
So going the Division I route, we end up with four regionals of three teams each and they will be hosted by the top four seeds: UW-Stevens Point, Geneseo, Oswego State and Norwich. From there we place the rest of the teams into regionals by seeds and that is that -- with one possible exception: we can't have teams from the same conference play in the first round, so if that happens we would have to move teams to account for it. As it turned out, it's not a concern here so this week's final and DI-style bracket is:
|click to view in full screen|
UW-Stevens Point Regional
8 Wesleyan v. 9 Augsburg, winner v. 1 UW-Stevens Point
7 Adrian v. 10 Utica, winner v. 2 Geneseo
Oswego State Regional
6 St. Norbert v. 11 Salve Regina, winner v. 3 Oswego State
5 UMass Boston v. 12 Plymouth State, winner v. 4 Norwich
As far as setting up the semifnals, 1 gets lined up with 4, and 2 with 3. So the winner of the Stevens Point Regional will face the winner of the Norwich Regional, while the winner of the Geneseo Regional will meet the winner of the Oswego State Regional.
No need for much analysis as, obviously, this is not a practical bracket and is unrealistic for a variety of reasons. But it's fun to consider and a good exercise that not only illustrates what this thing would look like if balanced both by seed and structure, but also will contrast with what we'll see next week when we fully implement the Division III restrictions. There are three Bracketology editions remaining in which we'll have plenty of time to haggle over what to do with Adrian, should it be in the field. No need to bother with that...yet.
Plus who can deny that this would be a fantastic tournament?