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Bracket Projection; Updating Merrimack's Pairwise
Before we get too deep into the weeds, I realize some newer Merrimack fans have never been through this process. So, let me try to explain how it all works.
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How the teams are selected for the NCAA Tournament: There are six automatic bids that go to the conference tournament champions of the six Division I conferences. The remaining 10 teams are selected based upon ranking under the NCAA's objective system of Pairwise Comparisons.
The three criteria: The current criteria for comparing one team to another consists of:
Ratings Percentage Index (RPI)
Record vs. Common Opponents
When taking out the teams that qualify automatically (by virtue of winning their conference tournament), the remaining top teams are then selected to fill out the 16-team field. If there is a tie in the number of total comparisons won, this tie is also broken by comparing the two teams' RPI.
Spoiler Teams: I reference those teams outside the current qualifying threshold (Top 15 of the Pairwise) but could still win an automatic bid, as a potential “spoiler” team. If one of these teams wins an auto bid, it removes an available at-large bid.
The Top 16
Here is the current Top 16:
We already know that the Atlantic Hockey winner will come from outside the Top 16, eliminating Michigan State.
The Warriors got one favorable result on Sunday night when St. Cloud State beat Minnesota Duluth in the NCHC Quarterfinals. That eliminated the possibility of UMD winning the NCHC and becoming a spoiler team.
Merrimack’s NCAA chances improved to 62% with UMD’s loss.
Merrimack is on the bubble because several other spoiler teams are still alive, and they could move the cut line from No. 15 (where it is now) all the way down to potentially No. 12.
Here are the “spoiler” teams in each conference. Merrimack wants all of these teams to get eliminated next weekend. Currently, they can afford one of these teams to win their conference tournament, but that might not be the case when it’s all said and done because the Warriors can still fall to No. 15 with a loss on Friday. Merrimack would need ALL of these teams to lose in that worst-case scenario.
NCHC: Colorado College, North Dakota
HEA: Providence, UMass Lowell
CCHA: Northern Michigan
If two of those teams win conference championships, it will almost surely eliminate the Warriors from consideration under the Pairwise, and Merrimack would have to win the Hockey East championship, and the league’s auto bid, to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
If everything stays the same, and there is a chance next weekend won’t provide much movement, the bracket falls together pretty easily. I have it projected to look like this:
(1) Minnesota vs. (16) AHA Winner
(6) Harvard vs. (9) Ohio State
(3) Denver vs. (14) Merrimack
(8) Penn State vs. (11) Western Michigan
(4) Michigan vs. (13) Minnesota State
(5) Boston University vs. (12) Cornell
(2) Quinnipiac vs. (15) Alaska
(7) St. Cloud State vs. (10) Michigan Tech
Penn State fell naturally (in serpentine order) with Ohio State in Fargo, but the Nittany Lions have to play in Allentown because the school is hosting that regional. Moreover, the NCAA would avoid an intra-conference matchup between two Big Ten teams in the first round.
If the NCAA committee sticks with recent history, the Warriors would be paired against Denver in the first round, and I doubt that the committee would adjust attendance. They haven’t done that in recent seasons, and while it’s possible they have a wholesale change in approach, until I see it, I’m going to project based on their recent history.
Ironically, Merrimack would be closer to home (Bridgeport) if they lost a game and fell to No. 15. However, the Warriors would be sweating out a possible spoiler team eliminating them.
Only one thing is sure… a lot can change between now and next weekend. I’ll keep you up to date as best I can.