All six NCAA conferences have concluded their individual playoffs and the 16 teams who will partake in the annual NCAA National Tournament bracket have been finalized. Of course the six conference champs receive automatic bids and the remaining ten spots are awarded based on the NCAA's Pairwise Rankings.
The Pairwise Rankings are a complex ratings system that ranks teams based on toughness of schedule. While it sounds like it should produce a picture perfect year end bracket, the fact is that this year's 16-team list is proof that the NCAA is using a very flawed formula.
According to USCHO.com the 16 teams that will have a chance at capturing the National Championship are:
Denver, Wisconsin, North Dakota and St. Cloud from the WCHA... Miami, Northern Michigan, Michigan and Alaska from the CCHA... Hockey East is represented by Boston College, New Hampshire and Vermont... Cornell and Yale from the ECAC and Bemidji State joins Alabama-Huntsville out of the CHA. RIT is the lone Atlantic representative program.
Some people have a problem with Alabama-Huntsville being in the bracket but Dean and I both argue that despite their weak regular season performance, the Chargers won their Conference playoffs and deserve their place. According to the Pairwise Rankings though, the Chargers wouldn't even be close to top-16 consideration and The RIT Tigers end the year ranked 25th. Both get in because they won their Conferences but some feel the mixed "Conference champs + Pairwise At-Large bids" system is flawed.
At the risk of sounding like a NCAA basher (which I'm not), I welcome someone trying to explain the sense of Vermont having a place in the 16-team tournament ahead of Maine.
The Vermont Catamounts ended the Hockey East regular season in 8th place while the Maine Black Bears finished in 3rd place. The Black Bears lost to Boston College in the Conference finals (7-6 in overtime) but Vermont was shutout 3-0 by the same club in the semi finals. The head to head match up between them saw Maine dominate Vermont 2-0-1 in three games, two of which were played at Gutterson Fieldhouse in Burlington.
Based on all of that evidence, I don't know how anyone can justify how Vermont would rank ahead of Maine. Therefore it must mean that the non-conference schedule that the Catamounts played was so much more impressive than Maine's.
Vermont split a pair of games against Denver, won single games against average to weak ECAC programs St. Lawrence, Yale and Dartmouth plus a victory over Alabama-Huntsville and Minnesota-Duluth as well. That's a 6-1 record.
Maine's non-conference results include two losses to Union (that was bad), a split with Michigan State, a win over the same St. Lawrence club, a tie with Princeton and a win over Colorado College. That's a 3-3-1 record.
Apparently Vermont's non-conference success far outweighs the fact that they finished behind Maine, were winless in three games to the Black Bears and lost out earlier in the HE playoffs. Does that sound wrong to anyone else?
It will be made official tomorrow so there may be some slight changes but the final brackets as projected by USCHO.com are:
In St. Paul, MN
Vermont vs. Wisconsin
Michigan vs. St. Cloud State
In Fort Wayne, IN
Alabama-Huntsville vs. Miami
Yale vs. Bemidji State
In Albany, NY
RIT vs. Denver
Northern Michigan vs. Cornell
In Worcester, MA
Alaska vs. Boston College
New Hampshire vs. North Dakota
Some terrific match ups in those brackets which should make for an exciting tournament. However, I still find it difficult to see Vermont heading to Minnesota instead of the Maine Black Bears.
Let me know if you agree or disagree.