Friday, March 26, 2010

NCAA Predictions

If there's anything I'm awful at, it's predictions.

Well, some of you would say there are a lot of things I'm awful at, but you'd have to list "predictions" near the top of a list of any length.

That said, we've followed college hockey all season, and it would be really stupid to exit stage left because UMD is out.

So here goes nothing. Predictions are made with no inside knowledge outside of how good the teams are. I've talked to a few people this week, but it's hard to get a real gauge for these games, because as we saw last year, anyfreakingthing can happen in a one-game playoff.

Of the teams in this field, I have seen all of them play either in person or on television at least once, with the exception of RIT, Yale, and Alaska.

East Regional -- Albany, N.Y.
Denver over RIT
Cornell over New Hampshire
Cornell over Denver

I see the Pioneers having a lot of trouble with Cornell's big, suffocating defense. The Big Red like to shut teams down, limiting their speed through the neutral zone and keeping them from racking up a ton of shots. When opponents do get shots through, goalie Ben Scrivens -- the best Hobey Baker candidate from the East -- is just tough to beat.

RIT's upset potential lies in being able to lean on goaltending. Jared DeMichiel has been good this season, but the Tigers are going to struggle to generate much against DU's forecheck.

West Regional -- St. Paul, Minn.
Wisconsin over Vermont
Northern Michigan over St. Cloud State
Wisconsin over Northern Michigan

NMU is a good bet, actually, to win this thing. They have a goalie in Brian Stewart that they trust. They have a top player (Mark Olver) who is also a Hobey finalist. They have secondary scoring from guys like Greger Hanson and Andrew Cherniwchan. Mike Lee struggled in his last start for St. Cloud, and he's been up-and-down some this year. If he gets off to a rough start Friday, the Huskies will fall to 0-9 all-time in the NCAAs, one of the most incredible stats surrounding any team in this tournament.

(SCSU fans hate having it brought up, and rightfully so, but it's just amazing to me. This is a good program that has produced some really good players, both in college and then at the next level. Incomprehensible that they've never won an NCAA game.)

As for Wisconsin, they're the best team in this regional. They can get up and down the rink, and they're as tough defensively as any team in the country. Unless Vermont goale Rob Madore gets hot and stays hot, the Badgers should get in to the regional final.

Northeast Regional -- Worcester, Mass.
Boston College over Alaska
North Dakota over Yale
Boston College over North Dakota

The best potential for a first-round upset by a No. 4 seed this year lies either here or in Fort Wayne. Simply put, the top teams are good and balanced enough that they have to run into a hot goalie to lose a game. If you want to bet on a goalie to get hot, the best choices are either Scott Greenham from the Nanooks or Cameron Talbot of Alabama-Huntsville.

In the end, BC's superior talent gets enough pucks home to hold off Dion Knelson, Andy Taranto, Greenham, and the hard-charging Nanooks.

North Dakota will win, possibly by a large margin if Brad Eidsness plays well in net. Yale just doesn't have the goaltending, and their offense took a huge hit with the loss of Sean Backman.

Midwest Regional -- Fort Wayne, Ind.
Miami over Alabama-Huntsville
Michigan over Bemidji State
Michigan over Miami

The Wolverines are hot with a hot goaltender in Shawn Hunwick. Miami will struggle with UAH, but their superior work ethic and defensive play will allow them to edge past the Chargers, no matter how good Talbot looks in net.

I took Michigan to slide past Bemidji because of their recent records. You could argue that BSU will be better now that they've had two weeks to sit and think about that egg they laid in the College Hockey America tournament, but Michigan used those two weeks to become one of the hottest teams in the country.

Frozen Four -- Detroit, Mich.
Wisconsin over Cornell
Boston College over Michigan
Wisconsin over Boston College

It's a crapshoot of gut feelings to get here, and it's even more of a crapshoot of gut feelings once you arrive at your picks.

Two weeks after the regionals, it's damn near impossible to predict how teams will perform on the big stage. When in doubt, you take the team that has the most talent and the most balance from offense to defense. That's Wisconsin out of this group.

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