Saturday, March 18, 2017

PairWise Notes and Thoughts: The Final Day is Upon Us

MINNEAPOLIS -- Greetings from downtown Minneapolis, where the sirens are loud and the buildings are tall.

This is the final day of the season in college hockey. There are six conference championship games that will decide automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament. Most of the teams involved don't need those automatic bids to get in, but there are still a few teams' seasons on the line.

Before we get to that, the schedule for Sunday's selection announcements was sent out Friday by ESPN PR.

10am - The four No. 1 regional seeds are announced on Twitter @NCAAIceHockey.
10am hour - ESPN host and Frozen Four VOX John Buccigross will tweet which regionals the No. 1 seeds are assigned to @buccigross.
11am - NCAA Selection Show airs on ESPNU to show all four regionals in full; game times and TV will be announced for each regional (we don't know any of them yet).

The two Friday/Saturday regionals next weekend are Fargo and Providence. Saturday/Sunday regionals are Cincinnati and Manchester. Of the four, only Fargo is sold out, which means very limited tickets available for UMD fans (UMD will have an allotment to sell, but it isn't much, and priority season ticket holders will get first shot).

Of course, Fargo is also the only one within reasonable driving distance. Take the good with the bad, I suppose.

Anyway, here are the games for Saturday.

Atlantic Hockey: Air Force vs Robert Morris (winner in, loser out)
WCHA: Bowling Green at Michigan Tech (winner in, loser out)
Hockey East: Boston College vs UMass-Lowell (BC out with a loss, UML in either way)
Big Ten: Wisconsin vs Penn State (Wisconsin out with a loss, Penn State in either way)
ECAC: Harvard vs Cornell (both teams in)
NCHC: UMD vs North Dakota (both teams in)

College Hockey News' Probability Matrix is a good resource when it comes to who will get in. Between that and the predictor tools readily available on the internet box, the following is clear:

The following teams are in the tournament, no matter what happens Saturday: Denver, UMD, Harvard, Western Michigan, Minnesota, Boston University, UMass-Lowell, Union, North Dakota, Cornell, Penn State, Notre Dame.

As explained above, Atlantic Hockey and the WCHA will each be one-bid leagues. Further, the Bowling Green-Tech winner will be the No. 16 overall seed. If Robert Morris beats Air Force, it will be the No. 15 overall seed. If the Fighting Serratores win, they quite possibly will be above the No. 15 spot (looks like No. 12 is the most likely landing spot if Air Force wins).

Right now, Providence and Ohio State are the last two at-large teams in. If we have straight chalk in the Big Ten and Hockey East, those two teams will get in, knocking Boston College and Wisconsin out. If either Boston College or Wisconsin win (but not both), Ohio State is sent packing. If both BC and UW win, Providence is out, too.

A Western Michigan non-loss in the NCHC third place game likely means the NCHC will have three of the top four overall seeds. UMD and Denver are locked into the top three, no matter what happens. Western joins them if it doesn't lose to Denver. That's it. A win or tie will do just fine. And if last year -- when Denver played its backup goalie and a handful of guys who weren't lineup regulars -- is any indication, Western has a real shot. Even if WMU rests guys, it's a 50/50 game at worst.

How does UMD get to a No. 1 seed? It more than likely must beat North Dakota and definitely have Denver not beat Western Michigan. Again, even a tie in the third-place game will be fine for UMD, but the Bulldogs must win the NCHC title to have a chance at the No. 1 overall seed. There is at least one scenario where UMD is No. 1 overall with a loss Saturday night.

Where will UMD go? Great question. Friday night, before the B1G semifinals were finished up (Penn State beat Minnesota in double overtime, on a power play goal, on an extremely lame call, but I digress), I ran a bunch of scenarios and was able to get UMD into each of the four regionals.

Right now, I have no idea what will happen. Here's the big issue: attendance.

The selection committee has shown the willingness in past years to bend the bracket -- i.e. sending Providence as a No. 4 seed to the Providence regional two years ago, even though Providence by rule didn't have to go there -- to drive attendance and try to create a championship atmosphere.

So, for example, if the Friars get in, they're almost certainly heading to Providence. Depending on how the final field looks, it might take some work.

I believe the No. 1 overall seed -- whether it's Denver or UMD -- will go to Fargo. I know it sounds silly, since UND will be there and that team is rolling right now. But UND can't be a No. 4 seed, which would create the need for a non-NCHC team to go to Fargo (conference rivals can't meet in the opening round unless there are at least five teams from that league that get in, and the NCHC can't get more than four this year).

I believe the committee will send Western Michigan to Cincinnati, especially if it is a No. 1 seed. So, if this happens for example, I think UMD goes to Manchester. But, again, it depends on how the committee wants to try to drive attendance. UMD will not help attendance at any regional (sorry, Bulldog fans, but the only regional you guys will want to go to is sold out).

But Harvard, UMass-Lowell, Boston University, and Boston College can help in Manchester and maybe Providence. This becomes especially important if Providence doesn't get in.

So the easy answer: It's way too early to tell. Lots of options on the table right now.

But no matter what, UMD will be a No. 1 seed wherever it goes. And UMD vs North Dakota at Target Center should be fantastic. Can't wait.

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