By now many of you know the ins-and-outs of bracketology as far as hockey goes. However, as the Notre Dame hockey bandwagon continues to gather steam, I'd like to take a moment just sittin' right there, to tell you how I became the prince ... er ... wait, I'd like to take a moment to describe the process in some detail.
I'll also provide an example in a reply to this that will serve as a template for reading future bracketology predictions that DiDi, Mr.W, and I (and others) enjoy doing passing the days until the field is actually announced. This is handy to read through and get an even better sense of exactly what types of accommodations have to (and don't have to, but may) be made in filling the bracket.
Yes, there are other resources out there, and they're quite good. Jason Moy over at USCHO as well as their FAQs and liketype articles at INCH provide excellent primers on the subject. But by recreating them in message board format here, I figure that it's more easily approachable for questions from those posters going through this for the first time (or going through it for the Nth time but also often confused by the process).
Tournament Selection There are 16 teams in the tournament. Each conference receives an autobid, given to its tournament champion, and the remaining teams are filled by the highest ranked non-autobid selections as ranked by the Pairwise. The Pairwise is a measure using RPI, games against "good" teams, games against common opponents, and head-to-head matchups, to do an all-pairs ranking of the teams vying for an NCAA tournament berth (referred to as TUCs, chosen as teams with a .500 RPI or better, which is approximately the top-25 to top-30 in the RPI).
In order to make the tournament, you must be a conference autobid winner, or you must be in the remaining available places and have a record above .500 (a new rule recently). You must also not be on probation or in the process of reclassifying to division 1 status, but that isn't a factor this season.
Generally, the top 15 in the Pairwise make it along with the autobid from AtlanticHockey (who often doesn't have anyone in the top 16). Though clearly it can happen that a non-top-15 team wins the conference tournament from a major conference, in which case that costs one of the "bubble" (13-15) teams a spot. As of right now, the conference leaders in the AHA are not in the top 16 (Mercyhurst, RIT, and Air Force are not even TUCs), so there are only 15 available spots in the tournament and only 11 available at-large bids.
Tournament Seeding The first thing that happens is that the 16 teams are placed into four bands, based on overall rank in the PWR: #1-#4 are in band 1, #5-#8 are in band 2, #9-#12 are in band 3, and #13-#16 are in band 4.
NB: I usually use the convention "1-seed, 2-seed, 3-seed, 4-seed" for what the NCAA calls "bands". I use the convention #1, #2, ... #16 for the overall seeding.
Initial Tournament Placement There are four regionals. This year they:
-- East: Bridgeport, CT hosted by Yale.
-- Midwest: Green Bay, WI hosted by Michigan Tech.
-- Northeast: Worcester, MA hosted by Holy Cross.
-- West: Saint Paul, MN hosted by Minnesota.
For each band, if any team is the host of a regional, those teams get placed first regardless of bracket integrity. This year there will almost certainly be at least one, as the Gophers are #7 in the PWR. The other three hosts are .500 clubs who would likely need to win their conference tournaments to get a bid.
However, let me assume for my first discussion below that there are no host teams involved so that the bracket integrity is perfect:
The 1-seeds get placed first: #1 gets placed in its closest region.
#2 gets placed in its closest available region.
#3 gets placed in its closest available region.
#4 gets placed in the remaining region.
The 2-seeds get placed second: #5 gets placed in #4's region
#6 gets placed in #3's region
#7 gets placed in #2's region
#8 gets placed in #1's region
The 3-seeds get placed third: #9 gets placed in #1's region to play #8
#10 gets placed in #2's region to play #7
#11 gets placed in #3's region to play #6
#12 gets placed in #4's region to play #5
Finally the 4-seeds get placed: #13 gets placed in #4's region
#14 gets placed in #3's region
#15 gets placed in #2's region
#16 gets placed in #1's region
Scrutinized Tournament Placement Now we have
From here we examine these eight first round games. -- Are there any conference matchups in the first round? If so, can we swap teams within the same band in order to avoid this -- for example, swapping the #14 with the #13 to avoid having #3 and #14 from the same conference play each other. If so, do so.
-- Are the higher 1-seeds playing in unfavorable locales? If so, change them if the committee feels it necessary. At some point this is unavoidable that one of the top seeds will be in the same bracket with a host team. However, it is undesirable to have the #1 or #2 overall seed playing a true road game, and especially undesirable if that is against a team known to host a tremendous home ice advantage. The concern is greatest in the first round, but may be considered for the regional in general.
This probably isn't that big a deal this year, because if BU or BC were to be top seeds, even if HC or yale sneaked into the field, BU or BC would be the majority fanbase even at a "road" site. The one interesting thing this year would be Minnesota-Duluth as a potential #1 overall seed playing in the same regional as Minnesota at home -- Green Bay could actually be a friendlier spot for them even though Saint Paul should be their actual most natural site that most years they'd love to have.
-- Are there significant travel or attendance exploitations that can be done with a simple within-band swap?
For example, can we keep a northeastern team in one of the two east coast regionals instead of shipping them out to MSP, or can we bring Duluth or North Dakota (if they make the field) back to the Green Bay regional to increase fan interest if it might otherwise be Ohio State, Merrimack, Cornell, and Denver or something like that.