In the end, the committee opted for protecting the top seeds in the tournament. Michigan was placed in the East Regional in Albany, New York. They will take on the 15th seeded Niagara Purple Eagles. If the Wolverines win, they will play the winner of St. Cloud and Clarkson. The East Regional will be televised live on ESPNU, but I've been told that Michigan will work toward getting some local TV coverage as well.
Last night, I was pretty excited about the idea of us still getting a bid to the Midwest Regional, but I must admit, when ESPN2 flashed up the bracket, I let out a yell. No MSU, no facing a team on their home ice, no North Dakota in the first round (even though that's been a given for months).
I also really didn't like the idea of facing Air Force in the first round. Nothing against Niagara, but Air Force beat Denver, tied Minnesota, lost 2-1 to Colorado College, and put a scare in Minnesota in the tournament last year. They've got tournament experience and were battle tested against four great opponents this year (In addition to the three teams mentioned above, they also faced BC and got smoked).
Niagara is more of an unknown quantity. They really haven't played anyone this year. Bowling Green was probably the best team they faced all year (they won 2-0 but it was like the third game of the season). Not to say that they couldn't show up and beat Michigan, but I'd rather face a team like Niagara, who hasn't seen anything like the speed Michigan brings, over a team like Air Force, who played three two-seeds and one three-seed and went 1-2-1. I'll dive more into the Purple Eagles later in the week.
Then on the other side of the bracket, you've got St. Cloud vs. Clarkson. As I said before, you're going to likely have to play someone decent in the second round, and this matchup is about as good as we could hope for. Again, there's always threat of a loss, but I think we've got the weakest two-seed and the weakest three-seed in our bracket (especially when you factor in that Wisconsin is at home).
On paper, there's no reason that Michigan shouldn't come out of this bracket. But then, on paper, there's no way that MSU wins the tournament last year. We're going to have to play good hockey, but I think we got a favorable draw this year, which should happen when you're the #1 seed.
For the bracket as a whole, some thoughts:
Best Match-Up: I really like the Denver/Wisconsin and BC/Minnesota games. I'll go with the latter. Both teams are playing well, and BC will have the partisan crowd. I think it'll be a great one.
Worst Match-Up: New Hampshire vs. Notre Dame. I don't think that even the University of No Hardware could blow this one. I'd be shocked if ND scores more than one goal, and it wouldn't shock me a bit if they get shut out. Losing Condra was a big blow, and they've been playing like hell anyway.
Biggest Complaint: Clearly Minnesota-State has the biggest beef. While they finished below Wisconsin in the PWR, they had the better overall record, the better conference record, the better non-conference record, won the head-to-head matchup, went slightly further in the WCHA playoffs, and won the Pairwise comparison with Wisconsin 4-2.
Most Fortunate: Wisconsin, being under .500, making the tournament, getting a three seed, and playing at home, wins this category. Michigan would also be a candidate. Rather than being sent to Madison, as appeared to be the sexy pick last night, they get Niagara, an ECAC team who bombed in the tournament last year, and a WCHA team that has never won a tournament game.
Least Fortunate (in the Tournament): I think I have to go with Michigan State on this one. Based on the Pairwise, they should've been in Albany facing St. Cloud in the first round, setting up a matchup with a team they have a winning record against for the right to go to the Frozen Four. Instead, they have to go play Colorado College on their home ice (and the big ice) in the first round, and then likely New Hampshire, should they get past the Tigers. I guess it's the hockey world balancing out after they got freaking MAINE in the Frozen Four last year.
Final thought on Wisconsin: I don't like the idea of a sub-.500 team getting a bid as an at-large. There are almost 60 Division One teams. I can't buy it that a team that didn't even win half of their games is the 12th best team in the country. I don't care what conference you play in. These teams play enough non-conference games that if you're a decent team, you should be able to get to .500 overall. That said, had Wisconsin not gotten blatantly screwed on at least 2 occasions (and the schedule-makers didn't do them any favors by giving them CC at home when they were missing guys to the World Juniors) they probably would've been in the tournament anyway. I think the Hockey Gods smiled on them this weekend. And I expect them to be one-and-done anyway, as Mankato probably would have been.
I do, however, think that rule needs to be revised. You don't put a sub-.500 SEC team in a bowl game just because they're from the SEC. A sub-.500 basketball team in the ACC or Big East can't even make the NIT, let alone the NCAAs.
Some flaws in the system were clearly exposed this year. The TUC cliff needs to go. A win over #1 shouldn't be treated the same in the TUC as a win over #25. There needs to be a minimum number of games for the common opponents comparison to be relevant. I recognize the flaws in the Final 16 Games component that was previously included, but I do like the idea of rewarding a team that improves throughout the season (Examples: Northern Michigan and Boston University are clearly better teams at this point than Wisconsin and Notre Dame). I wish there was a way to incorporate that back into the tournament selection.
It's nice at times to have a system that clearly allows everyone to see how the teams were picked. But sometimes I wish a little common sense could prevail over the numbers (Wisconsin being in this year, Minnesota being "rewarded" with an easier regional last year by swapping Michigan State for North Dakota (yeah, yeah, I know, National Championship, but really?), etc.).
Hopefully this year is the driving force toward finding a better system. I'm not the person to figure it out, but I do know that this current system is not the answer--though to be fair, I do think that, save for one team, this field is correct.