Joseph Gravellese: Here we go -- the NCAA tournament begins on Friday. Today, we start the preview by looking at the West and Midwest regionals. Come back tomorrow as we discuss the Northeast and East.
WEST REGIONAL - Grand Rapids, MI
#1 MINNESOTA vs. #4 YALE - 2pm
With all due respect -- which is to say, "little" -- to Quinnipiac, the Gophers are considered the favorite by most observers to go all the way. They're #1 in KRACH and certainly look like the best team on paper. They've been far from invincible, though, and go into the tournament smarting from an earlier-than-expected loss in the WCHA tournament at the hands of Colorado College.
As for Yale, I honestly didn't even realize they were in the mix when I was starting to think about the field last week. But here they are, in the tournament once again. It would probably be the biggest potential upset of all the first round matchups, maybe even more than Canisius over Quinnipiac, if Yale won. Agreed?
Grant Salzano: Definitely agreed -- in our bracket pool, Minnesota is the only team to have everyone's pick so far. There have already been a couple brave souls to pick Niagara over North Dakota and Canisius over Quinnipiac.
Which reminds me -- anyone who is interested in entering a $10 college hockey bracket pool, head on over to here for instructions, or, if you don't do Facebook, just post in the comments below that you're interested, or shoot me an email at grant dot salzano at gmail dot com.
This is NOT affiliated with BC Interruption, which means that Joe and I are indeed eligible to win. Sorry.
Now -- like I was saying -- this would definitely be, at least to me, the surprise upset of the tournament if Yale could win. However, Yale was able to knock off North Dakota in 2010 up in Worcester, holding on for a 3-2 win after going up 3-0 early.
I just don't see it happening against Minnesota though. The Gophers are much better than that Sioux team, and this year's version of Yale significantly worse than the 2010 edition.
That's not to say Yale isn't a decent team though. They tied us at Conte earlier in the year, though it was in the midst of Slump Time(TM) while we were without Gaudreau.
JG: My last call on this one: Minnesota 5, Yale 0.
GS: Ouch, that's quite the beat down. Yale's a bit better than that. I'll say 4-1 Gophers.
Though, the schadenfreude would be amazing if Yale can pull it off.
For those of you who don't follow USCHO -- this is basically Minnesota's reaction to the announcement of the bracket on Sunday:
JG: #2 NORTH DAKOTA vs. #3 NIAGARA - 5:30pm
GS: Why do I keep feeling like this upset is going to happen?
JG: Most of the time, the PWR spits out a result that, love it or hate it, at least makes sense. Not so much here with Niagara coming in as #10 overall. The AHA regular season champ, who got stunned by Canisius in the postseason, comes in as the second weakest team in the field statistically, ranked #21 in KRACH and having the embarrassment of losing to Canisius on their record.
Two factors make them a potential bracketbuster:
1) Highly-touted goalie Carsen Chubak,
2) And I think you agree with me here, the general "meh"ness of the [REDACTED] this year, as far as I can tell. From seeing them on TV a bunch this year, they don't strike me as a Frozen Four team. They give up a bunch of goals.
Two numbers take them out of Upset Watch for me, though: 15.3%, 83.9%. That's their power play and PK rate, respectively. Conventional wisdom (for whatever it's worth) says that an upset is a lot more likely if a team is getting it done on special teams.
GS: They are definitely very 'meh'. They aren't even on any kind of hot streak, having lost three of their last five.
Niagara has been even worse, losing 3 of 5 but to terrible competition.
Really, I can't believe Niagara is in the tournament. Their strength of schedule is 53rd out of 59...
JG: How did that happen? You're pretty up on PWR quirks. WTF?
Also: North Dakota 4, Niagara 1.
GS: The funny thing is, it has nothing to do with PWR quirks. They haven't played enough TUC teams to have that matter, so their ranking is almost completely RPI-based.
It's more an RPI quirk than a PWR quirk. The quirk being, Niagara wasn't hurt nearly as much by their strength of schedule when going by RPI.
There are any number of ridiculous upsets every year in this tournament, and this could be one of them simply because it seems so unlikely. But yes, I'm going with North Dakota as well. Call it 3-0.
JG: Now on to Toledo, Ohio and the Midwest Regional, which kicks off on Saturday.
#3 MINNESOTA STATE vs. #2 MIAMI - 5pm
Could this be the year that Miami doesn't get bounced by a Hockey East team? I've been impressed with the young RedHawks this year, who remind me a lot of recent good BC teams with their combination of speed and grit.
But I'm actualy picking the upset here. I see Miami's young team withering in this spot, not just because Miami Gonna Miami, but also because of all that inexperience, which reared its head in the CCHA tourney, too, getting stomped by Michigan, 6-2.
Minnesota State is very underrated by the PWR. They're 5th in KRACH and boast a high scoring offense with 127 goals this year.
Matt Leitner of Minnesota State is an early guy to keep an eye on for Hobey next year. The sophomore has a 17-30--47 line.
I put a lot of stock in away/neutral site record when comparing teams going into tournament time, and MN State's 11-6-2 mark is best of anyone in the regional.
I've got the Mavericks in a squeaker, 3-2.
GS: I have Minnesota State here as well, and their high KRACH rating is a big reason for that. These are the two closest-ranked teams by KRACH facing each other in the first round of the tournament. In fact, Miami winning would actually be the upset -- they're ranked behing the Mavericks.
The Redhawks have had a very weak schedule this year, 31st in the country, and haven't really taken down anyone special. In comparison -- Mankato sits with the 9th toughest schedule in the country, and won two games against the Gophers.
I think the Mavericks are actually stronger team than Miami. I've got them winning this one 4-1. We'll get some classic Angry Mr. Bean out of Blasi in this one.
JG: Maybe even with the thumb-pointing pull-the-goalie motion.
GS: Oooh, I'd love another thumb-pointing pull-the-goalie motion.
JG: #1 NOTRE DAME vs #4 ST. CLOUD STATE - 1:30pm
You've accused me of being a "Notre Dame hockey fangirl" in the past. I'm obviously all about Notre Dame in this one, but this should be an intriguing game.
St. Cloud State tied Minnesota for the WCHA regular season title but comes in with an underwhelming resume, overall: 12th in KRACH, 6-4-0 down the stretch and an 8-8-4 mark away from home this year. They only match up with Notre Dame if you really believe everyone in the WCHA is t3h super awesomez compared to everyone else, and I don't.
I think Notre Dame might be the best all around team in the field. Lowell's right with them, but Notre Dame has more high-end skill. I see them winning this game easily, honestly. One of those 3-1 but it wasn't really that close sort of deals.
GS: I have St. Cloud winning this game in my bracket but mostly as my upset pick. Winning the WCHA regular season title is impressive no matter how you spin it, though. They did split with the Gophers and took the season series against the Redacteds.
Notre Dame is a better team overall and is on one of the few hot streaks going into the tournament.
My bracket prediction is 3-2, St. Cloud, but it's admittedly an upset pick.
Wouldn't be a shocker by any means though.
JG: So we have the same regional final in the West (Minnesota-North Dakota) but different ones in the Midwest. I have MN St./Notre Dame, and you've got MN St./SCSU.
Who goes to Pittsburgh?
I've got Minnesota (just a better team overall than North Dakota, no matter how you slice it) and Notre Dame.
I know, both 1 seeds. Lame.
GS: Minnesota is the consensus pick right now. That's a very favorable bracket for them. But seeing them knocked out before Pittsburgh would do quite a bit toward me thinking we have a shot to win it all. Hey, in a rivalry game against NoDak, it wouldn't exactly surprise me.
I am all aboard the Minnesota State bandwagon right now (which, honestly, does that even exist at this point?). They are my other pick to advance.
JG: I guess you're it. Enjoy the ride.
Come back tomorrow as we look at the Northeast and, of course, the East.