Monday, April 13, 2009

NCAA recap...

Every spring, the sports world seems to revolve around the wonder that is 'March Madness' with ridiculous media coverage and endless bracket analysis. The media and the NCAA loves to push it as a tournament where anything can happen and upsets are de rigeur even as no #1 seed has ever lost in the first round. Since 1985, (when it expanded to 64 teams) the top 16 seeds have combined to win 90% of their first-round games with the top 8 teams losing only 4 games in 200 tries. Needless to say, there is not much suspense with the top teams early on, or sometimes at all as was the case this past season when 14 of the top seeds made the round of 16. What's worse is that the seeding of this tournament is shrouded in mystery and done by unknown processes, often favoring the big name schools and the hotter hand over the more consistent teams.

While all this is going on, the NCAA hockey tournament is left in relative anonymity... acknowledged only by fans of the participating schools and hockey die-hards. The seeding for this tournament is done by objective means... PairWise Rankings which compare every team with one another based on four attributes and rank them all accordingly. Therefore, the name of a school and how hot they are has no bearing in their seeding or even the ability to make the tournament other than via conference auto-bids. This aspect of the tournament makes it more appealing to me as the requirements for participation are clearly laid out and the field is stronger and has better balance. To give an idea of this balance and why the more popular basketball version has nothing on its lesser-known brother, here is a rundown of this years tournament...

Round 1 -
#1 BU beats #15 Ohio State 8-3. This one was over before it began.
#25 Bemidji State upsets #2 Notre Dame 5-1 with ND's lone goal coming when they were already down 4-0 in the third. Bemidji scores 4 on 18 shots.
#13 Miami (OH) upsets #3 Denver 4-2, outshooting the favorites 29-18
#14 Air Force upsets #4 Michigan 2-0 despite being outshot 43-11! High-pressure goaltending at its finest.
#9 Vermont upsets #5 Yale 4-1 in a game that UVM dominated. Yale only scored with 2 minutes left to break the shutout.
#11 Cornell upsets #6 Northeastern 3-2, scoring with four minutes and 0:17 left for the comeback win (typical NU gets outshot 12-4 in final period)
#7 Minnesota-Duluth beats #12 Princeton 5-4 in overtime. UMD scored with 0:40 and 0:01 left to overcome a 4-2 deficit and send the game to OT.
#10 UNH upsets #8 North Dakota 6-5 with UNH scoring with 0:01 left to send the game into overtime, which only lasted 45 seconds.

Tally: 6 upsets in 8 games... only one #1 (BU) and #2 (UMD) seeds remain.

Round 2 -
#1 BU beats #10 UNH 2-1 with the Terriers breaking the tie with only 0:15 left.
#13 Miami upsets #7 UMD 2-1 with two special teams goals (SH and PP). UMD pulls the goale with 3 minutes left and nets their lone goal but not enough.
#9 Vermont beats #14 Air Force 3-2 in double OT. Strangest game of the tournament as UVM gets a goal waved off in the final minute of the first OT and then scores on a shot that goes THROUGH the net and is not seen by officials. Play continues for 5 minutes until a stoppage occurs for the play to be reviewed... a review that required 15 minutes to ensure the correct call was made.
#25 Bemidji State upsets #11 Cornell 4-1 by out-shooting the favorite 12-2 in the third and netting 3.

Tally: 2 upsets in 4 games, only BU remains among the top half.

Rounds 3 & 4, Frozen Four -
#1 BU beats #9 Vermont 5-4 with two late third period goals (6:54 and 5:41 remaining)
#13 Miami beats #25 Bemidji St 4-1, finally ending the Cinderalla season. Even so, two 4-seeds meeting for the chance to make the National Championship game?!?

#1 BU beats #13 Miami 4-3 in overtime. Miami scores three unanswered to lead 3-1 with 4 minutes remaining but can't keep BU down as they score with 0:59 and 0:17 left to send it to OT where they end it after 12 minutes after the strangest blocked-shot deflection I have ever seen.

Finaly Tally - 8 upsets in 15 games, would have been worse had #1 overall BU not won its four. SEVEN goals scored in the final minute to win or tie games.

And yet there is minimal coverage by the media even though they love to go on about the suspense and buzzer-beaters of 'March Madness'. Somehow, I doubt there were as many 'buzzer-beaters' in the 64 basketball games as there were in the 15 hockey games with the 7 last minute and 4 overtime goals scored. Despite the inherent drama of the NCAA hockey tournament and the intensity of sudden-death playoffs, ESPN felt that D2 basketball was more important as the hockey games were bumped to ESPN2 and unheard of (and oft uncarried) ESPNU. To add insult to injury, two games (UNH-UMD, NU-Cornell) were preempted for regular season NCAA lacrosse games! Well ESPN... you can keep your basketball... you can keep your poker... you can keep your lacrosse... I will stick with hockey and just go on ignoring the 'world-wide leader'.

Guess that is the burden of being a hockey fan... knowing you enjoy the superior product but the masses not being smart enough to comprehend that fact!

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