Monday, March 21, 2011

The Penn Stater's Guide to the NCAA Tournament

The NCAA Divison I hockey tournament starts Friday. Since Penn State's still two years away from having any reason whatsoever to care about it (note to the more dense among you: that's not a prediction that we'll be there in 2013), I thought it might be helpful to throw this post out there. I've ranked each qualifying team within their region based on the benefit, or lack thereof, to Penn State from that team's success - or in some cases based on things that have already happened.

Just to be redundant, this post has absolutely nothing to do with predictions, analyzing matchups, or my personal rooting interests - even they aren't completely in line with this. It's simply weighing each school in terms of their relationship with Penn State, however tenuous that may be in some cases. Nothing more, nothing less.

If you're looking for the more conventional sort of thing, here's some bracket stuff from (interactive and PDF), as well as some typically great analysis from College Hockey News.

Northeast Region (Manchester, NH)

Miami vs. New Hampshire, Saturday 4:00 p.m., ESPNU
Notre Dame vs. Merrimack, Saturday 7:30 p.m.,
Regional Final, Sunday 8:00 p.m., ESPNU

1. New Hampshire. Why UNH? Try this one: the Wildcats have a tournament-high four Pennsylvanians on their roster, thanks mostly to a recruiting pipeline with the Philadelphia Jr. Flyers. They're not inconsequential guys either - two are alternate captain Matt Campanale (Chester Springs, PA), a senior defenseman and star goaltender Matt Di Girolamo (Ambler, PA). Senior forward Greg Manz (Wayne, PA) and hulking freshman d-man Eric Knodel (West Chester, PA) round out the group. Knodel has yet to play for UNH but was a fifth-round pick of the Maple Leafs in 2009 - not exactly stunning news if you're familiar with Brian Burke.

2. Miami. The RedHawks get this spot over Merrimack solely because they have a rink that Joe Battista liked on his arena tour across North America. Bonus points for the fact that they're a non-traditional program that's thrust themselves into the elite of college hockey over the last few seasons. We have less NCAA tradition than anyone out there, so why not admire one of the models for bad to good?

3. Merrimack. The Warriors are making just their second-ever trip to the NCAA tournament since going DI in 1984. While there's not a Penn State interest on either side of the ledger here, as you go through this post, you'll see that I tend to give the underdogs a bump when all things are equal. Why shouldn't I? Until further notice, we're an underdog too. I'll always give more weight to a solid PSU angle (well, except in this region, as you'll see in a second), but without one, more power to the little guy.

4. Notre Dame. While South Bend was another stop on the PSU rink tour, that gets outweighed by the fact that it's Notre Dame. Hey, I can't be expected to check my partiality all the time.

East Region (Bridgeport, CT)

Union vs. Minnesota-Duluth, Friday 3:00 p.m., ESPNU
Yale vs. Air Force, Friday 6:30 p.m., ESPNU
Regional Final, Saturday 6:30 p.m., ESPNU

1. Minnesota-Duluth. In the weakest region for Penn State connections, the Bulldogs get the nod for having an arena that Battista really liked. I'll even given them a few bonus points for the glut of pictures on the venue's official site (I'm deliberately avoiding use of its proper name so I don't change my mind about this placement). I was also really, really tempted to downgrade UMD based on the rantings of Bruce Ciskie, but managed to resist.

2. Union. Absent any strong PSU-related reasons, how can you not root for UC? In general and as I mentioned, I think rooting anti-establishment is a decent position to take. And since joining Division I in 1991-1992, the Dutchmen have been mediocre at best and putrid at worst...until last year and now this year. If they can do it, who can't?

3. Air Force. Do it for former Icers Bobby Pate and Mike Carrano, who once upon a time transferred from Colorado Springs. The Falcons stay behind Union because obviously they didn't like it there too much.

4. Yale. Nothing personal Yalies, I just couldn't think of a reason why an average Penn Stater should root for you, other than having sick unis that I hope to rip off substantially. Of course, I couldn't think of a reason to root against you either, so should you make it out of the region, you have a decided edge on BC, North Dakota or Denver, schools more likely to be there than ones I favored in their regions.

Yes, please.

West Region (St. Louis, MO)

Michigan vs. Nebraska-Omaha, Friday 5:30 p.m.,
Boston Coll. vs. Colorado Coll., Friday 9:00 p.m., ESPNU
Regional Final, Saturday 9:00 p.m., ESPNU

1. Michigan. The Big Ten certainly isn't the most popular entity in college hockey right now. But the true problem, as far as I'm concerned, is the tone of the verbal grenades. They've gone from "the Big Ten's going to be too good and ruin college hockey" to "the Big Ten sucks, only Michigan even made the tournament this year." I've never been one of the root for your conference crowd, but if the skunkbears were to add to their record nine national championships, it might put some fear back into people.

2. Nebraska-Omaha. UNO was the last program to go from scratch to major Division I conference, and as such, I've always had an affinity for them, one that's heightened since PSU's decision to take that label away. They're 14 years in and a legitimate player in the best conference in college hockey. Not bad. Now let's hire us our own Dean Blais and do it even quicker.

3. Colorado College. Like Yale, there's nothing obviously pointing pro or con with respect to CC. I have tremendous respect for what they've gone through to get where they are today and for the fact that they're a school of 2,000 students swimming with the sharks. You have to be anti-America or pro-Denver to not appreciate that. But the lack of a PSU connection sticks them in third.

4. Boston College. Does anyone, other than their fans, ever root for the defending champs in anything? Something a little more sturdy than that: if we're going to be regulars in the EJHL recruiting scene (Jake Friedman and Tim Carr both came from there), we're going to be bumping up against Jerry York's juggernaut more than a couple times.

Midwest Region (Green Bay, WI)

North Dakota vs. RPI, Saturday 1:30 p.m.,
Denver vs. W. Michigan, Saturday 5:00 p.m.,
Regional Final, Sunday 5:30 p.m., ESPNU

1. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. RPI's another personal favorite, but more importantly in terms of Penn State interests, Oren Eizenman went there. Oren, of course, is the brother of Icers legend Alon (1997-2001). Backup goalie Bryce Merriam shares a hometown of Bethel Park, PA with Tim O'Brien.

2. Western Michigan. Don't we kind of owe it to society to wish the best for one of those weaker CCHA schools we're supposedly killing off with the whole Big Ten thing? Plus, like Union and Merrimack, they're a nice story - they haven't been to this show since 1996 and came oh so close to their first conference title of any kind before falling to Miami in the CCHA title game.

3. North Dakota. Like BC, they hardly need help. If it weren't for special circumstances with respect to Denver, I would've placed them last. Not to mention the fact that one of their more prominent fans/bloggers irrationally hates PSU over the whole Alabama-Huntsville/CCHA thing. Unless we led Tom Anastos on, and judging by how pro-Big Ten our administration has always been we didn't, that situation is in no way our fault. If anything, the idiot squad braying about how we may or may not have killed Bowling Green at some undetermined point in the future should be praising us for breaking up the airtight conference structure and possibly saving UAH.

4. Denver. If George Gwozdecky is in fact a candidate for the PSU coaching job, why root for him to drive his price up? He's well-qualified, regardless of how the Pios do in this tournament, so a flameout hardly changes his level of consideration. But a national title or a Frozen Four would certainly affect the asking price of a guy who's already pretty expensive.

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