Saturday, March 29, 2014

NCAA Tournament: Saturday Morning Roundup and Saturday Viewing Guide

The NCAA Tournament always deals out its fair share of surprises, and the first day of the 2014 Tournament was no different.

Wisconsin, many people's favorite to win the whole thing, is out.  They fell to #4 seed North Dakota 4-2 in the first round.

Quinnipiac, the #6 overall seed, lost to #11 Providence by a resounding 4-0 score.

Ferris State scraped by a hard-charging Colgate team 1-0.

Union held on to beat the pesky Vermont Catamounts 5-2.

Conference Records so far:

Atlantic Hockey: 0-0, one game today (RMU vs Minnesota)
Big Ten: 0-1 (North Dakota over Wisconsin), one game today (Minnesota vs RMU)
ECAC: 1-2 (Union over Vermont, Providence over Quinnipiac, Ferris State over Colgate), one game today (Union vs Providence)
Hockey East: 1-1 (Providence over Quinnipiac, Union over Vermont), four games today (Providence vs Union, BC vs Denver, Lowell vs Minnesota State, Notre Dame vs St. Cloud State)
NCHC: 1-0 (North Dakota over Vermont), three games today (North Dakota vs Ferris State, Denver vs BC, St. Cloud State vs Notre Dame)
WCHA: 1-0 (Ferris State over Colgate), two games today (Ferris State vs North Dakota, Minnesota State vs Lowell)

I, of course, only got one game right in my predictions.  That goes to show just how unpredictable this tournament is.  Or, of course, it could show how bad I am at making predictions.  I'll leave that one up to you :)

So, that being said, here's what we're looking forward to watching today.  Again, all times Central:

2:00 PM - East Regional Final: (3) Union vs (11) Providence, TV: ESPN2, Stream: WatchESPN - This will be an interesting game.  Providence methodically took apart a good Quinnipiac squad yesterday, getting strong play from sophomore goaltender Jon Gillies.  Although I am high on Union, I like the way Providence played yesterday, so I'll pick the upset here.  Prediction: Providence wins 3-2

3:00 PM- Northeast Regional Semifinal: (2) Boston College vs (15) Denver, TV: ESPNU, Stream: WatchESPN - Another game that should be interesting.  Denver has been hot lately, and although they had to win their conference tournament to get into the dance they're never a team to sleep on.  I think BC has too much for Denver to handle though.  If you're watching this game, look for Johnny Gaudreau - he'll more than likely be this year's Hobey Baker winner.  Prediction: BC wins 5-2

4:30 PM - West Regional Semifinal: (1) Minnesota vs (16) Robert Morris, TV: ESPN2, Stream: WatchESPN - Here is where we see if the Gophers have grown or not from their disappointing performances in recent playoff history.  Minnesota lost to a not-great Yale team in the first round last year (that got hot at the right time and ended up winning it all), and lost just last week to an okay Ohio State squad in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.  They'll play a Robert Morris team that is ranked #44 in the PairWise currently, but has only lost five games since the calendar switched over to January.  This team went 2-12-2 in their first 14 games, but finished the year 17-5-3 in their last 25.  The Gophers, on the other hand, are 13-4-4 over that same time frame.  Minnesota plays a much tougher schedule and should have enough talent to win this game handily, but I think Robert Morris might pose a bit more of a challenge than most Gopher fans will expect.  Prediction: Minnesota wins 4-2

5:30 PM - Midwest Regional Final: (5) Ferris State vs (13) North Dakota, TV: ESPNU, Stream: WatchESPN - Another interesting matchup.  North Dakota took out Wisconsin, my favorite to advance to the championship game, 5-2 last night, while Ferris survived a tight 1-0 thriller with Colgate.  Does this North Dakota squad have it in them to win three must-win games in a row?  They've shown me that they're a better team than I believed they were this season already, but I just don't think they have the gas to beat a good Ferris State team this afternoon.  Prediction: Ferris State wins 3-1

6:30 PM - Northeast Regional Semifinal: (7) UMass-Lowell vs (10) Minnesota State, TV: ESPNU (Tape Delayed until 10:30 PM), Stream: ESPN3 - Let me start by saying that I am really high on both of these teams.  Minnesota State has been one of the hotter teams in the country in the second half of the season, recovering from a shaky 4-7-0 start to the year by going undefeated in their last 13 games coming into the Tournament (12-0-1 over that stretch).  Their last loss was all the way back on January 31st.  Lowell, the preseason #1 overall, followed somewhat a similar path, starting out 1-3-0 in their first four games before righting the ship, finishing the season on a 10-3-2 jaunt and winning the Hockey East Tournament.  In the end, I think UML will be too much for Minnesota State to handle, and they'll ride a strong performance from goaltender Connor Hellebuyck into the regional final.  Prediction: Lowell wins 3-2

8:00 PM - West Regional Semifinal: (8) Notre Dame vs (9) St. Cloud State, TV: ESPNU, Stream: WatchESPN - Another very interesting game pitting two good teams against each other.  This one will also feature a clash of different styles, as SCSU's up-and-down offense matches up against Notre Dame's defensive system.  I think that this game is a toss up; Notre Dame had an average regular season but has heated up recently, beating Boston College in three out of four at the end of the year before falling to Lowell in the semifinal of the Hockey East Tournament.  St. Cloud State lost in the first round series of the NCHC tournament to a bad Miami team, but was good throughout the rest of the year, dropping only eight games before entering the playoffs.  St. Cloud was in line for a high seed prior to the playoffs, but the losses to Miami dropped them all the way back to a #3 band seed.  I think St. Cloud is a better team than Notre Dame so I'm going to pick them winning, but it's awfully close here.  One big save or one soft goal could make the difference in this one.  Prediction: St. Cloud State wins 4-3

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