The Final Four and the Frozen Four are set. The marquee events for men’s basketball and hockey will unfold in successive weekends. Houston will be home to the hardwood and welcome Kentucky, Connecticut, Virginia Commonwealth and Butler. St. Paul is on ice as North Dakota, Michigan, Minnesota-Duluth and Notre Dame come to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Both tournaments have played out remarkably similar but the talk of college athletics this week won’t be on hockey, it’ll be on basketball.
Kentucky and UConn making it to Houston are hardly surprising. While #1 seeds Ohio State and Kansas were the attractive choices by most experts, the Wildcats and Huskies are by no means upstarts. Either team is capable of winning it all.
But VCU and Butler? It was just a few weeks ago that everyone, myself included, were laughing at the inclusion of VCU. Most experts, and I’m hardly one of them, ridiculed the inclusion of the Rams as one of the final four at-large berths. And while Butler had an amazing run last season, no one seriously believed they could do it again.
But that’s the beauty of March Madness. Every year it seems one team… sometimes two… goes on a memorable run. Generally, however, those runs fall just short. But not this year. This weekend in Houston, both of those teams will be playing in the Final Four instead of watching at home.
What most of the country won’t be paying attention to the following week is the Frozen Four that begins in St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center on April 7. What’s happened in this year’s tournament has been just this side of shocking.
The hockey tournament selection committee, unlike their men’s basketball counterparts, generally pick and seed teams by the numbers. Rarely are there any surprises in who gets in and where they’re sent to play. But who would have figured the following:
- #1 Yale – knocked out in the 2nd round by Minnesota-Duluth.
- #3 Boston College – knocked out in the 1st round by Colorado College.
- #4 Miami (OH) – knocked out in the 1st round by New Hampshire.
Think of the top four seeds in the NCAA hockey tournament as the four #1′s in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Now, imagine Ohio State and Duke knocked out in their first games (this year called the 2nd round) and Pittsburgh knocked out in their second game (third round). #1′s often drop their second game but in the history of the men’s tournament, no #1 has ever lost their first game.
To frame this a bit more clearly: What’s happened in the men’s NCAA hockey tournament has been stunning and it should make for a terrific Frozen Four. Only one seeded team, overall #2 North Dakota, is still skating. Two of the teams, the Fighting Sioux and Minnesota-Duluth, are from the powerful WCHA. Throw in Colorado College and Denver making it to the Elite Eight and it’s clear the WCHA is college hockey’s version of the SEC in football.
It makes one wonder why the Minnesota Gophers and the Wisconsin Badgers would pack their WCHA bags and head off to the Big Ten for hockey, beginning in 2013.
Or maybe it doesn’t.
photo credit on features page: lambdachialpha
About the Author: Christopher Gabriel is the host of The Christopher Gabriel Program on AM 970 WDAY in Fargo, North Dakota and around the world online at WDAY.com. You can listen to him weekdays from 11 am to 2 pm CT. His program serves up a unique blend of current events, pop culture, sports and humor with guests and contributors from across the nation. As a writer and humorist, Christopher's work has been been published by the Chicago Sun-Times, Reuters, publications within Sun-Times Media, USA Volleyball and Team USA, the Official Website of the U.S. Olympic Committee. He's also been a weekly columnist in Fargo's daily newspaper, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.