In Part 2 of my 3-day primer, I'll cover my predicted outcome for the entire tournament, and provide insight on the teams that make-up most of the second tier of teams in the tournament. (The #8 and #9 teams are being saved for the final part.) You can find part 1 here.
My Predictions: (Here's a bracket if you wish to follow along.) The first round of games (involving the teams from the last primer) will be rather meaningless in the long run. Nonetheless, I expect Oakland to take down Mercyhurst, Davenport to roll over Drexel, Rutgers to sneak past the Mountaineers, and Central Oklahoma to knock out the "home team" of Kent State. All four of those teams will then proceed to lose handily in their second round games to the top four seeds. The only game that might be close would be Oakland-Arizona State. In the other four second round games, Iowa State takes down Oklahoma, Adrian pulls off the upset over Liberty, Minot State squeaks past Robert Morris (IL), and Ohio takes down Illinois in an old-fashioned CSCHL slugfest.
That leaves us with third round match-ups of Penn State-Iowa State, Lindenwood-Minot State, Delaware-Ohio, and Arizona State-Adrian. Once again, all four top seeds are the heavy favorite in each of those match-ups. To be honest, I cannot see any upsets in this round. All four top seeds are the cream of the crop this season, and there's very little reason to believe any of the under-seeds at this point can legitimately pull an upset. Penn State gets the better of Iowa State in a fitting match-up for the Icers' final year; Minot State can give Lindenwood a challenge, but LU is still too good; Delaware is playing out of their minds this season, and Ohio's just not the same; and Arizona State just has to worry about Adrian continuing their late-season hot streak. Otherwise, the semifinals will feature the top 4 seeds.
The Penn State-Arizona State match-up is an interesting one. The two teams don't see each other often, and Arizona State has beaten some quality competition this season. I expect the game to be close for awhile, but the Icers' conditioning has been outstanding and should ultimately be the difference. The Lindenwood-Delaware tilt may be one of those classic hockey games that goes down to the wire, and likely into overtime. Something just tells me this is Delaware's year to shine, and the Blue Hens will find themselves in the championship game. Once there, figure it will be a classic battle between these two old rivals, with lots of talent and lots of hitting. Delaware knows they can beat Penn State, but I think the Icers are just hitting their full stride at the right time of the season. The talent level is just too much, and the Icers complete their final season in the ACHA with the Murdoch Cup in their hands.
Now, let's review some of those teams I discussed a bit further...
#5 Liberty University Flames - Once you get past the top four teams, there's a bit of a drop-off. While the Flames did score a split with the Icers in December, there are no other big wins on their schedule. They lost in a shootout to Arizona State, but other than that, they've had both wins and losses to lower-ranked teams. The Flames have historically played a physical game, which could both help and hurt their chances. Expected result: Anything from a second round loss to a run to the semis is possible, so something in-between (3rd round loss) is likely.
#6 Ohio University Bobcats - Ohio opened the season as a big favorite, looking to make it one last championship match-up between the Bobcats and Icers. However, early season losses at the hands of Delaware and Penn State set the stage for a lackluster season. The Bobcats did make it to the CSCHL tournament finals, but they still have yet to pick up any big wins. On the other hand, losses to lowly Indiana and Arizona make it seem like an early-exit is likely for the Bobcats. Expected result: They'll get to the third round, but that's where their run ends.
#7 Minot State University Beavers - Minot State might be one of the sleeper teams in the tournament. An improving team in the past few years, the Beavers started the season a bit shaky, with losses to Lindenwood, Davenport, and Robert Morris (IL) in the first month of the season. Since then, Minot State has not dropped a game, including a four-day road trip where they beat both #9 Oklahoma and #15 Central Oklahoma twice. Expected result: Likely out in the third round, but an upset win over Lindenwood might not be out of the picture.
#10 Robert Morris (IL) University Eagles - The Eagles of RMU-IL are really perfectly placed. Their losses are all to teams ranked higher than them (except for a split with the #11 Illini), and they only have some close wins over higher ranked teams (shootout wins over Ohio and Minot State, and a win over #8 Iowa State). Bobby Mo has played better down the stretch but there's nothing really outstanding about the Eagles this season. Expected result: Loss to Minot State in the 2nd round.
#11 University of Illinois Illini - The Illini should be counting their blessings that they even made the tournament this season, let alone find themselves as the #11 seed. Excluding whatever happens in the CSCHL playoffs, the Illini had a losing record in the regular season, finishing 13-15-1. Of those 13 wins, 5 are from ACHA D2 opponents (they also lost to D2 Michigan State). Excluding the CSCHL tournament (where they did "upset" Robert Morris), the Illini are an uninspiring 3-9-0 in 2012. This is one of those times where history and pedigree trumps results. Expected result: Loss to Ohio in the 2nd round.
#12 Adrian College Bulldogs - On the complete opposite end of the spectrum from Illinois are the Adrian Bulldogs. A growing program, the Bulldogs struggled at times this season and found themselves on the outside-looking-in heading into these final rankings. But the Bulldogs have won 13 in a row, including wins over #14 Davenport and #13 Oakland - two teams they jumped in these final rankings. Adrian is a tough team that will give their opponents fits. Expected result: Anything from a 2nd round loss to a run to the semifinals is possible.