There’s a new No. 1-ranked team in the U.S. College Hockey Online poll, and the rankings have a strong Minnesota flavor.
St. Cloud State (20-6-4) supplanted Notre Dame as the No. 1 team in the poll released Monday, garnering 967 points and 28 of 50 first-place votes. The Huskies are one of four Minnesota teams in the top 10, with Minnesota State Mankato moving up to No. 4, Minnesota at No. 8 and Minnesota Duluth at No. 9.
Cornell is No. 2 in the poll, followed by Denver, MSU Mankato and Notre Dame in the top five. Ohio State, Providence, the Gophers, UMD and Clarkson completed the top 10.
St. Cloud State’s No. 1 ranking will be put to a test on Friday and Saturday with a visit from No. 3 Denver, the defending NCAA champion. The Pioneers swept the Huskies 4-2 and 5-1 in Denver in November, but St. Cloud State is riding a seven-game unbeaten streak.
Breaking down the Big Ten
With one week left in the Big Ten regular season, the Gophers can finish anywhere from third to sixth in the conference standings. Minnesota is in fourth place with 33 points entering this weekend’s series at Penn State and needs one more point to clinch fourth place and home-ice advantage in the best-of-three conference quarterfinals. If the Gophers sweep Penn State, they would move past Michigan (which has completed Big Ten play with 38 points) and finish in third place. Minnesota is five points ahead of both Penn State and Wisconsin, so the Nittany Lions would pass the Gophers with a sweep, and the Badgers would do so to if they sweep Ohio State.
Three spots in the Big Ten tournament are secure. Regular-season champion Notre Dame is the No. 1 seed and has a bye into the semifinals. Ohio State is the No. 2 seed – the Gophers could tie OSU for second, but the Buckeyes have the tiebreaker – and will face seventh-place Michigan State in the quarterfinals.
The Big Ten semifinals (March 10) and final (March 17) are single-elimination games and will be played on campus at the highest remaining seeds after the quarterfinals.
NCAA bracket talk
With the NCAA tournament field less than a month away from being announced, it’s always interesting to see what the field might look like.
First, here are the PairWise Ratings, the mathematical formula that mimics what the NCAA uses to fill its 16-team field:
1. St. Cloud State
2. Notre Dame
4. Minnesota State Mankato
6. Ohio State
10. Minnesota Duluth
13. North Dakota
14. Nebraska Omaha
15. Boston College (conference leader outside top 16)
16. Mercyhurst (conference leader outside top 16).
Winners of the six conference tournaments receive an automatic NCAA bid, and two conference leaders – No. 21 Boston College in Hockey East and No. 26 Mercyhurst in Atlantic Hockey -- are outside the top 16. So, to simplify things, I’m projecting those teams to win their league tournaments and bump No. 15 Western Michigan and No. 16 Northern Michigan from the field.
When placing teams in regionals, the NCAA wants the seeds balanced with 1 vs. 16 and 8 vs. 9 in one region, 2-15 and 7-10 in another, 3-14 and 6-11 in a third, and 4-13 and 5-12 in the fourth. Also, the NCAA wants to avoid first-round intraconference matchups.
With that in mind, here’s how the brackets might look if the season ended today:
West Regional (Sioux Falls)
2. Notre Dame vs. 13. North Dakota
7. Clarkson vs. 10. Minnesota Duluth
Note: St. Cloud State, as the No. 1 overall seed, would be in line to play in Sioux Falls, the closest regional to its campus, but because North Dakota is the regional host, it must be placed in Sioux Falls. To avoid a first-round matchup of NCHC teams, St. Cloud State must be moved.
Northeast Regional (Worcester, Mass.)
1. St. Cloud State vs. 16. Mercyhurst
8. Minnesota vs. 9. Providence
Note: Penn State is the host and would be placed in the Midwest if it makes the field. The Nittany Lions are No. 17 in the PairWise.
East Regional (Bridgeport, Conn.)
3. Cornell vs. 15. Boston College
6. Ohio State vs. 12. Northeastern
Note: No. 11 Michigan would be in line to play No. 6 Ohio State but is moved to avoid an intraconference matchup.
Midwest Regional (Allentown, Pa.)
4. Minnesota State Mankato vs. 14. Nebraska Omaha
5. Denver vs. 11. Michigan
Of course, the PairWise will change between now and the conference tournament finals on March 17, so this is only a snapshot of what might happen.