We're less than two weeks until Selection Sunday — March 24 — and the NCAA tournament picture is starting to take shape. There will be some changes, especially if there are upsets in conference tournaments and teams outside of the top 16 of the PairWise Ratings secure automatic NCAA bids, but the top four especially is taking shape.
College Hockey News' PairWise Probability Matrix lists St. Cloud State's chances of being the No. 1 overall seed at 100 percent. It also has Massachusetts at 97 percent, Minnesota State at 80 percent and Minnesota Duluth at 49 percent in being one of the top four overall seeds. Quinnipiac, No. 5 in the PairWise, has the best chance to jump into the top four, with a 60 percent chance, according to the matrix.
Over the weekend, there were some slight alterations in the PairWise, with the most significant being Minnesota State moving up to No. 3, one spot ahead of Minnesota Duluth, which dropped a spot to No. 4 after being swept at No. 1 St. Cloud State. The three Minnesota teams remain in line to be No. 1 NCAA seeds.
Here is the latest top 16 in the PairWise Ratings, plus others of note:
1. St. Cloud State
3. Minnesota State
4. Minnesota Duluth
6. Ohio State
10. Arizona State
13. Western Michigan
15. Notre Dame
16. American International
18. North Dakota
19. Penn State
Once again, the No. 16 team in the PairWise, Bowling Green, is bumped by projected Atlantic Hockey tournament champion American International, which is No. 33.
The NCAA tries to avoid intraconference pairings in the first round, and we have two if we go strictly by bracket integrity: No. 4 Minnesota Duluth vs. No. 13 Western Michigan, and No. 5 Quinnipiac vs. No. 12 Cornell.
That calls for adjustment. Plus, the NCAA selection committee will consider attendance in assigning teams. One case of this is placing Providence in the East Regional in Providence, even though the Friars are not the host school; Brown is the host.
Here's my projected bracket:
West Regional (Fargo)
1. St. Cloud State vs. 16. American International
7. Denver vs. 10. Arizona State
Comment: Strictly by bracket integrity, it would be No. 8 Northeastern vs. No. 9 Providence in Fargo. But Denver and Northeastern are swapped to help attendance in the Northeast Regional, and Providence moves to the East. Arizona State is moved to Fargo so No. 11 Clarkson can go to Manchester.
Northeast Regional (Manchester, N.H.)
2. Massachusetts vs. 15. Notre Dame
8. Northeastern vs. 11. Clarkson
Comment: With three Eastern teams in Manchester, attendance should get a boost.
Midwest Regional (Allentown, Pa.)
3. Minnesota State vs. 14. Western Michigan
6. Ohio State vs. 11. Cornell
Comment: All four No. 3 regional seeds are moved, and Cornell landing in Allentown helps attendance. Western Michigan ends up here instead of Providence to avoid an intraconference matchup with Minnesota Duluth.
East Regional (Providence, R.I.)
4. Minnesota Duluth vs. 14. Harvard
5. Quinnipiac vs. 9. Providence
Comment: A 5-9 matchup isn't balanced well, but the NCAA has shown it'll put Providence in Providence.
Keep an eye on North Dakota and Penn State. Both are regional hosts and would be placed in Fargo and Allentown, respectively, if they qualify. Those would be challenging first-round matchups for No. 1 St. Cloud State and No. 3 Minnesota State.