It’s late February, so that means were only a week away from the start of the Division I men’s college hockey conference tournaments, which help determine the NCAA tournament field. The Big Ten and WCHA will start tourney play next weekend, while the NCHC begins its postseason March 15.
With that in mind, here’s a weekly feature called Bracketology, in which I will project the 16-team NCAA tournament field based on where the teams currently stand. It is not a prediction of who will make the tournament, rather what could happen if the tournament started today.
First, some parameters:
* The NCAA field will consist of the winners of the six conference tournaments (Atlantic Hockey, Big Ten, ECAC, Hockey East, NCHC and WCHA), plus 10 at-large teams selected by the tournament committee.
* We’ll use the PairWise Ratings, which mimic the mathematical formula that the NCAA uses to fill and seed its field.
* There are four regions in the NCAA tournament: West (Fargo, N.D., with North Dakota as host), Midwest (Allentown, Pa., with Penn State as host), East (Providence, R.I., with Brown as host) and Northeast (Manchester, N.H., with New Hampshire as host). If a host team makes the NCAA field, it will be placed in that regional.
* The selection committee will try to balance each region the seedings as follows: No. 1 vs. No. 16 and No. 8 vs. No 9 in one region; No. 2 vs. No. 15 and No. 7 vs. No. 10 in a second region, etc.
* The committee will try to avoid first-round matchups from teams from the same conference.
Here are the current PairWise Ratings:
1. St. Cloud State
3. Minnesota Duluth
5. Minnesota State Mankato
7. Ohio State
8. Arizona State
11. Western Michigan
15. Bowling Green
One thing that pops out right away: Two Minnesota teams – No. 1 St. Cloud State and No. 3 Minnesota Duluth – would be No. 1 regional seeds, and Minnesota State would be the top No. 2 seed. That would prevent the committee from creating the “Minnesota Region of Death,’’ as Air Force coach Frank Serratore called last year’s West Regional in Sioux Falls that included his Falcons with St. Cloud State, Minnesota State Mankato and eventual national champion Minnesota Duluth.
Why is UMass-Lowell crossed out? Because American International is in first place in Atlantic Hockey and is projected as the conference tournament champ and automatic NCAA representative. Since American International is No. 33 in the PairWise, it bumps the lowest possible at-large team, in this case No. 16 Bowling Green, from the field. Last year, three conference tournament champions were from outside the PairWise top 16, which bumped three teams.
So, here’s my projection, using the PairWise through Wednesday. Variations from the PairWise were made to avoid first-round intraconference matchups and improve attendance at certain regionals:
West Regional (Fargo)
1. St. Cloud State vs. 16. American International
8. Arizona State vs. 11. Western Michigan
Northeast Regional (Manchester, N.H.)
2. Massachusetts vs. 15. Bowling Green
6. Quinnipiac vs. 10. Northeastern
East Regional (Providence, R.I.)
3. Minnesota Duluth vs. 14. Harvard
7. Ohio State vs. 9. Providence
Midwest Regional (Allentown, Pa.)
4. Denver vs. 13. Cornell
5. Minnesota State vs. 12. Clarkson
There you have it, though I do wonder if the committee would move No. 5 Minnesota State to Fargo to replace No. 8 Arizona State to boost attendance. However, that would put the top No. 2 seed, instead of the fourth No. 2 seed, in the same region as the top No. 1 seed. Bracket integrity would be compromised.
In this bracket, I like St. Cloud State’s chance of winning the West and advancing to the Frozen Four in Buffalo, N.Y. Both Minnesota Duluth and Minnesota State would have challenging, but not impossible, routes to get there, too.