With four of Division I college hockey’s men’s conferences entering the final week of their regular seasons, the jockeying for conference tournament positioning – and attempts at bolstering one’s spot in the PairWise Ratings – is in full swing.
That’s especially true for the five Minnesota teams. Two of those, Minnesota State and Minnesota Duluth, are locks to make the NCAA tournament, while Bemidji State is closing in on securing a berth and the Gophers are on the bubble. And don’t completely count out St. Cloud State, which helped itself by taking five of six points against No. 1 North Dakota last weekend.
Here’s where each Minnesota team sits, plus this week’s projected bracketology of the NCAA tournament field:
Minnesota State: The Mavericks sit atop the WCHA, six points ahead of second-place Bemidji State and needing only one point in this weekend’s series in Bemidji to secure the regular-season title. According to College Hockey News’ PairWise Probability Matrix, which runs 20,000 weighted simulations of the remaining games and potential conference tournament matchups, Minnesota State has a 100 percent chance of being in the NCAA field and a 99.9 percent chance of being one of the four No. 1 regional seeds.
Minnesota Duluth: The Bulldogs took a hit last weekend, splitting with Western Michigan and falling one spot to No. 5 in the PairWise. That would make UMD a No. 2 regional seed, though it still could overtake Boston College at No. 4. The Bulldogs, who finish with series at Colorado College and at home against St. Cloud State, have a 100 percent chance of being in the NCAA field and a 54 percent chance to be one of four No. 1 regional seeds, according to the PairWise matrix.
Bemidji State: The Beavers are on an 11-1-2 surge since the calendar flipped to 2020, and that has given them a 64 percent chance to make the NCAA field, according to the matrix. A split or better vs. Minnesota State, plus a strong showing in the WCHA playoffs, would cement their NCAA chances.
Gophers: Coach Bob Motzko’s team got a sliver of good news despite securing only one point at Penn State last weekend. Minnesota actually moved up one spot to No. 14 in the PairWise. That would put the Gophers in the NCAA field as of today, but upsets in a couple of conference tournaments could bump them out. As for the Big Ten regular-season title, the Gophers no longer control their destiny. They’re tied for second with Ohio State, four points behind Penn State. The Gophers can overtake the idle Nittany Lions and win the title by taking five or more points from Michigan this weekend – as long as Ohio State secures one fewer point than Minnesota. The Buckeyes, who are host to Wisconsin, have the potential tiebreaker – conference wins (11 to the Gophers’ nine) – should it come to that. As for the PairWise matrix, the Gophers have 39 percent chance to make the NCAA field. Their safest route would be winning the Big Ten tournament and its automatic NCAA bid.
St. Cloud State: Though the Huskies still are a long shot for the NCAAs – the matrix gives them a 10 percent chance – their showing against North Dakota extended a 4-0-2 run. The Huskies have opportunities to move up the next two weeks if they fare well at home against No. 6 Denver and at Minnesota Duluth. Still, they might need to win the NCHC tournament (and its automatic bid) to get into the NCAA field.
Remember, the PairWise Ratings and bracketology are based the season being over today, providing a snapshot in time rather than a prediction of what might happen in the remainder of the regular season and conference tournaments.
PairWise Ratings (through Tuesday)
1. North Dakota
2. Minnesota State
4. Boston College
5. Minnesota Duluth
7. Penn State
9. Ohio State
11. Bemidji State
13. Arizona State
15. Western Michigan
26. American International (projected automatic bid as Atlantic Hockey tournament champion)
Outside, looking in
16. UMass-Lowell, 17. Notre Dame, 18. Maine, 19. Quinnipiac, 20. Michigan
Projected NCAA tournament field (based on games through Saturday).
East Regional, Albany, N.Y. (Host: ECAC)
1. North Dakota vs. 16. American International
8. Massachusetts vs. 9. Ohio State
West Regional, Loveland, Colo. (Host: Denver)
2. Minnesota State vs. 14. Gophers
6. Denver vs. 11. Bemidji State
Comment: If you go strictly by bracket integrity (No. 2 vs. 15, No. 3 vs. 14), Minnesota State would be in Albany and Cornell in Loveland. But in this scenario, I would expect the NCAA selection committee to keep Western matchups in the West and set up a strong Cornell-Penn State presence in Allentown.
Midwest Regional, Allentown, Pa. (Host: Penn State)
3. Cornell vs. 15. Western Michigan
7. Penn State vs. 10. Clarkson
Northeast Regional, Worcester, Mass. (Host: Holy Cross)
4. Boston College vs. 13. Arizona State
5. Minnesota Duluth vs. 12. Northeastern