The Gophers jumped to No. 5 in the latest USCHO men’s college hockey national poll after sweeping Penn State at Mariucci Arena over the weekend.
The Big Ten has four teams ranked in the Top 20 with the Nittany Lions at No. 10, Ohio State at No. 12 and Wisconsin at No. 17. Minnesota Duluth is No. 1.
If the season ended Tuesday, the Gophers would likely be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, but their path to the Frozen Four could be one of the most difficult based only early Bracketology projections.
The USCHO released its first installment the 2017 Bracketology last week and the Gophers’ first-round opponent is predicted to be rival North Dakota. In-state rivals Minnesota Duluth and Bemidji State face off on the other side of the West Regional bracket.
These matchups are based on several factors starting with the current PairWise rankings and avoiding intra-conference matchups, if possible. Based on these factors alone, the Gophers were projected as a No. 2 seed last week would have faced Boston College in the first round of the Midwest Regional. This week they would be No. 1 seed and likely play in the Midwest or East Regional. Duluth, still at No. 1, would be the West Regional's (located in Fargo, N.D.) top seed.
But there are so many other factors when piecing together the 16-team NCAA tournament bracket including maximizing the attendance by keeping teams closer to home.
If every factor played out the way USCHO senior writer Jayson Moy predicted in his first installment of Bracketology, this will be your NCAA tournament bracket:
East Regional (Providence):
16 Canisius vs. 2 Denver
11 Providence vs. 6 Union
Northeast Regional (Manchester):
14 Wisconsin vs. 3 Boston University
10 Boston College vs. 8 Harvard
Midwest Regional (Cincinnati):
13 Massachusetts-Lowell vs. 4 Western Michigan
12 Vermont vs. 5 Penn State
West Regional (Fargo):
15 Bemidji State vs. 1 Minnesota-Duluth
9 North Dakota vs. 7 Minnesota
This will change after each week (five) that remains in the college hockey season. But for now, the complete first installment of Bracketology's regional matchups reminds us that the postseason is not far away.