Here we go. The final Bracketology before the NCAA men's hockey committee announces its 16-team field for the national tournament at 6 p.m. Sunday on ESPNU. Six teams have secured spots by winning their conference tournaments – the Gophers (Big Ten), North Dakota (NCHC), Massachusetts (Hockey East), Lake Superior State (WCHA), St. Lawrence (ECAC) and American International (Atlantic Hockey). The remaining 10 spots will receive at-large bids, and that's where the fun comes in.
In previous years not impacted by COVID-19, the committee would consult the PairWise Ratings and take the remaining 10 highest-ranked teams and seed the field. Since there has been so little cross-conference play this season as teams have quarantined within their conferences, the PairWise – a mathematical formula the relies on comparisons of teams – isn't as effective this season. Instead, committee members ultimately will rely largely on their opinions to determine which teams are in.
Here is the field based on the at-large teams I believe the committee will select (* automatic bid as conference tournament champion):
Projected field and seedings
1. North Dakota (21-5-1) *
2. Gophers (23-6) *
3. Boston College (17-5-1)
4. Wisconsin (20-9-1)
5. Massachusetts (16-5-4) *
6. Minnesota State Mankato (20-4-1)
7. St. Cloud State (17-10)
8. Michigan (15-10-1)
9. Boston University (10-4-1)
10. Minnesota Duluth (14-10-2)
11. Lake Superior State (19-6-3) *
12. Quinnipiac (17-7-4)
13. Nebraska Omaha (14-10-1)
14. Bemidji State (15-9-3)
15. American International (15-3) *
16. St. Lawrence (6-8-3) *
Outside, looking in: Providence, Denver, UMass-Lowell, Connecticut, Notre Dame, Army.
OK, now it's time to seed the teams. Some criteria: The perfect bracket would have 1 vs. 16 and 8 vs. 9 in one regional; 2 vs. 15 and 7 vs. 10 in another; etc. First-round intraconference matchups are to be avoided. Teams can be moved within their seeding band (the four No. 2s, the four No. 3s, etc.) for geographic reasons but not to another band. The committee would like to limit the number of flights needed, a nod to COVID-19.
Here is what my field that would look like strictly with a by-the-book seedings. This is NOT my final projection:
Midwest Regional, Fargo
1. North Dakota vs. 16. St. Lawrence
8. Michigan vs. 9. Boston University
West Regional, Loveland, Colo.
2. Gophers vs. 15. American International
7. St. Cloud State vs. 10. Minnesota Duluth
East Regional, Bridgeport, Conn.
3. Boston College vs. 14. Bemidji State
6. Minnesota State vs. 11. Lake Superior State
Northeast Regional, Albany, N.Y.
4. Wisconsin vs. 13. Nebraska Omaha
5. Massachusetts vs. 12. Quinnipiac
* We have two intraconference first-round matchups to break up (St. Cloud State vs. Minnesota Duluth, and Minnesota State vs. Lake Superior State), so I'll fix them by moving Minnesota Duluth to Fargo and Lake Superior State to Loveland. Also, Boston University to Albany makes sense in that No. 3 seed band.
* I can help teams avoid flights by moving Bemidji State to Fargo and St. Lawrence to Bridgeport, Minnesota State to Fargo and Michigan to Bridgeport, and Nebraska Omaha to Loveland and American International to Bridgeport. That does mess with bracket integrity. North Dakota, for example, wouldn't be facing the No. 16 seed, as the No. 1 overall seed usually does. It's a guess that the committee will defer to fewer flights when possible and proceed on the side of caution, especially when we've just witnessed a men's basketball team have to forfeit a tournament game because of positive COVID-19 tests.
Here's my FINAL PROJECTED BRACKET
Midwest Regional, Fargo, Friday-Saturday
1. North Dakota vs. 14. Bemidji State
6. Minnesota State vs. 10. Minnesota Duluth
West Regional, Loveland, Colo., Saturday-Sunday
2. Gophers vs. 14. Nebraska Omaha
7. St. Cloud State vs. 12. Lake Superior State
East Regional, Bridgeport, Conn., Friday-Saturday
3. Boston College vs. 16. St. Lawrence
5. Massachusetts vs. 11. Quinnipiac
Northeast Regional, Albany, N.Y., Saturday-Sunday
4. Wisconsin vs. 15. American International
8. Michigan vs. 9. Boston University
* This has a split of 10 Western teams and six Eastern squads, so that might be controversial within the committee, but I'll go with it. One of the regionals in the East would be heavy with West teams, and that's Albany with Wisconsin and Michigan. It was a close call among Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Minnesota State for the final No. 1 seed. Also, with this bracket, only five flights are needed: none to Fargo, none to Bridgeport, three to Loveland (all but Nebraska Omaha) and two to Albany (Wisconsin, Michigan).
* My last team in the field is Bemidji State getting the nod over Providence (11-9-5). This result might just as easily have been flipped. I picked the Beavers because they beat Minnesota State twice and tied the Mavericks once and went 2-1-1 against Lake Superior State, while Providence was a combined 1-5-2 against Boston College, Massachusetts and Boston University.Nebraska Omaha over Denver was another close call.