With only this weekend left in the regular season, the NCAA tournament picture is starting to take shape, though upsets in conference tournaments could bust the bracket. With a lack of cross-conference play to compare teams from different conferences like the PairWise Ratings accomplishes in non-COVID years, subjectivity will play a key role when the NCAA men's hockey committee picks the 10 at-large teams to go along with the six automatic bids given to conference tournament champions. Using a subjective poll – mine – here's a look at what the 16-team field might look like:
The Top 16
1. North Dakota (18-4-1): Fighting Hawks have won five straight and are 11-2 since leaving the Omaha Pod.
2. Boston College (15-4-1): Three of the Eagles' four losses have been in OT.
3. Gophers (19-5): A win and tie vs. Michigan would secure Big Ten title for Gophers.
4. Minnesota State Mankato (17-3-1): Mavericks edged in OT at Bemidji State.
5. Wisconsin (17-8-1): Badgers will be big fans of Michigan this weekend.
6. Massachusetts (13-5-3): Minutemen have won four in a row.
7. Michigan (13-8-1): Wolverines are 2-2-1 in their past five.
8. St. Cloud State (14-9): Huskies have lost three of their past five.
9. Minnesota Duluth (13-8-2): Bulldogs rout SCSU to end skid.
10. Boston University (10-3): With 13 games played, Terriers have reached NCAA tourney minimum.
11. Quinnipiac (16-5-4): Bobcats went 6-0-1 in February.
12. Nebraska Omaha (13-9-1): Mavericks, 0-3 vs. UND in past two weeks, visit Grand Forks on Friday.
13. Bowling Green (19-8-1): Falcons idle until WCHA playoffs.
14. Clarkson (11-7-4): Golden Knights ended three-week hiatus with sweep of Colgate.
15. Providence (10-7-5): Win and tie vs. Northeastern puts Friars back in field.
16. American International (13-3): Yellow Jackets haven't played since Jan. 30, won't until March 12.
With the 16 teams picked, it's time to fill the regionals. First-round intraconference matchups are to be avoided, and the NCAA committee would like to limit the number of flights needed. There is one regional host in the field, North Dakota, which automatically is placed in Fargo.
Midwest Regional, Fargo
1. North Dakota vs. 16. American International
8. St. Cloud State vs. 10. Boston University
East Regional, Bridgeport, Conn.
2. Boston College vs. 14. Clarkson
6. Massachusetts vs. 11. Quinnipiac
West Regional, Loveland, Colo.
3. Gophers vs. 13. Bowling Green
7. Michigan vs. 9. Minnesota Duluth
Northeast Regional, Albany, N.Y.
4. Minnesota State vs. 15. Providence
5. Wisconsin vs. 12. Nebraska Omaha
There it is. Strictly adhering to bracket integrity – 1 vs. 16, 2 vs. 15, 3 vs. 14, etc. – would have resulted in intraconference first-round matchups such as St. Cloud State vs. Minnesota Duluth, Boston College vs. Providence and Minnesota State vs. Bowling Green. Also, I moved the Michigan-UMD matchup to the West and the Massachusetts-Quinnipiac pairing to the East for proximity purposes.
I have nine Western teams and seven Eastern teams in the field. There's a chance the NCAA committee would want an 8/8 balance, so if that happens, watch for Northeastern to bump either Bowling Green or Nebraska Omaha.