On Sunday, we’ll officially know the 16-team field and the brackets for the NCAA men’s hockey tournament, but once Saturday’s conference tournaments are complete, we’ll have a good picture of what the tournament selection committee might do.
The three Minnesota teams remaining – St. Cloud State, Minnesota State and Minnesota Duluth – are nearly certain to be No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament, meaning they cannot be placed in the same regional tournament. According to College Hockey News’ PairWise Probability Matrix, St. Cloud State will finish No. 1 in the PairWise Ratings and be No. 1 overall seed. The matrix also predicts that Minnesota State will be a No. 1 seed, with a 25 percent chance of being No. 2 overall, a 49 percent chance of being No. 3 and a 26 percent chance of being No. 4. The matrix predicts UMD to have a 96 percent chance of being a No. 1 seed (8 percent at No. 2 overall, 24 percent at No. 3 and 64 percent at No. 4). The other No. 1 seed will go to Massachusetts, which is right behind St. Cloud State at No. 2 in the PairWise.
Up for grabs this weekend are the six automatic NCAA bids that go to the conference tournament champions. If a team outside the top 15 in the PairWise wins its conference tourney, it would bump an at-large team. Last year, four such teams did so, with Minnesota Duluth gaining the last at-large spot, a bid the Bulldogs cashed in for a national championship.
Here is the latest top 16 in the PairWise Ratings, plus others of note:
1. St. Cloud State *
2. Massachusetts *
3. Minnesota State *
4. Minnesota Duluth
7. Ohio State
9. Clarkson *
10. Arizona State
13. Bowling Green
15. Notre Dame *
16. Penn State32. American International *
* Projected conference tournament champion based on highest seed.
At present, American International is projected to win the Atlantic Hockey tournament and its automatic bid, bumping Penn State from the field.
Others alive in conference tournaments:
16. Penn State. Winner of Nittany Lions vs. Notre Dame Big Ten final gets automatic NCAA bid, while loser’s season is over.
23. Colorado College. Tigers must win the NCHC Frozen Faceoff to make the NCAA field.
24. Boston University, 34. Boston College. If either Terriers or Eagles win the Hockey East tournament, they would bump a team from the top 15, with No. 14 Providence next in line.
25. Brown. The Bears are the only team in the ECAC final four not among the top 15, so if they win the tournament, they bump another team.
35. RIT, 45. Niagara, 49. Robert Morris. If any of these win the Atlantic Hockey tournament, it would get the No. 16 spot that is projected to American International.
When assigning teams to brackets, the selection committee will avoid first-round intraconference matchups and move teams within a seeding band (example, the Nos. 8 through 11 could be interchanged) to help boost attendance. A “pure’’ bracket of Nos. 1, 8,9 and 16 in a region; Nos. 2, 15, 7 and 10; Nos. 3, 6, 11 and 14; and Nos. 4, 5, 12 and 13 is desirable, but the committee will make alterations for attendance.
Here are my brackets:
West Regional (Fargo)
1. St. Cloud State vs. 16. American International
6. Denver vs. 12. Harvard
Comment: A pure bracket would have had No. 8 Northeastern playing No. 9 Clarkson in Fargo but replacing Northeastern with Denver makes sense. A Denver-No. 10 Arizona State matchup would have been good geographically, but since the ECAC has three teams as No. 3 seeds, that move would create intraconference matchups in the first round. Harvard replaces Clarkson here to balance the bracket in two regions.
Northeast Regional (Manchester, N.H.)
2. Massachusetts vs. 13. Bowling Green
8. Northeastern vs. 9. Clarkson
Comment: The Northeastern-Clarkson matchup would work well here. No. 15 Notre Dame could be the matchup for Massachusetts, but the Fighting Irish fit well in the Midwest, too.
Midwest Regional (Allentown, Pa.)
3. Minnesota State vs. 15. Notre Dame
7. Ohio State vs. 11. Cornell
Comment: If Penn State, the would-be regional host, wins the Big Ten final, the Nittany Lions would play in Allentown and be a tough out for any No. 1 seed. Ohio State and Cornell landing here makes sense geographically.
East Regional (Providence)
4. Minnesota Duluth vs. 14. Providence
5. Quinnipiac vs. 10. Arizona State
Comment: Though Providence isn’t the host school – Brown is – the committee puts the Friars here. That’s a challenging matchup for Minnesota Duluth in the first round. Quinnipiac, about 110 miles from Providence, lands here.