The coronavirus pandemic has kept college hockey schedule-makers on their toes this season, and rarely does a day go by without some sort of adjustment. A check of the records among Division I men's teams shows that one has played as many as 20 games (Arizona State, and every last one of them on the road) and a couple with as few as four (Canisius, UMass Lowell).
With that in mind, picking the NCAA tournament field will be extra challenging this year. Usually, the tournament committee takes a look at the PairWise Ratings after the conference tournaments, plugs in the six automatic qualifiers from each conference and uses the PairWise – a system that compares each team's season by relying heavily on out of conference play.
This year, however, the eye test likely will carry added weight since the PairWise has been rendered less effective because there are so few nonconference games. Though the committee's plan has yet to be announced — and the actual format could change because of COVID-19 — look for subjective decisions to be part of it.
With that in mind, here is a way-too-early bracketology of what the NCAA tournament field will look like. The criteria in use are automatic bids to each of the conference tournament winners – Big Ten, NCHC, WCHA, Hockey East, ECAC and Atlantic Hockey – plus 10 at-large teams. The automatic bids for now go to the teams with the highest point percentage in conference play, which gives us the Gophers, North Dakota, Minnesota State Mankato, Boston College, Quinnipiac and American International. For the 10 at-large teams, let's use the latest U.S. College Hockey Online poll.
USCHO poll (Jan. 25)
1. Boston College
2. North Dakota
3. Minnesota State
5. St. Cloud State
6. Minnesota Duluth
8. Bowling Green
15. Boston University
19. American International
First three out
16. UMass Lowell
18. Michigan Tech
There's the way-too-early field, with American International getting the Atlantic Hockey autobid and bumping UMass Lowell out of the tournament.
Now, it's time to place the teams in the four regionals: East in Bridgeport, Conn. (Yale and Sacred Heart as hosts); Northeast to be determined after Manchester, N.H., reportedly withdrew its bid on Monday; Midwest in Fargo (North Dakota as host); and West in Loveland, Colo. (Denver as host).
There's only one team in the field that is a host, and that's North Dakota. The Fighting Hawks will be placed in Fargo.
Here are the regional breakdowns, with overall seeds:
East Regional, Bridgeport, Conn.
1. Boston College vs. 16. American International
8. Bowling Green vs. 10. Massachusetts
Midwest Regional, Fargo
2. North Dakota vs. 15. Boston U.
7. Michigan vs. 9. Omaha
West Regional, Loveland, Colo.
3. Minnesota State vs. 13. Wisconsin
6. Minnesota Duluth vs. 11. Quinnipiac
Northeast Regional, site to be determined
4. Gophers vs. 14. Northeastern
5. St. Cloud State vs. 12. Clarkson
To avoid an intraconference matchup in the first round against the Gophers, No. 13 Wisconsin was moved to the West and No. 14 Northeastern to the Northeast. I made one swap for proximity's sake: moving No. 9 Omaha to Fargo and No. 10 Massachusetts to Bridgeport. Otherwise, the bracket filled easily. There, of course, will be plenty of changes from now until the end of the conference tournaments.