ST. PAUL, MN - APRIL 07: : Kenny Reiter #35 of the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs stops a shot by the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during semifinals of the 2011 NCAA Men's Frozen Four on April 7, 2011 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. The Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs defeated the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 4-3. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
There are seven games on tap today that will help determine who Boston College faces in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Well, six, really, as BC is locked into the number 1 overall seed regardless of what happens tonight at the Garden. However it's never to early to speculate on who that team might be.
Twelve programs are all but a virtual lock to make the 16-team tournament field (in no particular order, after the first two, that is): Boston College, Michigan, Miami, Minnesota-Duluth, Ferris State, Boston University, Minnesota, Maine, North Dakota, UMass-Lowell, Denver and Union.
The 13th program is the Atlantic Hockey champ, either RIT or Air Force.
That leaves six programs fighting for the final three NCAA berths: Cornell, Harvard, Merrimack, Michigan State, Northern Michigan and Western Michigan.
The path to the NCAAs is simple for Harvard. Win the ECAC Championship Game tonight over Union, and the Crimson are in the Tournament for the first time since 2006. The path is the same for Cornell, where the Big Red need a win or a tie this afternoon in the ECAC Third Place Game to get into the field of 16. Lose and Cornell's season is over.
That leaves four clubs -- Merrimack, Michigan State, Northern Michigan and Western Michigan -- vying for the final three spots in the Tournament. Or two, if Cornell wins. Or just one if both Cornell and Harvard win.
Here a look at BC's possible first round opponents.
Atlantic Hockey Champ -- RIT or Air Force
The most likely first round matchup is a date with the winner of tonight's AHA Championship Game, either RIT or Air Force. Both programs have been dangerous in the NCAA Tournament in recent years, with RIT making the Frozen Four as recently as 2010 (along with BC) and Air Force making the NCAAs in four of the last five seasons.
BC is 5-0-0 all-time vs. the Falcons and won its only ever meeting with RIT during the 2007-08 season.
The only way BC won't face the AHA Champ is if three other CCHA programs make the no. 4 line and the Committee has to reshuffle the 1 vs. 4 matchups to avoid an all-CCHA first-round matchup between Michigan and Michigan State, Northern Michigan or Western Michigan.
Northern Michigan has a 32.6 percent chance of finishing as #15 in the final PairWise Rankings, and BC may have to face the Wildcats should CCHA clubs clog the no. 4 line. Northern finished the year 17-14-6 (11-11-6-3 CCHA), but hasn't played in two weeks after Bowling Green upset the Wildcats in the CCHA Tournament.
BC is 5-4-0 all-time against the Wildcats, but the two programs haven't faced one another since 1998-99.
The Spartans are in good shape to lock up an at-large berth in this year's tournament, but they might sweat a little if Harvard wins the ECAC and steals a bid. Michigan State currently has a 23.4% chance of finishing 13th, 24.7% chance of finishing 14th and a 37.5% chance of finishing 15th.
Michigan State is one of the few programs that BC has a losing record against all-time, with the Spartans enjoying an overwhelming 17-6-1 edge in the all-time series. The Spartans got the better of the Spartans to open the season in the Ice Breaker, winning 5-2 in the first game of the year.
The Broncos finished third in the CCHA regular season standings, going 14-10-4-1 in conference and 20-13-6 overall. Again, BC will only see one of these three CCHA clubs if all three make it into the tournament and end up on the No. 4 line (or if Miami sneaks in and grabs a no. 1 seed, though that appears unlikely).
BC and Western Michigan have never faced one another.
If Cornell, Merrimack or Harvard make it into the field of 16, it's highly unlikely that BC will face any of those three programs. The 4 line won't be overrun with CCHA teams and BC will likely keep its Atlantic Hockey champ draw. Even if Harvard wins the ECAC, the Crimson will finish higher in the final PairWise than the AHA champ.
Which team do you want to see Boston College face in the first round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament?
Air Force (19 votes)
Michigan State (3 votes)
Northern Michigan (2 votes)
RIT (5 votes)
Western Michigan (2 votes)
31 total votes