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NCAA Men's Hockey Bracketology, March 9

Down the stretch they come!

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Hard as it may be to believe, we are just two weeks away from the NCAA hockey tournament. The end is going to come quickly. As conference tournaments heat up in earnest, there are a few things we know with relative certainty.

  • BC is definitely clinched in to the tournament and will be, at the bare minimum, a #2 seed (probably #6 overall as the floor). There are theoretically some far-fetched, near-zero-probability scenarios that could see BC fall as far as #9, but those are extremely unlikely.
  • Assuming both teams win in the quarterfinals, one of BC or Providence will likely get a 1 seed depending on who advances further in the Hockey East tournament. BC and Providence can't actually meet in the HEA tournament until the final.
  • Unless some really bizarre things happen, 5 Hockey East teams are making NCAAs... BC, Providence, BU, Lowell and Notre Dame. Northeastern theoretically could get in as an at large, but it's highly unlikely... they probably need to win the conference tournament. If they go all the way to the final and lose but get lucky with some other things happening, they have an outside shot.
  • Barring a major slip up, Quinnipiac, North Dakota and St Cloud will be three of the #1 seeds.
  • Whoever wins Atlantic Hockey will be the #16 and final seed.
  • The WCHA will probably only put 1 team in the tournament. Michigan Tech is currently on the right side of the Pairwise bubble at #14 but would likely fall out if they don't win the conference title.
  • The following 7 non Hockey East teams are basically clinched in as well as those 5 from HEA... Quinnipiac, North Dakota, St. Cloud State, Denver, Yale, Michigan, Harvard.
After those 12 teams, there's a mad scramble for the final four spots in the field, a scramble that will be impacted greatly by which teams win conference tournaments. This year has somewhat reversed a recent trend in college hockey toward NHL style parity. There are 7 or 8 teams that are really having phenomenal years, a few other teams that have been very good, and then a whole wad of teams where you think "really? They might make the tournament?"

18-15 Nebraska Omaha is clinging to an at large spot currently. 18-15 Minnesota is in the running. They're actually highly likely to win the Big Ten regular season title and yet will quite possibly (probably?) have to win the Big Ten tournament to get in.... lulz. 15-14-5 Minnesota Duluth is somehow #14. Michigan Tech would currently make the field not as an autobid but as an at large! And Penn State is still very much in the race, though like Minnesota the math of it suggests they probably need to win the conference tournament.

Here's a look at where the bracket would stand as of today.

The 16 team field

1] North Dakota
2] Quinnipiac
3] St. Cloud
4] Providence

5] Boston College
6] Denver
7] Yale
8] Michigan

9] Boston University
10] Notre Dame
11] Harvard... 95% chance of making the field according to CHN
12] UMass Lowell

13] Minnesota Duluth... 44% probability of making the field according to CHN
14] Michigan Tech... 57%
15] Nebraska Omaha... 14%
16] Robert Morris [projected AHC champ]... 39%
First teams out

Cornell...12%
Minnesota... 39%
Penn State... 43%
Northeastern... 7%
Clarkson... 7%

Assigning hosts

As has been the case for most of the season, no host teams are in the tournament field. The likeliest hosts to make it are Minnesota, host of the St. Paul regional, and Holy Cross, Worcester host, who are very much alive in the AHC tournament. The hosts of the other regionals, Miami and Union/RPI, are longshots.

Assigning the one seeds

By rule, the one seeds are assigned geographically in order of ranking. As such...

North Dakota, #1, is assigned to the St. Paul regional.
#2 Quinnipiac is assigned to the Worcester regional.
#3 St. Cloud is assigned to the Cincinnati regional.
#4 Providence is assigned to the Albany regional.

Setting the bracket

First, we fill out a bracket based on perfect bracket integrity [1 v 16, 2 v 15 etc] without regard to in conference matchups or attendance.

ST PAUL
1] North Dakota vs. 16] Robert Morris
8] Michigan vs. 9] BU

ALBANY
4] Providence vs. 13] Minnesota Duluth
5] BC vs. 12] Lowell

WORCESTER
2] Quinnipiac vs. 15] Nebraska Omaha
7] Yale vs. 10] Notre Dame

CINCINNATI
3] St. Cloud State vs. 14] Michigan Tech
6] Denver vs. 11] Harvard

The first thing we have to do if possible is eliminate any in conference matchups. The only one this bracket presents us with is BC vs. Lowell. Now, there are currently 3 Hockey East teams as 3 seeds, so the ONLY 3 seed BC could match up against is Harvard. So for now we swap Lowell out to Cincinnati and bring Harvard to Albany.

The next thing we have to keep in mind is attendance. The committee is empowered to move teams within seeding bands [swapping a 2 seed for a 2 seed, a 3 seed for a 3 seed, etc] to improve attendance. They can NOT move teams in to different seeding bands, i.e. make a 3 seed a 4 seed. And they can't create in conference matchups unless they are unavoidable. Also, there's an attempt to preserve bracket integrity as best as possible while still promoting attendance.

Let's take a stab at it for this week, one regional at a time.

We'll start out west. Cincinnati is often the most difficult draw of any regional. The two teams that would probably send the most fans to Cincy in this field are Michigan and Notre Dame, who are conveniently 2 and 3 seeds. So let's make a couple swaps and get

3] SCSU vs 14] MTU
8] Michigan vs 10] Notre Dame

The St. Paul regional is just begging for the Gophers to make the tournament, setting up a No rth Dakota vs. Minnesota round game. That'd be money. For now, they'll just be counting on the Fighting Hawks to carry the day for attendance. There's really nobody else they can swap in that would help, aside from maaayybe Michigan Tech, and that isn't an option because as the #1 seed NoDak should get  to play the AHC champ.

Now we turn our sights eastward.

We have basically the same situation as last week. Based on swapping BU and Notre Dame to send ND to Cincinnati, you now have Quinnipiac, Yale and BU in Worcester, plus BC, Providence and Harvard in Albany. Our work here is done, right?

Well, maybe. As regular readers of this series know, I've been waffling all year on whether the committee would straight up swap the entire Albany and Worcester brackets. I once again think they would here. BC and Providence would pack the DCU Center. They would not pack Albany. Worcester is closer to QU than Albany is, but not by much. Their fans would still go.

So here's how I think the committee's bracket would look if the season ended today.

ST PAUL
1] North Dakota 4] Robert Morris
2] Denver 3] Lowell

WORCESTER
1] Providence 4] Minnesota Duluth
2] BC 3] Harvard

ALBANY
1] Quinnipiac 4] Nebraska Omaha
2] Yale 3] BU

CINCINNATI
1] St Cloud State 4] Michigan Tech
2] Michigan 3] Notre Dame

And my projected Frozen Four if these were your brackets...

Denver
BC
Yale
Notre Dame

Yes, I'm picking all non 1 seeds for now.

Of course, this bracket will change a lot in the next two weeks. We'll keep you posted.