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NCAA Men’s Hockey Bracketology

COLLEGE HOCKEY: FEB 10 Beanpot Tournament - Consolation Game - Boston College v Harvard Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For the first time in what feels like far too long, Boston College men’s hockey enters the home stretch of the season playing for NCAA positioning rather than playing for a desperate hope to extend their season.

After this past weekend’s sweep of Northeastern, BC is now functionally locked in to the tournament, qualifying in 100% of the simulations run by both PlayoffStatus and College Hockey News.

The Eagles sit in a three-way tie for 4th place in the Pairwise rankings, holding the tiebreaker over Duluth and Denver by virtue of having a higher RPI. This is a key battle, as the #4 spot is the last 1 seed in the 16-team NCAA hockey regionals.

If you’re new to postseason college hockey or just want a refresher, here’s a quick “bracketology,” outlining where things stand and how the tournament would look if the season ended today.

Let’s do it!

Step 1: Fill out the 16-team NCAA tournament field.

In college hockey, the NCAA tournament field is selected very simply: the six conference champions get autobids, and the rest of the field is filled based on the PairWise Rankings. A team’s winning percentage and strength of schedule, along with a bonus for “quality wins” against top teams, are among the factors in the calculation.

If the season ended today, and assuming the top ranked teams in every conference won the conference tournament (which obviously never happens), this would be your tournament field:

1 SEEDS

1) North Dakota (NCHC - autobid)

2) Minnesota State (WCHA - autobid)

3) Cornell (ECAC - autobid)

4) Boston College (Hockey East - autobid)

2 SEEDS

5) Minnesota Duluth (NCHC)

6) Denver (NCHC)

7) Penn State (Big Ten - autobid)

8) UMass (Hockey East)

3 SEEDS

9) Ohio State (Big Ten)

10) Clarkson (ECAC)

11) Bemidji State (WCHA)

12) Northeastern (Hockey East)

4 SEEDS

13) Arizona State (Independent)

14) Minnesota (Big Ten)

15) Western Michigan (NCHC)

26) AIC (Atlantic Hockey - autobid)

You don’t want to be living in the 13-15 area, as that’s where you can get knocked off if teams outside the top 16 win autobids in the conference tournaments. Thankfully, barring a complete collapse, BC should remain comfortably above that danger zone.

Teams currently out of the tournament but still holding a realistic chance at playing their way in as an at-large: Maine, UMass-Lowell, Providence, Michigan, Quinnipiac, and Notre Dame. There are a few other teams with a 1% or less chance of making it as an at-large per College Hockey News, including BU and UNH. Everyone else can only hope for a conference tournament run.

Step 2: Assign host teams to their regionals.

NCAA hockey regionals, like their basketball counterparts, have host institutions (either teams or conferences). But unlike in basketball, if a hockey program qualifies for the tournament and is hosting a regional, they are required to be placed in that regional.

This year’s regions and hosts:

Worcester - Holy Cross

Albany - ECAC Hockey

Allentown, PA - Penn State

Loveland, CO - Denver U.

This means that if we’re filling the field today, Penn State is locked in as the #2 seed in Allentown and Denver is the #2 seed in Loveland.

Step 3: Assign the 1-seeds to regions based on geography.

The #1 overall seed, North Dakota, gets assigned to the region closest to it. In this case, Loveland.

#2 Minnesota State... it doesn’t really matter, because they’re all far, but they’d get Allentown.

Then it becomes pretty easy: #3 Cornell goes to Albany (where their conference is hosting), and #4 BC goes to Worcester. As any long-time BC hockey fan knows, the Eagles never host the Worcester regional but pretty regularly wind up there.

Step 4: Fill out the bracket, matching up teams based on bracket integrity

Slotting all the teams in, without taking in to account in-conference matchups or attendance concerns, gives us the following bracket (remember, we’re required to put hosts in their regions):

LOVELAND

1) North Dakota

16) AIC

6) Denver

(11) Bemidji State

WORCESTER

4) Boston College

13) Arizona State

5) Minnesota Duluth

12) Northeastern

ALLENTOWN

2) Minnesota State

15) Western Michigan

7) Penn State

10) Clarkson

ALBANY

3) Cornell

14) Minnesota

8) UMass

9) Ohio State

Step 5: Remove any in-conference matchups in the first round.

Math did the work for us on this one. These are all non conference matchups. We’re good. We could theoretically roll with this bracket. But!

Step 6: The committee is empowered to move teams within their seeding bands to maximize attendance at regionals.

The tournament selection process is pretty cut and dry, but this is the one part of the process where the committee has discretion.

In order to drive attendance, the committee *may* swap, for instance, one 2-seed for another 2-seed, (#6 overall and #8 overall). However, they can’t bumpt a 3-seed to a 2-seed (i.e., flipping #9 and #8). Got it?

Let’s see what the possibilities are here.

Attendance in Loveland should be perfectly fine without touching anything, with Denver hosting and with North Dakota being there.

With BC and Northeastern in Worcester, it’s tough to see the committee finding any way to improve upon that. I guess UMass would probably drive more attendance than Northeastern, but they’re not going to nuke bracket integrity for a marginal improvement.

Albany has Cornell, plus UMass will probably draw a decent crowd there.

You could theoretically make a case for trying to move Clarkson to Albany, but you can’t swap them with Ohio State because that would line OSU up with Penn State, another Big Ten team.

So, this is probably your bracket. No changes necessary. The only bracket integrity challenge is caused by the hosts, and attendance is about as good as you’re going to get.

LOVELAND

1) North Dakota

16) AIC

6) Denver

(11) Bemidji State

WORCESTER

4) Boston College

13) Arizona State

5) Minnesota Duluth

12) Northeastern

ALLENTOWN

2) Minnesota State

15) Western Michigan

7) Penn State

10) Clarkson

ALBANY

3) Cornell

14) Minnesota

8) UMass

9) Ohio State

This would be a pretty tough draw for BC, but as we all know, every draw is a tough draw in the NCAA hockey tournament, which seems to be more and more chaotic every year.

With how tight BC, Denver, and Duluth are for 4-5-6, it seems predetermined that the Eagles will be in a regional with one of those two teams, creating a titanic matchup for a Frozen Four berth IF the favored teams take care of business in round one.

BC still has a chance to catch Cornell, with CHN rating them as having a 7.3% chance of moving in to 3rd or above overall. But we’re most likely looking at sharing a building with another maroon and gold team with lots of trophies in their history.

After the last three years, I’m sure the Eagles will look forward to the prospect of taking on anyone in the tournament. But first, they’ve got some league hardware to win.