The Beanpot is done and dusted, with Boston College safely returning the prized Boston trophy back to Conte Forum with Monday night's thrilling 1-0 overtime win over Boston University. Now, the Eagles turn their focus to the bigger picture. The NCAA tournament is just over a month away, and barring some sort of historic collapse, BC should be in. The question is where they'll be seeded and who they will play. That will fluctuate quite a bit in the coming weeks, but let's take a look at where things would stand if the season ended today.
As a reminder, the way the NCAA tournament field is set in hockey is very straightforward. The six conference tournament champions earn autobids, then the next top 10 teams in the Pairwise Rankings get at large bids. There are no "snubs". The committee's job is to construct a bracket that maintains bracket integrity while avoiding nonconference matchups and trying to ensure solid attendance at all 4 regionals.
Let's walk through the process of putting together a bracket that accomplishes those three goals.
Based on the computer rankings, we'll assume the highest-ranked team in each conference would win their conference tournament. (Obviously, it won't happen this way in real life.) That would give you Quinnipiac in the ECAC, St. Cloud State in the NCHC, Boston College in Hockey East, Michigan in the Big Ten, Michigan Tech in the WCHA, and Robert Morris in the AHC.
Then, the next ten teams based on pairwise who would make up the field would be:
#3 North Dakota
#7 Notre Dame
Cornell right now has a razor thin margin over Penn State for the last spot in the field. Dartmouth, Clarkson, and RPI are also within striking distance this week. Minnesota and Minnesota State are not too far behind. After that, it'll be tricky for anyone to get in.
The four NCAA regionals this year are in Worcester (hosted by Holy Cross), Albany (hosted by RPI & Union), Cincinnati (hosted by Miami), and St. Paul (hosted by Minnesota). As of today, none of the host institutions would make the tournament. If any of them do make it, they automatically get to play in the regional they host.
The tournament's four #1 seeds are assigned, in order based on ranking, to the regionals closest to them.
#1 Quinnipiac goes to Worcester
#2 St. Cloud State goes to St. Paul
#3 North Dakota goes to Cincinnati
#4 Boston College goes to Albany
BC makes their first appearance as a #1 seed this week, as their performance over the weekend combined with Michigan's loss to Michigan State boosted them into the top 4. BC is in fact nipping at the heels of the top 3.
Based on bracket integrity alone, without regard for in conference matchups or attendance, your bracket would look like this...
16] Robert Morris
8] Boston University
9] Nebraska Omaha
4] Boston College
13] UMass Lowell
2] St. Cloud State
15] Michigan Tech
7] Notre Dame
3] North Dakota
Right away, we have a problem with an in conference matchup. BC vs. Lowell in Albany will need to be fixed. Unlike last week, the Hockey East teams are spaced out enough that we can accomplish this by switching Lowell with one of the other 4 seeds. We'll move Cornell to Albany and Lowell to Cincinnati to accomplish that.
How would that leave us on attendance?
Worcester would have BU as the anchor tenant, and Quinnipiac would bring a good number of fans as well. Albany would have BC and Cornell to drive attendance. Cincinnati's best case scenario would be to have both Michigan and Notre Dame but with both of those teams currently 2 seeds, Michigan there is as good as it's going to get. St. Paul has the lone Minnesota entrant, St. Cloud State.
While you could probably go with this bracket as is and do OK on attendance, I can't help but feel like the committee would make a big flip of the entire Worcester and Albany regions here, putting BC in Worcester and making Quinnipiac the #1 seed in ECAC-hosted Albany. The distance difference between Worcester and Albany is minimal from Hamden, CT, but significant from Boston. With BC and Providence in tow, that regional would likely do very well at the DCU Center.
The only other change I'd maybe consider is moving Michigan Tech to Cincinnati for attendance purposes. But given that Michigan Tech would only be in as an autobid, the only logical move to make this happen - swapping them with UMass Lowell, and having #2 St Cloud face Lowell instead of Michigan Tech - would seem like an awfully harsh card to deal St. Cloud.
So here's my official prediction for this week:
1] QU vs. 4] Robert Morris
2] BU vs. 3] Omaha
1] BC vs. 4] Cornell
2] Providence vs. 3] Denver
1] St. Cloud vs. 4] Michigan Tech
2] Notre Dame vs. 3] Yale
1] North Dakota vs. 4] Lowell
2] Michigan vs. 3] Harvard
This is probably the best you can make attendance this week without messing too much with bracket integrity, so I think this is how it would look.
Based on this field, my predicted Frozen Four would be Boston University, Boston College, Notre Dame, and North Dakota, making for a very star-studded set of games in Tampa.