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NCAA Men's Hockey Bracketology: March 2

Playoff hockey is upon us. What's the tournament picture?

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

This weekend marks the beginning of playoff hockey in Hockey East, with the opening round getting underway. The ECAC playoffs begin as well, along with the AHC tournament. The tournaments out west start to get underway next week. It's an exciting time and the look of the tournament field is really taking shape. Let's take our weekly look at how the field would look if the season ended right now.

AUTOBIDS

Six teams qualify as autobids based on the conference tournaments. Right now, two conferences are only going to end up sending their conference champ, the AHC and the WCHA. If another conference sees a big upset in the tournament, that'll impact the at large bubble.

Here are my projected autobids based on highest ranked team in each conference.

ECAC: #1 Quinnipiac
NCHC: #2 North Dakota
HEA:  #4 Providence
B1G: #6 Michigan
WCHA: #17 Michigan Tech
AHC: #19 Robert Morris

North Dakota and Providence have passed SCSU and BC, respectively, as of last week. With the margins between the top 6 teams so narrow, placement is obviously going to come down to conference tournament performance.

The math is pretty simple for BC - if they win the Hockey East tournament, they will be a 1 seed, and probably at least in the top 3, if not the top 2. If they don't, they'll need to hope Providence bows out a little earlier or against a worse team, or that one of NoDak/SCSU collapse. Getting all the way up to #1 isn't ENTIRELY out of the question but it's pretty unlikely, with playoffstatus calling it a 1% probability.

Setting the rest of the field, here are your at large teams, along with their probability of getting in per playoffstatus.

#5 BC 100%
#7 Denver 99%
#8 Yale 99%
#9 Notre Dame 99%
#10 BU 99%
#11 Harvard 97%
#12 Lowell 91%
#13 Omaha 59%
#14 Penn State 16%

As you can see, there's not too much drama for most teams above the cut line. BC has clinched a spot in the tournament, yaaaay! They share that honor with Quinnipiac and Providence.

Lowell's win over BC last weekend virtually locked them in to the field - it was a huge game. BU is still basically locked in regardless of what happens in their #octofinals adventure this weekend.

Penn State's grip on the final slot at large is tenuous, plus they'd be bumped by any conference tournament upset. Here are your first teams OUT plus their tournament probabilities. Bear in mind, these probabilities include the teams' projected chance of winning their conference tournament.

#15 Minnesota Duluth 38%
#16 Minnesota 31%
#18 Miami 25%
#20 Cornell 7%
#21 Minnesota State 26%
#22 Northeastern 5%

Basically it's Duluth, Minnesota and Miami who have a realistic shot at getting in to the field at large

With the field of 16 for this week set, now we set the match.ups. We start by placing hosts in their respective regionals, but once again there aren't any. Miami and Minnesota remain the likeliest to make it in of the 4 (Holy Cross, RPI/Union).

Placing the #1 seeds in regionals based on geography...

#1 Quinnipiac goes to Worcester
#2 North Dakota goes to St Paul
#3 St Cloud State goes to Cincinnati
#4 Providence goes to Albany

Setting the bracket based on bracket integrity alone (1 v 16, 2 v 15 etc)

WORCESTER
#1 QU vs. #16 Robert Morris
#8 Yale vs. #9 Notre Dame

ALBANY
#4 Providence vs. #13 Omaha
#5 BC vs. #12 Lowell

ST PAUL
#2 North Dakota vs. #15 Michigan Tech
#7 Denver vs. #10 BU

CINCINNATI
#3 St. Cloud State vs. #14 Penn State
#6 Michigan vs. #11 Harvard

So now we have to first avoid in conference matchups and second try to boost attendance in each regional. In our initial bracket, the only in conference matchup is BC vs. Lowell. With three Hockey East teams currently as #3 seeds, the only option for the committee here would be BC vs. Harvard as a 2-3 matchup, so for now we'll slide Harvard to Albany and Lowell out to Cincinnati.

Now we look at attendance.

Worcester is going to need help here. We'll take BU and swap them with Notre Dame, sending the Irish out to St. Paul to face Denver while bringing BU back East to play Yale and be the attendance anchor in Worcester.

With Providence and BC there, Albany should be OK.

The eternal question each week has been would the committee swap QU's entire bracket to Albany and move the Albany bracket to Worcester. On the balance, I have said no each week, but this week I'm changing my mind. With BC, Providence and Harvard in that bracket, and no upstate NY teams in the projected Albany bracket, I think the committee would play the necessary mental gymnastics to move that entire bracket to Worcester, while assuming QU, Yale and BU will send enough fans to Albany to make that a decent turnout.

With so many Eastern teams poised to make the field, making attendance work out west will be harder.

North Dakota passing SCSU is big for location purposes, allowing them to stay closeish to home while dumping SCSU to Cincy. The committee won't flip that - NoDak may well be a better draw even in SCSU's home state, plus it would be a huge price to pay to make ND get on a plane vs. the short jaunt to Minnesota.

Cincy is going to be a bit of an attendance suck no matter what. Michigan is the best case scenario team to have there. Penn State should send some fans as it's not too too bad of a trip. I think the last bit of machination they'll do here is swap Notre Dame and UMass Lowell out west to get ND to Cincinnati, as they should be able to bring fans there, whereas Lowell won't be expected to draw anywhere out west.

Lots of attendance related changes this week. Have you kept up? Here's what I've got now.

ALBANY
#1 Quinnipiac vs. #16 Robert Morris
#8 Yale vs. #10 Boston University

WORCESTER
#4 Providence vs. #13 Nebraska Omaha
#5 Boston College vs. #11 Harvard

ST PAUL
#2 North Dakota vs. #15 Michigan Tech
#7 Denver vs. #12 UMass Lowell

CINCINNATI
#3 St. Cloud State vs. #14 Penn State
#6 Michigan vs. #9 Notre Dame

As I look back over this one more time, my only slight hesitation is #6 vs #9 is not super fair. But the gap between the teams is so tiny that I think the committee would more heavily weigh the attendance aspect. Michigan, ND and Penn State is about as good as it can get for Cinci without Miami in the field.

This is a pretty darn good bracket for attendance purposes. Worcester vs. Albany is still up for debate, but I think this is how it would go.

My projected Frozen Four based on these brackets...

Yale, BC, North Dakota, Notre Dame