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2017 NCAA Hockey Tournament Bracketology: December 14

We’ve reached the halfway point - where do things stand?

2016 NCAA Division I Men's Hockey Championships - Semifinals Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The college hockey season is at the unofficial halfway point, with most teams off until midseason tournaments and some teams already done until January. While it’s admittedly too early to take much from Bracketology at this point in the season, this seems like a good time for a check-in on the current state of things and a refresher on how the NCAA field is selected (or an introduction, if you’re new).

The steps:

STEP ONE

Set the 16 team field - six conference champions and 10 at large teams - based on the Pairwise rankings. For the sake of this exercise we’ll predict that the highest-ranked team in each conference will win their conference title.

Who’s in:

Rank - Team (Conference) - Tournament participation probability, per PlayoffStatus.com

1 Minnesota-Duluth (NCHC Winner) - 99+%
2 Penn State (B1G Winner) - 95%
3 Denver (NCHC) - 97%
4 Boston University (Hockey East Winner) - 69%* *(prior to last night’s game)

5 Harvard (ECAC Winner) - 88%
6 Vermont (Hockey East) - 78%
7 Umass-Lowell (Hockey East) - 74%
8 Ohio State (B1G) - 81%

9 Minnesota (B1G) - 69%
10 Western Michigan (NCHC) - 56%
11 North Dakota (NCHC) - 57%
12 Union (ECAC) - 63%

13 Boston College (Hockey East) - 71%
14 Notre Dame (Hockey East) - 39%
18 Bemidji State (WCHA Winner) - 55%
21 Robert Morris (AHC Winner) - 44%

First teams out:

15 Cornell (ECAC) - 49%
16 St Lawrence (ECAC) - 53%
17 St Cloud State (NCHC) - 29%
19 Nebraska Omaha (NCHC) - 26%
20 Quinnipiac (ECAC) - 26%

STEP TWO: Assigning hosts.

In the NCAA tournament format, teams that host regionals automatically get placed in to the regional they host. This year’s regionals are hosted by: Providence (Brown); Fargo (University of North Dakota); Manchester (UNH); Cincinnati (Miami).

Of this group, one team is in - NoDak. The other hosts are probably not even going to be in the picture. But if the season ended today, sharpie in NoDak for the 3 seed in Fargo.

STEP THREE: Assigning the one seeds.

The four one seeds should be assigned geographically if possible, starting with the #1 overall team.

#1 overall Minnesota-Duluth gets assigned to its closest regional - Fargo.
#2 Penn State goes to Providence (technically 15 miles shorter trip than Cincinnati, at about 413 miles).
#3 Denver goes to Cincinnati
#4 BU goes to Manchester

STEP FOUR: Filling the field.

First try to fill the field based on bracket integrity, noting that NoDak must go to Fargo.

FARGO
#1 Minn.-Duluth
#16 Robert Morris

#8 Ohio St
#11 North Dakota

MANCHESTER
#4 BU*
#13 BC*

#5 Harvard*
#12 Union*

PROVIDENCE
#2 Penn St
#15 Bemidji St

#7 Lowell
#9 Minnesota

CINCINNATI
#3 Denver
#14 Notre Dame

#6 Vermont
#10 Western Michigan

STEP FIVE: Fix in-conference matchups

If avoidable, there should be no in-conference matchups in the first round. The bracket spit out here gives us two, both in Manchester- BU-BC and Harvard-Union.

There is no real easy fix here. If at all possible, #1 and #2 should be locked in to play #16 and #15 if those two are auto-bids. But because the other 4 seed would be Hockey East’s Notre Dame, the only way to fix this is to mess with one of those matchups.

First priority is to protect the #1 overall Duluth and keep their matchup with #16 Bobby Mo - sorry Penn State. Because of how things shake out, #4 BU will get to face #15 Bemidji.

#2 Penn St gets #14 Notre Dame, while #3 Denver gets #13 BC.

Now we fix the all-ECAC matchup. There are two possible easy fixes: swap #12 Union with #10 Western Michigan (can’t swap with #11 NoDak because of hosting). Or you could swap #5 Harvard for #6 Vermont. That impacts seeding the least, and puts Vermont in Manchester which would not be bad at all for attendance.

Here’s what you’re left with after those machinations:

FARGO
#1 Minn.-Duluth
#16 Robert Morris

#8 Ohio St
#11 North Dakota

MANCHESTER
#4 BU
#15 Bemidji St

#6 Vermont
#12 Union

PROVIDENCE
#2 Penn St
#14 Notre Dame

#7 Lowell
#9 Minnesota

CINCINNATI
#3 Denver
#13 BC

#5 Harvard
#10 Western Michigan

THE LAST STEP: Maximizing attendance.

Now we have no in-conference matchups, so this bracket is ready to roll. But the committee has the discretion to move teams within seeding bands to maximize attendance while preserving bracket integrity as best as possible. (i.e., #3 overall can be swapped for #4 overall because they’re both 1-seeds within their region; you can’t swap #4 overall for #5 overall).

Where might need to be beefed up?

Fargo will be fine with noDak there. Easy sellout.

Manchester would be fine with BU and Vermont there. Two local teams with good followings.

Providence could be tough. Penn State has a loyal following though time will tell how well they travel for hockey. Lowell brings a good local audience. But there’s no slam dunk here.

Cincinnati is pretty much guaranteed to be a dumpster fire most years... but this year’s field offers some hope to make it work.

The good news is, there are a couple swaps we can make that would help attendance without messing with bracket integrity too much.

You can beef up Cincy’s attendance by giving them THE Ohio State. Move tOSU to Cincy to face Western Michigan, and swap Harvard out to Fargo to face NoDak. That would be a tough pill for Harvard to swallow, but it would also be closer to bracket integrity for that matchup (5 v 11, when ideal is 5 v 12).

Lastly, you can move Notre Dame to Cincy too - by swapping the basically interchangeable ND and Boston College.

That pretty much sets up as good an attendance situation as you can get. Three local-ish teams in Cincy, plus BC added to the lineup in Providence along with Lowell.

The last dilemma is whether you swap Penn State and Denver in this scenario — putting Penn State in Cincy, technically a 12 miles longer trip, but basically equivalent in terms of fan support. Denver’s traveling support would be negligible either way as both locations are long flights.

I think the committee would make the swap, because it would be more in line with bracket integrity - #2 Penn St plays #14 Notre Dame, while #3 Denver plays #13 BC. So we get deja vu with Denver-BC in Providence.

That leaves us with:

FARGO
#1 Minn.-Duluth
#16 Robert Morris

#5 Harvard
#11 North Dakota

MANCHESTER
#4 Boston University
#15 Bemidji St

#6 Vermont
#12 Union

PROVIDENCE
#3 Denver
#13 Boston College

#7 Lowell
#9 Minnesota

CINCINNATI
#2 Penn State
#14 Notre Dame

#8 Ohio State
#10 Western Michigan

This is a good looking bracket. That’s about as good as you can get for attendance in all four regionals given the teams that look likely to qualify - and bracket integrity is not too bad here either. The only real screwjob is BU getting to face #15 Bemidji as the #4 overall seed, but it’s unavoidable.

It would be a fascinating bracket, too - what an interesting matchup ND-Penn State would be, a future Big Ten game. BC-Denver would renew their rivalry, and Lowell-Minnesota would be a great game. Vermont-Union would be a former ECAC rivalry and two surprise packages. Harvard-North Dakota would be an unbelievably high octane game.

Obviously at the end of the day, the field won’t look like this at all - but it’s fun to get the juices flowing and start thinking about playoff hockey!