Another weekend of games is in the books. We're just two weeks away from the playoffs in most leagues, and one month away from Selection Sunday. The NCAA tournament field is starting to take shape, but there is still plenty of hockey to be played and still a lot of movement to be done as we work towards the final NCAA bracket. Here's what we think the tournament field would look like as of today.
First, these are the teams that would be in the field as of today, with automatic qualifiers determined by the first-place team in each conference, by winning percentage.
1. Minnesota State [WCHA Autobid]
2. North Dakota [NCHC Autobid]
3. Minnesota Duluth
5. Michigan Tech
7. Boston University [Hockey East Autobid]
9. Boston College
10. Quinnipiac [ECAC Autobid]
11. Minnesota [Big Ten Autobid]
13. Bowling Green
14. St. Cloud State
16. Robert Morris [Atlantic Hockey Autobid]
The only change to the field this week from last week is Harvard dropping outside the bubble, while St. Cloud State moves inside the tournament bubble.
That field gives us a bracket that looks like this:
Many people ask what the point of doing Bracketology is when there are still games to be played. That's a fair question because obviously the field will change a thousand times between now and March 22nd. But this week highlights why the exercise can be so interesting with some of the potential issues and storylines that may arise.
The first thing that sticks out is that we have to break the cardinal rule of no intra-conference match-ups in the first round with Minnesota Duluth facing off against St. Cloud State. Two teams from the same conference can meet in the first round of the tournament if five or more teams from the conference are in the field(The NCHC currently has six). But even with enough teams in the field, the selection committee generally tries to avoid those match-ups unless it can't be done without changing the seed of a team.
This week, there are three NCHC teams that #1 seeds, and St. Cloud State is a #4 seed. The simple solution would be to have St. Cloud State draw the fourth remaining #1 seed. The problem with that is that Minnesota State is the top overall seed. Matching them up against St. Cloud State means instead of drawing the lowest seed in the tournament--#23 Robert Morris(or an even lower-ranked Atlantic Hockey team), they draw the 14th-ranked team in the country.
So it comes down to a matter of prioritizing philosophies. Is it more important to avoid an intra-conference first round match-up, or to protect the top overall seed? In this case, I think the gap between Robert Morris and St. Cloud State is too big to justify making that switch.
The big change I made to a straight 1-16 bracket is moving BC-Quinnipiac to the East and Denver-Minnesota to the West, which just makes more sense from a travel perspective. The other possibility if the Committee wanted to be extreme about cutting travels costs is swap the teams in the Northeast and Midwest Regionals, keeping Miami, Bowling Green and Boston College closer to home, while everybody else is on a plane slightly longer.