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Conference Playoffs Clear Up NCAA Tournament Picture

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Matt Christians

Next weekend, all six conferences will hold their conference playoff championships and we'll officially know which 16 teams are in the NCAA Tournament. But this past penultimate weekend of the season cleared up a lot of questions about the NCAA field heading into the final weekend of the season.

Here's what the Pairwise Rankings--the sole factor in deciding the NCAA Tournament field--look like as of today.

And here's what we know so far:

-The top 9 are safe. North Dakota, Quinnipiac, St. Cloud State, Providence, Boston College, Denver, Michigan, UMass Lowell, and Boston University will all be in the tournament regardless of what happens next weekend. Yale, who doesn't play next weekend, has a 98.8% chance of making the Tourney. Basically, it would take a perfect storm to keep them out.  Harvard and Notre Dame are in very good shape--they can't drop below 13th in the Pairwise-- but could get bumped out if things get seriously crazy next weekend with automatic bids in Hockey East(Northeastern), the Big Ten(anybody but Michigan), ECAC(St. Lawrence or Dartmouth), and the NCHC(Minnesota Duluth).

-Everybody 17th or below in the Pairwise needs to earn an automatic bid to get into the NCAA Tournament. That list includes Big Ten champion Minnesota, WCHA co-champion Minnesota State--potentially the first MacNaughton Cup winner to miss the big tournament since the infamous 1994 Colorado College team, and Nebraska-Omaha, whose season is now officially over despite being 14-3-1 and third in the Pairwise to start 2016 before a disastrous second half of the year.

-That leaves four teams very squarely on the bubble heading into next weekend: Northeastern, Michigan Tech, Minnesota Duluth, and Cornell. The first three are still alive in their respective conference tournaments and control their own destiny. Cornell will have to wait at home and hope a number of results fall their way to sneak into the tournament--not unlike eventual national champion Providence last season.

Northeastern and Minnesota Duluth both seem to be in pretty good shape with one win next weekend--assuming no major craziness elsewhere around the country. Duluth has the added bonus of a third place game to potentially pick up the extra win even if they were to lose on Friday. That came into play two years ago when North Dakota won a must-win third place game against a Western Michigan team that was already halfway back to Kalamazoo to sneak into the NCAA Tournament.

Michigan Tech can make the field if they go 1-1 next weekend, but it appears they'll need quite a bit of help to do that.

-There are about a billion possible scenarios still out there. If you want to play around with some of them to see what happen, but College Hockey NewsTech Hockey Guide and USCHO have predictors where you can plug in various results and see how the final Pairwise table shakes out with each. Jim Dahl's CollegeHockeyRanked is another great resource for figuring out how all the numbers will shake out.