Another regular season of college hockey is in the books, and this one ended with a crazy finish. After coming into the final weekend of the season as a near-lock for the NCAA Tournament, Minnesota became the highest-ranked team to miss the NCAA Tournament after four lower-ranked teams claimed their league’s automatic berth by winning their conference championship, and the single possible scenario out of the final 64 scenarios happened to edge Minnesota Duluth .0001 in front of them in the Pairwise Rankings.
So now we know what teams will be playing next weekend. It’s just a matter of figuring out where they will go.
Before we get started, let me just say that this year was one of the hardest to predict in recent memory. There is no really clear-cut solution to this. Even some other years, there’s maybe two or three different directions could go. This year, there are tons of different directions they could go. Figuring this out was a mess. A lot of people are going to take perfectly logical guesses that will end up being horribly wrong.
Here are the seeds for the tournament:
- St. Cloud State(At-large)
2. Notre Dame(Big Ten autobid)
4. Ohio State(At-large)
5. Denver(NCHC autobid)
6. Minnesota State(At-large)
11. Penn State(At-large)
12. Minnesota Duluth(At-large)
13.Boston University(Hockey East autobid)
14. Princeton(ECAC autobid)
15. Michigan Tech(WCHA autobid)
16. Air Force(Atlantic Hockey autobid)
There’s a couple givens that we’ll have to work around in our bracket. St. Cloud State is the number one overall seed, so they’ll get the most favorable regional, which in this case is obviously Sioux Falls for them. With North Dakota out of the tournament, there is no worry of an intra-conference match-up. They will draw the #16 team in the field which is Air Force.
The only regional host we have to consider is Penn State, who will be the third seed in Allentown.
Step one is usually to figure out where the four number one seeds will go. As I chronicled last week, figuring that out is kind of a mess, with two teams securely in the Midwest, and zero regionals in the geographic Midwest. Usually, you’d expect Notre Dame or Ohio State in the Midwest regional, but Allentown is over 440 miles away for both, while it is just 186 miles away from Cornell. It’s a tough choice, and one that I think will mess a lot of people up.
I think it makes sense for the NCAA to try to put #14 Princeton in Allentown, since Princeton is about an hour away. Normally, you’d match them up with the #3 overall for bracket integrity, but in this case, that is Cornell, who is a bus ride away from Allentown, but also an intra-conference match-up with Princeton, so that can’t happen.
The next logical choice would be Notre Dame. The Irish are #2 overall, so it makes sense to give them the lower-ranked auto qualifier in the first round.
The next number one seed to place is Cornell, who is about the same distance from both Worcester and Bridgeport. The committee has put Cornell in Worcester before, but in this case, it makes more sense for bracket integrity to match up #4 Ohio State with the toughest four seed, which is #13 Boston University. With no compelling other factors, it would seem to make the most sense to put BU in the Worcester regional. That leaves Cornell and Michigan Tech in Bridgeport.
It will be an interesting test to see how the committee reacts. There’s no great reasons to put a number one seed in any of those three regionals, but some good arguments for putting four seeds in certain places. Will the committee make those moves to try to boost attendance, even if it puts the number one seeds at a little more of a disadvantage? It could go either way.
That leaves the bottom half of each regional to figure out. If we go by straight 8/9, 7/10, etc. bracket integrity, we have an intra-conference match-up at 5/12 between Denver and Minnesota Duluth, so that will have to be switched up somewhere.
Switching #5 Denver and #6 Minnesota State is a possibility I’ve seen a lot. I’m not a huge fan of that because not only are you giving Denver a tougher match-up by seed, they’re also playing a quasi-road game against Penn State. But I’m not sure I see a better possibility.
The purest bracket integrity would put 8 Michigan/9 Northeastern in Sioux Falls, 5 Denver/11 PSU in Allentown, 6 Minnesota State/12 UMD in Bridgeport, and 7 Providence/10 Clarkson in Worcester. All those would be fine as is. The only decision would be moving Minnesota State/Minnesota Duluth to Sioux Falls. Again, that could go either way. Mankato is half the distance from Sioux Falls as the team that is hosting the regional. There’s an argument to be made that you’re not protecting number one overall by giving them the second-best two seed, but UMD is a weaker three seed, so it kind of evens out. I think they’ll make the switch.
That leaves us a final guess that looks like this.
West Regional, Sioux Falls, SD
- St. Cloud State vs. 4. Air Force
- Minnesota State 3. Minnesota Duluth
“Midwest” Regional, Allentown, PA
- Notre Dame 4. Princeton
- Denver 3. Penn State
East Regional, Bridgeport, CT
- Cornell 4. Michigan Tech
- Michigan 3. Northeastern
Northeast Regional, Worcester, MA
- Ohio State 4. Boston University
- Providence 3. Clarkson
My confidence level in this guess is pretty minimal, but I think it more or less makes sense. If nothing else, it will be an extremely interesting selection show tomorrow morning, and no matter how it goes, we’ll break down why the committee chose to go the way they go.