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Taking a Guess at the Men’s NCAA Tournament Field: February 1st Edition

COLLEGE HOCKEY: FEB 10 Colorado College at North Dakota
These guys are probably fine.

We’re now down to just 50 days until the field is supposed to be selected for the 2021 men’s ice hockey tournament. Obviously it’s a weird year and the Pairwise can’t be used with almost zero interconference data points. But if this tournament is going to be played—and even if this year feels like nothing like a normal year and will probably forever carry an asterisk, I still hope it is played for the players’ sake—somebody is somehow going to have make a decision eventually.

To this point there has been zero guidance given both to fans and even to the teams themselves about the process that will be used to select teams.

There also doesn’t really seem to be any sort of big hurry to get it settled either. From the above-linked article:

“I was on an American Hockey Coaches Association call yesterday and there was some discussion but there was no certainty on that topic from the NCAA,” Berry said. “There was supposed to be somebody from the NCAA on the call but they weren’t, so obviously we didn’t get any clarity on that side of it.

In the NCAA’s defense, maybe they got a hot tip that another player from Alaska Fairbanks who had already graduated had incorrectly filled out paperwork showing he was progressing towards graduation three years prior.

Anyway, all of this confusion and uncertainty is terrible for our sport, but also a tremendous content opportunity.

Other people have taken stabs at trying to put together a system to select teams in a fair and orderly manner. But screw that. If we’re just making things up as we go along, I decided to go the whole way and just pick who I think is the most deserving based on what I’ve seen this year.

About the only thing that felt normal about this process of selecting 16 teams to compete for the national tournament is that 12 teams once again feels more than sufficient. I don’t have any autobids in here, though all six conferences are represented in some shape.

I’ve split my rankings up into three tiers:

Tier I: Yes

These are the teams that should for sure for sure be in the tournament. I don’t think there’s much to argue with this list. If they’re not in, what are we even doing?

  1. Minnesota
  2. North Dakota
  3. Boston College
  4. Minnesota State
  5. Minnesota Duluth
  6. UMass

I tend to go back-and-forth on who is #1 between Minnesota and North Dakota depending on who I saw last. Minnesota has been a little more impressive, but I think North Dakota’s schedule has been a little tougher. Minnesota is the more consistent team, but North Dakota’s best might be better. I haven’t seen as much of BC, but it’s pretty clear that they’re in that class as well.

Minnesota State is cruising through the WCHA, especially in their league games. They aren’t getting any ‘measuring stick’ games out of conference this year, but given their history, I think it’s safe to say they belong.

UMD and UMass are closer to the next tier down, but if one-third of the teams playing this year are getting into the tournament, I don’t think there is any question they are in the top third.

Tier II: Probably

These teams, barring a collapse, should be pretty safe to make the tournament.

7. St. Cloud State

8. Omaha

9. Bowling Green

10. Northeastern

11. Boston University

St. Cloud State and Omaha are pretty close to being in the first tier. Boston University and Northeastern could potentially be in the first tier as well but they just don’t have much of a track record yet. Northeastern still needs two games to be eligible for the tournament, BU still needs another seven.

Bowling Green is a bit of a unicorn this year in that they’ve played a lot of games(20 so far) and actually have a decent non-conference track record to look at. They have sweeps of Robert Morris and Quinnipiac, three of four on the road. It’s going to be tough to exclude them.

Tier III: Fight!

These last five spots are the really tough choices, and I’m not sure we have enough information yet to make a decision. They all have some work to do down the stretch and I wouldn’t be upset either way if any of these teams were in or out of the tournament.

12. One of Michigan or Wisconsin

Both are young, very talented teams with similar resumes. Wisconsin has the slightly better record—especially if you discount to the extent of your choosing Wisconsin’s two losses to Arizona State when the Badgers were full-up Covided—but Michigan had a sweep(-ish, I still don’t really understand how overtime works anymore) at Wisconsin and had started to show a little more consistency in the two weekends prior to their recent shutdown.

13. One of UConn or Providence

Both teams have good, not great records in Hockey East. My gut feeling would be to lean towards Providence, although UConn won the only meeting between the two so far.

14. One of American International or Robert Morris

American International has a terrific record, and having seen them play a couple games, I think they’re pretty good. But their level of competition has been really bad, and in their only real opportunity to showcase themselves, they got swept pretty handily by Quinnipiac.

Robert Morris has played a slightly tougher schedule, and come away with a slightly worse record than AIC for it. Unfortunately, they don’t play at all this year due to Atlantic Hockey’s scheduling.

15. One of Clarkson or Quinnipiac

Do we really have to pick an ECAC team? It feels weird if we don’t, but they’ve only got four teams this year, all with average records and the leader among them in conference play went 3-2-0 against Atlantic Hockey and gave Niagara one of their two wins on the season. It’s an interesting decision if nobody can pull away from the pack in that group. Every conference should be represented, but their conference, for this season, didn’t meet the usual qualifications of at least six teams.

16. One of Denver or You Know, I Think We’re Good Here

Denver is going to be an interesting case. They’ve got a sub-.500 record although they’ve played a really tough schedule. Seven of their nine losses are to teams that I consider to be in the top-8 nationally. They pass the eyeball test as a tournament team to me. I’d take them in a game against any of the other teams listed in this group. But could it be justified with their record? The other factor here is that the Pioneers are hosts of the West Regional this year, and there is a perfect excuse to ignore the Wisconsin Rule about teams with losing records being ineligible. Maybe the financial aspect means less if they can’t sell tickets anyway, but again, who knows?