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Picking the Men’s Tournament Field: February 8th Edition

COLLEGE HOCKEY: NOV 26 Mercyhurst at Wisconsin
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Photo by Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Here’s where we were the last time with last week’s tournament watch. We’re now another week closer to the tournament. Let’s check in to see how things are going this week:

Their everlasting devotion to Bridgeport, Connecticut is incredible. Not admirable, but incredible.

Let’s pick some teams!

Tier I: Solid

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

Most notable of this bunch is probably Minnesota State, who solidified their spot with a dominating sweep of likely the only tourney contender they’ll play during the regular season. They can’t afford too many losses with the rest of their schedule, but that also isn’t likely to be a concern.

UMass is under a pause—including no practices— due to elevated Covid risk at their campus for a minimum of two weeks. Their resume as it stands is probably good enough to get into the tournament, but it remains to be seen how much that layoff late in the season will affect them coming back.

Tier II: Probably

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

6. Minnesota

I struggled with how much to drop Minnesota after their disaster of a weekend at home against Wisconsin. On one hand, it’s just a single weekend. On the other, there aren’t that many weekends this season, so each one takes on a little more importance. And also, it was really, really bad.

I suspect the Gophers will get things turned around and be fine. But their wins over Arizona State don’t move the needle much, and a lot of the shine of their sweep over Ohio State was taken off after Notre Dame blew out the Buckeyes even worse. Suddenly, their second half of the season isn’t looking that impressive, and their next series against Notre Dame looks very important in changing that narrative.

7. St. Cloud State

Taking an overtime loss at home—and again I, nor anyone else it seems, understands how much an OT loss counts for anymore—to Western Michigan is not ideal. Though if we’re applying the eye test, it’s worth considering St. Cloud State had this goal disallowed in the one-goal loss. For whatever reason, Western Michigan has been a tough match-up for St. Cloud State this year. Holding serve at Miami next weekend will be an important test for them.

8. Boston University

The most important thing for the Terriers right now is to just play some games. They got two in last weekend—a split with Boston College—which gets them to eight of the 13 they need. They look good, they just need to be eligible.

9. Wisconsin

The Badgers are the big movers this week, pushing from the bubble to solidly in the tournament after a very impressive sweep at Minnesota. They’ve got a huge series at Michigan this weekend which should have a major impact on the tourney field. But this past weekend probably puts Wisconsin in a position where a series split is a victory for them.

10. UConn

UConn was the other team that really helped themselves this past weekend with a very convincing 4-1 win over Northeastern. There are going to be a lot of Hockey East teams clustered around the bubble, and getting these big head-to-head wins will likely be key in separating them.

11. Omaha

Omaha held steady, managing an OT win on the road at Denver, but falls a little here due to the upward movement of BU, Wisconsin, and UConn.

Tier III: Maybe

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. Bowling Green

Bowling Green got swept on the road by a very good team, which could happen to anyone. But with not many opportunities for quality wins, the Falcons are going to need to be near-perfect in their remaining stretch of games

13. Northeastern

Northeastern took a loss and got outplayed pretty badly by UConn and then their Tuesday game against UMass got nixed due to UMass’ shutdown. I like the team, but they’re probably the fifth or sixth choice out of Hockey East, which is a precarious position

14. Michigan

Michigan is set to come off their two-week pause with a big series against Wisconsin that is still on as far as I’ve heard. Michigan was starting to play really good hockey before their shutdown and probably could have used those three games that were postponed/cancelled to help their record.

15. Providence

Pretty interchangeable with Northeastern and UConn. A split with Merrimack last weekend doesn’t help their case, especially when there are a lot of other Hockey East teams with good arguments for a spot.

16. Quinnipiac

Quinnipiac is starting to space itself from the other three ECAC teams, but their upward mobility is a bit hampered by the fact that they got swept at home by Bowling Green earlier in the season, and with a shortened season, it’s difficult to come up with a preponderance of evidence to outweigh that result.

17. American International or Robert Morris

Both of these continued rolling through teams they should beat. Again, Robert Morris is another team kind of blocked by being swept by Bowling Green. Same for American International, who was swept by Quinnipiac. I don’t think there’s a way for either team to get high enough that they’d get a bid without earning the league’s autobid.

Tier IV: Outside

These are the teams on the outside looking in.

18. Denver

Held steady with a split against Omaha, which isn’t a bad result, but they need to make up some ground and are running out of time to do it. They’ll have a big opportunity next weekend at North Dakota, but are far enough back that a split probably isn’t enough to change much.

19. Bemidji State

The Beavers began to make a compelling argument for themselves with three straight wins over Bowling Green and a 4-1 win over Minnesota State. That momentum was slowed a bit by an overtime loss to Ferris State, but they’ve got a couple opportunities for really quality wins down the stretch and could be a factor, especially if a couple of the Tier III teams falter down the stretch.