The NCAA will announce the men’s hockey tournament field on March 19, and while there’s plenty of hockey left to be played before the bracket is unveiled, the field is starting to take shape.
At least three teams from Minnesota are likely to be in the mix, with a fourth just a few home wins away from joining them.
It’s important to remember that we are not talking about the number that appears next to your team’s name during games or in marketing materials. Those figures are based on polls conducted by USCHO.com and USA Hockey.
The NCAA’s selection committee uses a ranking system based on comparisons between individual teams, a process mimicked to near-perfection by the PairWise rankings.
Again, not the polls.
The committee has yet to deviate from the numbers, so bracket right now would include the following teams:
St. Cloud State
… until we factor in the auto-bids.
Each of the six conferences gets one automatic entry, awarded to the winner of the conference tournaments.
Based on the current rankings, that gives us at least one team that isn’t in the top 16, reducing the field to the top 15 teams in the country.
Suddenly, Bemidji State (24) is back in the mix, a situation that creates problems for Notre Dame.
Boston College (17) is a likely conference tournament winner as well, but the WCHA is the only conference currently guaranteed to send an unranked team. If BC wins Hockey East, that would bump another team out, wheras if Boston University or UMass-Lowell wins things are status quo, but if Notre Dame emerges … you get the picture.
For our purposes, though, in the above chart replace Notre Dame with Bemidji State.
Teams are then grouped by seed, four to a group. In this case, Denver, UMD, Harvard and Minnesota are the No. 1 seeds, WMU, BU, Union and Lowell are the No. 2 seeds, etc.
Those teams are sent to one of four regional sites, with consideration given to avoiding conference matchups within the regionals and creating favorable matchups for the higher seeds.
— The Bulldogs close out the season with a home series against Miami and a road series with Western Michigan. One key storyline to watch in the coming weeks involves North Dakota, a team that is currently firmly on the bubble, and would miss the tournament if it began today. The four regional sites are each hosted by a nearby program, and North Dakota is the host for the West Regional in Fargo. If UND makes it as a No. 4 seed, it’ll be automatically placed in Fargo, making it a desirable opponent for highly ranked UMD.
— UMD makes things a little tricky for the Gophers, who still have games against Wisconsin, Michigan and Michigan State on the schedule. They can’t be placed at the same site as UMD, so they’re probably going to either Providence, Manchester or Cincinnati.
— St. Cloud State heads to Colorado for its final two weeks of regular-season play. No. 1-ranked Denver is … No. 1, while Colorado College has managed to sneak out of Duluth and Grand Forks with wins this season. Barring a collapse, it will probably make it as a No. 3 seed.
— Bemidji State benefits enormously from the WCHA’s new playoff format. Rather than the three-game first round and four-team, single-elimination tournament that their fans have become accustomed to, the WCHA is vacating Xcel Energy Center this year and moving to campus sites. As the league’s regular-season champs, the Beavers will host the league’s worst team (currently Alaska-Anchorage) for a three-game series, followed by a semifinal series against one of the other quarterfinal winners, followed by a single championship game, all on home ice.
— Minnesota State has one more series with Bemidji on tap before the playoffs start, and while it is out of range for an at-large bid, they’ve hung with the Beavers all season in the WCHA. Expect the Mavericks to make a run at the WCHA’s auto-bid.