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Nathan Wells | | February 28, 2019

College hockey: Familiar teams top this week's Frozen Four bracketology

Ben Copeland and his four scores headline hockey's top plays

Don’t look now, but regular season titles were claimed last weekend. NCAA tournament selections cannot be too far away.

2019 championship: Selection show

Three schools won trophies while American International, for the first time in program history, clinched a share of Atlantic Hockey. Minnesota State earned its fourth MacNaughton Cup in five years as WCHA champions with a Friday win over Alaska.

Ohio State, on the ice of rival Michigan, took home its first Big Ten regular season championship. Although the Buckeyes needed a single point — meaning OSU clinched when Saturday’s game officially ended as a tie — Mason Jobst scoring in 3-on-3 overtime for the extra conference point allowed Ohio State to celebrate in style. OSU had not won a regular season title since the inaugural CCHA season in 1971-72.

St. Cloud State repeated as Penrose Cup champions by sweeping Omaha. Nothing could stop the NCHC-winning Huskies except for a snowstorm and the Watonwan County, Minnesota police department. 

For a refresher on how the NCAA selection committee chooses the 16 teams in the tournament, check out our article on everything you need to know about the selection process. Otherwise, let’s get right to the teams in this week’s edition of bracketology where our bracket is made up of the same 16 teams from last week.

This Week’s Bracketology (as of February 27, 2019):
T-1. St. Cloud State (NCHC)
T-1. Massachusetts (Hockey East)
3. Minnesota Duluth
4. Denver
5. Minnesota State (WCHA)
6. Quinnipiac
7. Ohio State (Big Ten)
8. Arizona State
T-9. Providence
T-9. Northeastern
11. Western Michigan
T-12. Clarkson
T-12. Cornell (ECAC)
14. Harvard
15. UMass Lowell
33. American International (Atlantic Hockey)

Since no team can earn an automatic bid before conference tournaments are played, this bracketology assumes the school with the top in-conference winning percentage in each of the six conferences earns the automatic bid. That school is noted with the conference in parenthesis.

Continuing this week’s theme of stability and regular season titles, American International, for a second straight week, bumps Bowling Green from the tournament field as Atlantic Hockey’s leader. The Falcons end up on the wrong side of the bubble by the slimmest of margins against UMass Lowell. Both teams have nearly identical RPIs.

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Three separate ties between teams sharing the same number of comparison wins need to be broken for seeding purposes: the weekly St. Cloud State and Massachusetts tie at the top, Hockey East foes Providence and Northeastern each have 50 comparison wins and are tied for ninth. ECAC mates Clarkson and Cornell are locked in for the final No. 3 seed.

Using RPI as a tiebreaker, the Huskies from the Upper Midwest get placed above Massachusetts. Providence leapfrogs over the Huskies from Massachusetts and Clarkson, who last week lost the tiebreaker to PC, take it and a three seed this week over the Big Red, who drop to a four seed.

Teams by conference:
Hockey East: 4
Atlantic Hockey: 1
Big Ten: 1
Independent: 1

Time to seed.

This Week’s Seeding Groups
No. 1 seeds: St. Cloud State, Massachusetts, Minnesota Duluth, Denver
No. 2 seeds: Minnesota State, Quinnipiac, Ohio State, Arizona State
No. 3 seeds: Providence, Northeastern, Western Michigan, Clarkson
No. 4 seeds: Cornell, Harvard, UMass Lowell, American International

Next we would place the host team of each regional if any made the field. None did this week. Remember that Brown, not Providence, hosts the East Regional in Providence, RI.

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Now we fill out the bracket with the idea of avoiding first-round inter-conference matchups. On a straight 1-16, 2-15, etc. bracket, one inter-conference matchup exists between in-state and University of Massachusetts system rivals Massachusetts and UMass Lowell. To get around this, let’s switch the River Hawks with Harvard.

The Bracket:

Northeast Regional (Manchester, NH):
2. Massachusetts vs. 14. Harvard
7. Ohio State vs. 10. Northeastern

East Regional (Providence, RI):
3. Minnesota Duluth vs. 15. UMass Lowell
6. Quinnipiac vs. 9. Providence

Midwest Regional (Allentown, PA):
4. Denver vs. 13. Cornell
5. Minnesota State vs. 12. Clarkson

West Regional (Fargo, ND): 
1. St. Cloud State vs. 16. American International
8. Arizona State vs. 11. Western Michigan

How did we get here?

We get here by looking out for attendance and having three NCHC teams as No. 1 seeds.

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For several weeks, the No. 1 seeds have been placed by nearest region in order. St. Cloud State, as the overall number 1 seed, gets protected and sent to nearby Fargo. It’s an easy call; especially with West Regional host North Dakota being outside the bubble. Massachusetts, as the overall number 2 seed, gets protected by a potential Providence matchup in Providence by going to Manchester. The distance between Manchester and Providence is minimal for the Minutemen.

After that, it gets complicated. The committee normally doesn’t go out of its way to protect the lower two No. 1 seeds. 

Neither Minnesota Duluth nor Denver are close to either remaining region. Technically while UMD
is closer to the Midwest Region in Allentown than the East Regional in Providence, both are long flights. The same can be said for Denver, whose bracket sets up to have both Cornell and Clarkson while UMD’s bracket has Quinnipiac and UMass Lowell. With a flight being a flight regardless, there have been weeks where it makes sense to place the overall number 3 seed slightly further than the nearest remaining region. This is one. 

Placing Minnesota Duluth in Providence and Denver in Allentown allows for bracket integrity and at the same time helps attendance. The Midwest Region, without host Penn State for boosted attendance, gets some help with Cornell and Clarkson. Both teams are closer drives to Allentown than Providence. At the same time, UMass Lowell and Quinnipiac are within two hours of Providence.

Still, there’s one more move. This might be a week where the committee decides to leave Providence out west and feels good about the East Regional having two teams within driving distance. It’s a tough call. However, it’s one I’m making to switch Providence and Western Michigan to get another western team in Fargo and Providence in Providence. Likely not a move Minnesota Duluth will like, but UMD does get to play a lower seed in the first round. Plus playing Providence in Providence worked for the Bulldogs in 2017.

Who had the biggest changes?

Little changed at the top of our bracket, where the top eight teams remained in the same spots this week. However, Minnesota State nearly was a No. 1 seed. In fact, the Mavericks almost gave us three Minnesota schools in the top four until Tuesday evening when the only scenario to drop the team — Denver and Providence both winning — put the Pioneers .0001 ahead of Minnesota State.

The Friars ended up being the biggest riser of the week, moving up three spots from 12th to 9th after defeating both Massachusetts and Connecticut. Defeating a top team like the Minutemen always helps. In this case, it was enough for PC to be the only team in the top 16 to move up more than one spot.

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On the other side, Cornell and Western Michigan, who lost 8-2 to Colorado College on Saturday, both dropped multiple spots with losses. Cornell’s overtime loss to RPI ended up being extremely costly, dropping the Big Red four spots from a high No. 3 seed to a high No. 4 seed. 

Who missed an opportunity?

Almost every team on the other side of the bubble had an opportunity to get into this week’s bracket or come close with Saturday wins. All were unable. Bowling Green, for the second straight week, tied on Saturday. A win would have put the Falcons in ahead of UMass Lowell.

Notre Dame, with a chance to sweep Minnesota and get back its comparison win against the Gophers, was in the same boat. A win would have moved the team ahead of both Bowling Green and UMass Lowell and into the bracket. Instead, the Fighting Irish lost Saturday 2-1 and sit in 17th.

Penn State’s loss to Wisconsin cost the Nittany Lions a chance to move ahead of Notre Dame in advance of this weekend’s showdown between the two teams in South Bend, Indiana. By far the most intriguing contest, a sweep by either team — a rarity in a season where the seven Big Ten teams have combined for a total of 11 conference sweeps — is needed to get a second Big Ten team in as an at-large next week.

After defeating UMD Friday, a second win by North Dakota would have moved the Fighting Hawks into a tier with UMass Lowell and Bowling Green rather than a tier with Penn State and Notre Dame.

Even UMass Lowell could not take advantage of an opportunity to put distance between itself and the teams outside the bubble with a Saturday win over Merrimack.

Entering the final week or two before conference play begins, we’ll be back next week with another look at the NCAA Tournament and an updated bracket.

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