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Nathan Wells | NCAA.com | March 8, 2019

College hockey bracketology: Minnesota teams dominate the No. 1-seed line

A Primeau save and a Farabee goal headline hockey's top plays

What a year for the Land of 10,000 Lakes as the regular season winds down and playoffs begin.

St. Cloud State continues to be on pace to do something no other school has since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 16 teams in 2003. Entering the final week of the NCHC regular season, the Huskies can earn the overall number one seed for a second straight season. The closest any school has come to the feat is Minnesota (2007, 2014) claiming the overall No. 1 seed after being the overall No. 2 seed.

Frozen Four 2019: Tickets | Champ Info | Schedule 

It’s not just the Huskies on top, however. Three different schools from Minnesota, for the first time in this season’s NCAA.com bracketology, would be number one seeds if the season ended today. (Note: It doesn’t.) MacNaughton Cup champion Minnesota State joined SCSU and defending national champion Minnesota Duluth among the top four seeds. All three schools swept their opponents last weekend.

Even the Minnesota schools outside the bubble played well. The Gophers swept Arizona State, ending the regular season with wins of its last six games. Bemidji State was the team swept by Minnesota State, but has otherwise only lost once since January 26th.

This weekend will be another with an all-Minnesota matchup as the Huskies and Bulldogs play one another in a battle of No. 1 seeds.

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.

This Week’s Bracketology (as of March 6, 2019):

T-1. St. Cloud State (NCHC)
T-1. Massachusetts (Hockey East)
3. Minnesota Duluth
4. Minnesota State (WCHA)
5. Quinnipiac (ECAC)
6. Denver
7. Ohio State (Big Ten)
8. Arizona State
T-9. Providence
T-9. Clarkson
11. Northeastern
12. Cornell
13. Harvard
14. Western Michigan
15. Notre Dame
16. Penn State
17. Bowling Green
32. 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.

HOCKEY EAST TOURNAMENT: Scores, schedule, seeds

At this point of the year, the schools in parenthesis end up holding hardware. All are in the top 15 except American International, Atlantic Hockey regular season champions for the first time in school history. AIC bumps Penn State.

The Yellow Jackets were joined by Massachusetts, winning its first-ever Hockey East regular season title, and Cornell and Quinnipiac sharing the ECAC crown. Ohio State, Minnesota State and St. Cloud State each clinched last week.

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Before we can seed this week’s bracket, two ties between teams sharing the same number of comparison wins need to be broken. St. Cloud State and Massachusetts continue to be tied at the top. Providence and Clarkson are also tied for the ninth seed.

Using RPI as a tiebreaker, St. Cloud State, with the higher RPI, gets the No. 1 overall seed from Massachusetts. By the same reasoning, Providence takes the ninth spot from the Golden Knights.

Teams By conference:

ECAC: 4
NCHC: 4
Hockey East: 3
Big Ten: 2
Atlantic Hockey: 1
WCHA: 1
Independent: 1

In this week: Notre Dame
Out: UMass Lowell

Time to seed.

This Week’s Seeding Groups

No. 1 seeds: St. Cloud State, Massachusetts, Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota State
No. 2 seeds: Quinnipiac, Denver Ohio State, Arizona State
No. 3 seeds: Providence, Clarkson, Northeastern, Cornell
No. 4 seeds: Harvard, Western Michigan, Notre Dame, American International

Step 2 is to place the host team of each regional if any made the field. Penn State being the first team out means none did this week. Remember that Brown, not Providence, hosts the East Regional in Providence, Rhode Island, so the Friars do not automatically get placed in the East Regional.

Step 3 is to fill out the bracket with the idea of avoiding first-round intra-conference matchups. On a straight 1-16, 2-15, etc. bracket, two such matchups exist. First, ECAC co-champions Quinnipiac and Cornell would face off against one another. Let’s switch Cornell and Northeastern with one another to get around the problem.

While Harvard is the next team below, neither the Crimson nor Western Michigan would be an option to swap with Cornell. Teams can only be switched within the same seeding group. Cornell couldn’t be switched with Harvard anyway because Harvard, being another ECAC team, wouldn’t solve the issue.

Second, an all-NCHC matchup between Minnesota Duluth and Western Michigan needs to be changed. The Broncos can only switch with Notre Dame and Harvard in its seeding group as swapping WMU or AIC would mean Western Michigan still faces an NCHC team. This ends up being the committee’s first of several difficult decisions as both would make sense.

Much is up for debate this week. Without further adieu, here is this week’s bracket. The full result and rationale can be found below.

The Bracket:

Northeast Regional (Manchester, NH):
2. Massachusetts vs. 14. Western Michigan
7. Ohio State vs. 10. Clarkson

East Regional (Providence, RI):
4. Minnesota State vs. 13. Harvard
5. Quinnipiac vs. 11. Northeastern

Midwest Regional (Allentown, PA):
3. Minnesota Duluth vs. 15. Notre Dame
6. Denver vs. 12. Cornell

West Regional (Fargo, ND): 
1. St. Cloud State vs. 16. American International
8. Arizona State vs. 9. Providence College

These 3 teams clinched conference championships in weekend games

How did we get here?

A few things might stand out with this week’s bracket. Massachusetts faces a higher seed. Providence is not in Providence. Minnesota State is in Providence instead of UMD. 

All came from difficult decisions in a week where much can be interpreted. To begin, let’s go back to switching Western Michigan with either Notre Dame or Harvard. If Minnesota Duluth gets placed in its nearest regional, the Midwest Regional in Allentown, one which would also feature Cornell to bring attendance, it makes more sense to swap in Notre Dame and leave Harvard for the nearby East Regional.

Normally, Massachusetts, as the No. 2 overall seed, gets protected, but the difference between Massachusetts facing either Notre Dame or Western Michigan is minimal enough to where the committee can justify the move. It’d be a different story if Western Michigan were a team that won an automatic bid. As it stands, the Minutemen continue to face a western team in a regional that is near its home. That seems like a good deal.

Doing so also creates an East Regional where three of four teams are within two hours of Providence. If there’s a week for the committee to not worry about attendance in Providence without the Friars, this is that week. Switching PC to Providence from Fargo would mark a major move, one that is more difficult in a week where all four No. 3 seeds are eastern schools.

The other option — switching Western Michigan and Harvard — would create a couple scenarios for the committee. Since both Minnesota schools need to fly to the Eastern time zone, either would make sense in Providence and Allentown. 

HOCKEY EAST TOURNAMENT: Scores, schedule, seeds and more

Putting UMD in Providence would allow the same three Eastern schools to raise attendance, but comes at the expense of placing the third overall seed in a region with nearby teams who are higher seeds than a straight 1-16, 2-15, etc. bracket would offer. 

Putting Minnesota State in Providence to face Western Michigan creates a scenario where PC likely needs to be switched with Northeastern for attendance purposes. While it would help Providence, such a move would come at the expense of bracket integrity, would not help a West Regional banking on St. Cloud and North Dakota fans who already bought tickets, and would still rely on one matchup for attendance.

Instead, swapping Western Michigan with Notre Dame ends up creating the best solution from this week’s tough decisions. Not every team will be happy. Ending up with a national championship rematch as a first round matchup comes as a bonus.

Who changed the most?

Besides the aforementioned Minnesota State getting a No. 1 seed and Notre Dame getting back on the right side of the bubble, Clarkson moved up a couple spots after a win over Colgate and a comeback tie against Cornell that cost the Big Red big time. The Golden Knights pulled the goalie and scored in the final minute of regulation. Still, Cornell moved up a spot despite falling 43 seconds short of an outright ECAC title. 

Quinnipiac also moved up a spot with a weekend sweep to claim its share of the Cleary Cup. 

Western Michigan and UMass Lowell each fell three spots. It’s the second straight week the Broncos, who lost five of their last seven games, fell as much after being a No. 2 seed. Unfortunately for the River Hawks, the loss and tie to New Hampshire moved UMass Lowell outside the bubble. 

Denver, holding on to a No. 1 seed last week by the slimmest of margins, dropped slightly by tying Omaha. Still, it was enough to fall two spots behind Minnesota State and Quinnipiac.

Who missed an opportunity?

As the weeks remaining before tournament selection get lower and lower, so do the number of teams who still have an opportunity to make the NCAA tournament without winning an automatic bid. At this point, a couple teams inside the top 20 need to win an automatic bid or get a lot of help.

Notre Dame moved into the top 15, but a win Saturday against Penn State would have put the Fighting Irish past Western Michigan. It’s not as big of jump or missed opportunity as the Nittany Lions had, however. Midway through the second period of Friday’s game, Penn State led 4-1. If PSU held on to win and Saturday’s result stayed the same, Penn State would be 14 and inside the bubble.

TOURNEY TIME: Your guide to every regular season champion ahead of conference tournaments

However, the biggest missed opportunity goes to Bowling Green. The Falcons, who were 13-3-3 at the midway point of the season and in good position to end a nearly 30-year NCAA tournament drought, lost 4-2 Friday to Alabama Huntsville after the Chargers came back from a 1-0 third-period deficit. With Notre Dame and Penn State splitting, a Bowling Green sweep would have been the difference between 14th -- a spot that allows the safety of another conference having a team steal an automatic bid -- and 17th -- a spot that requires advancing a couple rounds in the WCHA postseason.

Starting next week, we’ll begin looking at teams that can win automatic bids and where the elusive at-large bubble will sit. Don’t worry, we’ll also have another updated NCAA tournament bracket.

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