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Nathan Wells | NCAA.com | March 13, 2019

College hockey bracketology: Conference tournaments start, bubble teams to watch

UConn at the top of hockey plays

College hockey's regular season is officially over, and the wait for conference tournament champions begins in full — all except for Arizona State, who sits at home yet another weekend and watches while fifty-plus teams get a chance to open postseason presents.

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ASU’s situation remains unique as college hockey waits to see whether an independent team will appear in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since Alaska-Anchorage in 1992. Currently the Sun Devils' resume is complete. All Arizona State can do now is get healthy and prepare for more games after a stretch of just two games in six weeks.

Arizona State could be thankful for the position it's in, since not playing means the Sun Devils cannot lose. Several teams around the Sun Devils will lose given the nature of conference tournaments. On the other hand, it’s a frustrating spot since ASU moves up or down based on how other teams perform, with no control. This week the team dropped two spots by simply being idle and missing out on the wildness that comes with conference tournament hockey.

Whether it’s better or worse to be done and waiting like Arizona State, the fact remains more teams will keep ASU company on the sidelines after this weekend. Hockey East and NCHC join the other four conferences who already started postseason play. Of the 14 best-of-three series, three went to a necessary game three while only one series - Army's sweep of Mercyhurst - ended in two games.

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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 this week’s edition of bracketology less than two weeks away from the tournament selection show.

This Week’s Bracketology (as of March 13, 2019):

T-1. St. Cloud State (NCHC)

T-1. Massachusetts (Hockey East)

3. Minnesota State (WCHA)

4. Minnesota Duluth

5. Quinnipiac (ECAC)

6. Ohio State (Big Ten)

7. Denver

8. Northeastern

T-9. Providence

T-9. Arizona State

11. Clarkson

12. Cornell

13. Western Michigan

14. Harvard

15. Notre Dame

33. American International (Atlantic Hockey)

Since no team can earn an automatic bid before the completion of conference tournaments, 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.

That said, as all six conference tournaments will be underway after this weekend, if a school with the top in-conference winning percentage gets eliminated, the next-highest team will assume the role until the tournament is completed. Currently only Atlantic Hockey regular season champion American International would be outside the top 16 teams. AIC this week bumps Bowling Green.

Before we can seed this week’s bracket, two ties between teams sharing the same number of comparison wins need to be broken. Besides the weekly St. Cloud State and Massachusetts tie for the number one spot, Providence and Arizona State are tied for ninth with 50 comparison wins apiece.

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Using RPI as a tiebreaker, St. Cloud State, with the higher RPI, once again gets the number one overall seed from Massachusetts. Providence, meanwhile, takes the ninth spot from the Sun Devils.

Teams By Conference:

ECAC: 4

NCHC: 4

Hockey East: 3

Big Ten: 2

Atlantic Hockey: 1

WCHA: 1

Independent: 1

No teams entered or left the bracket this week. Time to seed.

No. 1 Seeds: St. Cloud State, Massachusetts, Minnesota State, Minnesota Duluth

No. 2 Seeds: Quinnipiac, Ohio State, Denver, Northeastern

No. 3 Seeds: Providence, Arizona State, Clarkson, Cornell

No. 4 Seeds: Western Michigan, Harvard, Notre Dame, American International

The next step is to place the host team of each regional in that regional if any made the field. None did, although Penn State and North Dakota both remain near the bubble. Remember that Brown, not Providence, hosts the East Regional in Providence, RI, so the Friars do not automatically get placed in the East Regional.

Then, we'll fill out the bracket with the idea of avoiding first-round inter-conference matchups. On a straight 1-16, 2-15, etc. bracket, three separate first-round inter-conference matchups occur. For a second straight week, Minnesota Duluth and Western Michigan would face one another in an all-NCHC first round game while Quinnipiac and Cornell would be an all-ECAC matchup. Joining the two is Hockey East schools Northeastern and Providence.

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All three need to be swapped, which creates several moving parts among the No. 3 seeds that takes away bracket integrity. Buckle in for changes and an explanation of the bracket found below.

The Bracket:

Northeast Regional (Manchester, NH):

2. Massachusetts vs 15. Notre Dame

8. Northeastern vs. 11. Clarkson

East Regional (Providence, RI):

4. Minnesota Duluth vs. 14. Harvard

5. Quinnipiac vs. 9. Providence

Midwest Regional (Allentown, PA):

3. Minnesota State vs. 13. Western Michigan

6. Ohio State vs. 12. Cornell

West Regional (Fargo, ND):

1. St. Cloud State vs. 16. American International

7. Denver vs. 10. Arizona State

How did we get here?

The selection committee has choices thanks to three different inter-conference matchups and attendance. In the end, all four No. 3 seeds get moved around.

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First, let’s place the number one seeds into its closest region while protecting the top two overall. St. Cloud State goes to the West Regional in Fargo. Massachusetts, with Providence in the field, is placed in Manchester instead to protect the Minutemen. That leaves Minnesota State to be sent to the Midwest Regional in Allentown, PA while Minnesota Duluth is placed in the East Regional in Providence. Technically both are flights for both teams, but on a true bracket Minnesota State matches up better in Allentown.

Now that all four No. 1 seeds are set, it’s time to get back to making moves to avoid first-round inter-conference matchups. Remember that teams can only swap within seeding groups. For example, although Western Michigan is one spot away from Cornell, who both need to avoid first-round inter-conference matchups, the teams cannot switch with one another as Cornell is a No. 3 seed and Western Michigan is a No. 4 seed.

Switching Western Michigan with Harvard is a simple move both with brackets and attendance. The Broncos were swapped into Manchester last week, however, that fix doesn’t work as well this week as Notre Dame and Western Michigan are two western teams switching eastern regionals.

Unfortunately, moving Quinnipiac or Cornell with the nearest team does not easily solve the issue. Clarkson, another ECAC team, is the No. 3 seed nearest Cornell. That makes Arizona State the closest No. 3 seed for both Quinnipiac-Cornell and Northeastern-Providence and opens the door to switching the entire seeding band around for attendance.

So here goes nothing.

To start, it makes sense to switch Northeastern and Denver to give the Huskies a non-Hockey East opponent and move both schools closer home. Northeastern now does not need to fly.

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It’d be nice to get Providence closer as well. The East Regional needs to swap either Quinnipiac or Cornell anyways. None of the No. 2 seeds are a better fit in Providence than the nearby Bobcats while the hometown Friars would be better than Cornell. Switching the lowest No. 3 seed for the highest No. 3 seed ends up being a blow to bracket integrity, however. It’s a move the committee could justify being a case where Providence both helps attendance and is the only eastern school option. Welcome back this week to Providence, Friars.

All the first-round inter-conference matchups are undone. The bracket works yet could use a couple more tweaks for attendance. Allentown in particular, being without host Penn State and no one within 300 miles, needs some help. Let’s switch Cornell and Clarkson to help out the Midwest Region.

Lastly, it would make sense to swap Clarkson and Arizona State in order to keep the Golden Knights within driving distance of Potsdam and reunite a bit of bracket integrity with the Denver-Arizona State matchup; even if that matchup happens in Fargo rather than Manchester.

Bubble watch:

A total of 40 teams remain who can earn an automatic bid. Atlantic Hockey, ECAC, Hockey East and NCHC have eight quarter finalists facing off this weekend. The Big Ten and WCHA contest semifinals with four teams apiece. 

Atlantic Hockey: Robert Morris, Niagara and Army each won first-round series to join AIC, Bentley, Air Force, Sacred Heart and RIT in a best-of-three series.

Big Ten: Notre Dame, Minnesota and Penn State each won home quarterfinal best-of-three series. Ohio State had a bye and will host PSU in a single semifinal game Sunday afternoon. Notre Dame hosts the Gophers in the other semifinal Saturday night.

ECAC: Dartmouth, Yale, Union and Brown each won first-round series to join Quinnipiac, Cornell, Clarkson and Harvard in a quarterfinal best-of-three round.

Hockey East: Only the top eight teams during the regular season advance to this weekend’s quarterfinal best-of-three series. Massachusetts hosts New Hampshire, Providence hosts Boston College, Northeastern hosts Maine, and UMass Lowell hosts Boston University.

NCHC: All eight teams play quarterfinal best-of-three series. St. Cloud State hosts Miami, Minnesota Duluth hosts Omaha, Western Michigan hosts Colorado College, and Denver hosts North Dakota. 

WCHA: Minnesota State, Northern Michigan, Bowling Green and Lake Superior State each advanced to the semifinals. Minnesota State hosts the Lakers while Northern Michigan hosts the Falcons in a best-of-three round.

Currently, the bubble sits at 15 although a few conferences have an opportunity to see an automatic bid taken away. Both the WCHA and Big Ten could play spoiler to teams on the bubble if Ohio State or Minnesota State loses. The winner of UMass Lowell-Boston University in Hockey East and North Dakota if the Fighting Hawks defeat Denver are also teams to watch.

Who can secure its position:

Everyone outside the top 10 still playing essentially needs to win to help its stock and guarantee a NCAA Tournament bid. Only a handful teams outside the bubble - Bowling Green, Union and North Dakota - hold onto at-large dreams that are not a small statistical chance. Penn State’s Game 1 loss to Wisconsin and Big Ten teams having, at most, two games remaining, hurts the Nittany Lions’ at-large ability. Even Notre Dame likely needs to defeat Minnesota at minimum to not get knocked off the bubble.

The reason for limited movement has to do with the committee looking at an entire season’s body of work. Unfortunately for teams who may currently be hot or turned things around in the second half, the committee does not add an extra emphasis on the last 10 games. Every game counts the same whether it happens in October or March.

Our bracket will come into better focus after this weekend. Next week we’ll further discuss where the at-large bubble will sit and have another updated NCAA Tournament bracket.

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