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Nathan Wells | NCAA.com | March 20, 2019

College hockey bracketology: Final push in the last weekend before tournament selections

UConn at the top of hockey plays

After a weekend of conference tournament upheaval, one final push remains for teams to make the NCAA tournament before selections are announced on Sunday. 

Several upsets threw a wrench in the bracket. Some outside teams remain with a chance to earn an automatic bid and brought an end to tournament dreams for others. Colorado College, delayed by winter weather, defeated Western Michigan in three games. Robert Morris and Niagara advanced to Atlantic Hockey’s final weekend by upsetting Bentley and Air Force, respectively.

Penn State, needing an overtime winner to advance a week ago, made sure there was no doubt dispatching Big Ten regular season champion Ohio State. Both Boston University and Boston College came through in three games. The Terriers ended UMass Lowell’s season. BC, meanwhile, took down Hockey East runner-up Providence, putting the Friars in a precarious position of not playing and needing some help this weekend. 

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In the ECAC, eighth-seed Brown swept top seed Quinnipiac in two games to move on to Lake Placid. Trailing 2-0 entering Saturday’s third period, the Bears scored four times in a 12 minute span to keep Cinderella at the ball for at least a few more days.

Still, what’s good for Brown likely isn’t for Providence, or another ECAC team on the at-large bid bubble if the Bears, or any schools whose only path to the NCAA tournament involves winning an automatic bid, accomplishes the feat.

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 edition of bracketology AKA the final one before all six automatic bids get earned Saturday and the bracket announced this Sunday at 7 pm ET on ESPNU. 

This Week’s Bracketology (as of March 20, 2019): 

T-1. St. Cloud State (NCHC)

T-1. Massachusetts (Hockey East)

3. Minnesota State (WCHA)

4. Minnesota Duluth

5. Quinnipiac

6. Denver

7. Ohio State

8. Northeastern

9. Clarkson

10. Arizona State

11. Cornell (ECAC)

12. Harvard

13. Bowling Green (IN)

T-14. Providence

T-14. Notre Dame (Big Ten)

32. American International (Atlantic Hockey)

Since no team can earn an automatic bid before the completion of this weekend’s conference tournaments, this bracketology assumes the top remaining seed in each of the six conferences earns the automatic bid. That school is noted with the conference in parenthesis. 

This week it means Cornell and Notre Dame take over the ECAC and Big Ten automatic bids, respectively. Atlantic Hockey automatic bid AIC takes the 16th spot currently held by Penn State. 

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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. Besides the weekly St. Cloud State and Massachusetts tie for the number one spot, there is one between Providence and Notre Dame as the Fighting Irish own the comparison between the Friars and Notre Dame. 

Using RPI as a tiebreaker, St. Cloud State, with the higher RPI, once again gets the number one overall seed from Massachusetts. Providence, meanwhile, is placed 14th and Notre Dame 15th.

Teams By Conference:

ECAC: 4

NCHC: 3

Hockey East: 3

Big Ten: 2

WCHA: 2

Atlantic Hockey: 1

Independent: 1

In this week: Bowling Green

Out this week: Western Michigan 

Time to seed. Remember, teams can only be swapped among other teams in its seeding band.

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

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

No. 3 seeds: Clarkson, Arizona State, Cornell, Harvard

No. 4 seeds: Bowling Green, Providence, Notre Dame, American International

Step 2 is to place the host team of each regional in that regional if any made the field. None are currently in the field. Brown (East) and Penn State (Midwest) remain alive to make the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately, New Hampshire (Northeast) and North Dakota (West) both lost series last weekend to end their season.

Remember that Brown, not Providence, hosts the East Regional in Providence, RI, so the Friars do not automatically get placed in the East Regional.

Step 3 fills out the bracket with the idea of avoiding first-round inter-conference matchups. On a straight 1-16, 2-15, etc. bracket, one such matchup occurs between ECAC foes Quinnipiac and Harvard. Of the four No. 3 seeds, only Arizona State is not an ECAC team. The committee is left with no choice other than to switch Harvard and Arizona State so that the Sun Devils now face Quinnipiac. 

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The committee has several options and decisions to make after the required move, so all the work and decision making is shown below this week’s bracket. 

The Bracket:

Northeast Regional (Manchester, NH):

2. Massachusetts vs. 13. Bowling Green

8. Northeastern vs. 12. Harvard

East Regional (Providence, RI):

4. Minnesota Duluth vs. 14. Providence

5. Quinnipiac vs. 10. Arizona State

Midwest Regional (Allentown, PA):

3. Minnesota State vs. 15. Notre Dame

6. Denver vs. 11. Cornell 

West Regional (Fargo, ND):

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

7. Ohio State vs. 9. Clarkson 

How did we get here? 

By balancing competition and attendance, this week’s bracket gets the best of both worlds. 

Putting the No. 1 seeds in the closest region from first to fourth overall, St. Cloud State goes to Fargo, Massachusetts gets sent to Manchester in order to protect the Minutemen from likely being in a Providence region with Providence, Minnesota State goes to Allentown, and Minnesota Duluth ends up in Providence. 

That leaves an East Regional with three western teams, making it important to add Providence from the Midwest Region back for attendance. Unfortunately, an easy swap between PC and Bowling Green cannot happen because Bowling Green would be facing fellow WCHA team Minnesota State.

MEN'S HOCKEY: Stats | Scores | Bracket

Instead, Bowling Green gets switched with Notre Dame immediately afterward, leaving the Falcons to play Massachusetts. It’s not the best scenario for the Minutemen, who end up with the highest No. 4 seed to play in round 1 and normally get more protected. However, the difference between Bowling Green and Notre Dame isn’t much. Plus the Minutemen get a break in its region if the team gets past Bowling Green with Harvard instead of Arizona State.

At this point, the East Regional has Providence. Cornell being in the Midwest Region helps for attendance as does Notre Dame to an extent.

The West Regional having a first-round game between two eastern schools (Northeastern and Clarkson) is something to look into, though. Clarkson cannot be swapped for another western team due to Arizona State needing to play Quinnipiac. Northeastern, on the other hand, can be swapped with Ohio State in the Northeast Regional in a move that makes more sense with attendance and travel for both schools.

It also gives UMass another slightly lower seed yet doesn’t hurt St. Cloud State, who gets protected as the number one overall seed. It’s competitively balanced.

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This bracket works for me, however, there are other moves the committee could consider. 

First, Ohio State is closer to the Midwest Region than West Region and Denver is closer to the West than Midwest. Those could be switched with one another, but both are far enough that the teams would need to fly to either region. I’m okay leaving it as well with Cornell and Notre Dame in the Midwest already. 

Along the same lines, Harvard and Clarkson could switch to keep the previous matchups intact. It makes sense for Clarkson as the Golden Knights’ closest region is the Northeast Region. It doesn’t make sense to move the team for Harvard as the Crimson are within an hour’s drive. Since it only solves an issue for the one team placed in the Northeast Region, I’m okay leaving it.

Now, as discussed in previous bracketologies, both Minnesota Duluth and Minnesota State need to fly to the Midwest Regional. Neither No. 1 seed gains an advantage in the Midwest over the East Regional other than being “closer” to the “State of Hockey.” On a straight bracket, Minnesota State would line up with Providence. Would this be a better option? 

Trying that out leaves Massachusetts facing Notre Dame, along with UMD facing Bowling Green in Allentown. So far so good, but it gets difficult for Minnesota State soon enough.

The Mavericks in Providence means Denver and Cornell would be the other first-round matchup. An easy swap to get Cornell in the Midwest Region would be to completely switch the DU-Cornell and Quinnipiac-Arizona State matchups with one another. The East Regional gets nearby Quinnipiac as well. Switching Ohio State-Northeastern again makes attendance work for all four regionals and protects the top overall seeds yet leaves Minnesota State in a much tougher region. 

Not only would the Mavericks play against a team in its home city, the other first-round matchup features the top No. 2 seed against the second No. 3 seed while Minnesota Duluth ends up being rewarded as a lower No. 1 seed. Since both need to fly and one team will be disadvantaged regardless, it makes more sense for the lowest No. 1 seed to be the one in the toughest region.

What can be locked in? 

While the majority of teams are known, not much is guaranteed four days from Selection Sunday. No North Dakota means St. Cloud State, as the number one overall seed, is a lock to end up in Fargo against the Atlantic Hockey autobid. None of the remaining teams in other conferences are lower ranked than American International, the highest Atlantic Hockey team. Whichever team wins the Atlantic Hockey bid will thereby be the 16th seed. 

Other than that, things could change for locations based on final seeds and whether hosts Penn State and Brown earn at-large bids. 

St. Cloud State, Massachusetts and Minnesota State are locked in as No. 1 seeds. The order could change - Massachusetts could fall to fourth if results do not go the Minutemen’s way - other than the Huskies being the number one overall seed. 

Minnesota Duluth would need to lose twice and have Denver defeat St. Cloud State in the championship to not be a number one seed. Similarly, the Bulldogs could jump as high as No. 2 overall if UMass and Minnesota State both lose. 

The top 10 teams (St. Cloud State through Arizona State) seem to be locked into the NCAA tournament regardless of results. The others can be knocked out depending on where the bubble ends up being.

Bubble Watch: 

Down to 20 teams playing for six automatic bids, the bubble for at-large bids can end up anywhere between 11 and 14. Either Notre Dame or Penn State will earn the Big Ten automatic berth and likely jump into the top 15, however, that would not be an at-large spot. 

The one team on the bubble not able to control its own destiny is Providence, who will be watching this weekend’s games intensely. Colorado College defeating Western Michigan on Monday did help the Friars as it ended the Broncos’ season and any chance overtaking PC. Still, Providence needs a couple more favorites to win automatic berths before putting on dancing shoes. 

With no more best-of-three series and only single-elimination games remaining, here’s what else needs to be decided by conference: 

Atlantic Hockey: American International, Niagara, RIT and Robert Morris compete for the conference’s autobid that goes to the winner. Of the remaining teams - semifinals consist of AIC and Robert Morris in one and Niagara and RIT in the other - only AIC is among the top four teams in the regular season. 

Big Ten: Notre Dame and Penn State face one another Saturday in South Bend for what can be considered an NCAA tournament play-in game. The winner ends up being the second Big Ten team in while the loser’s season ends. Both teams essentially are playing for the same tournament berth.

ECAC: Brown, Clarkson, Cornell and Harvard remain. While Brown needs to defeat Cornell and the winner of Harvard/Clarkson to keep its NCAA tournament dreams alive, the other three teams are playing for anything from a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament to a No. 4 seed to missing entirely. If either Cornell or Harvard lose in the ECAC semifinals, the teams would fall to the top of the at-large bubble and hope it stays low.

Hockey East: Boston College, Boston University, Massachusetts and Northeastern make Hockey East’s final weekend an all-Massachusetts tournament in Boston. Both Boston College and Boston University’s only path to the NCAA tournament requires an automatic bid; something BU accomplished last season. The Eagles face Massachusetts in one semifinal. The Terriers play Northeastern in the other. Of the six conference tournaments, this is the one that could leave bubble teams upset more than others. 

NCHC: The Centennial State and Land of 10,000 Lakes square off in St. Paul. Colorado College, Denver, Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State each won quarterfinal series with SCSU-CC and UMD-DU semifinals. Only Colorado College cannot make the NCAA tournament as an at-large bid and needs to win the NCHC Frozen Faceoff. This is also the only conference tournament with a third place game, meaning each team is guaranteed this weekend to play twice. 

WCHA: Bowling Green and Minnesota State play for the Jeff Sauer WCHA Championship Trophy in a single game Saturday in Mankato. The Falcons, looking to end a nearly 30 year NCAA tournament drought, would automatically be in with a win. If Minnesota State wins, Bowling Green would be sitting and waiting with Providence, likely needing NCHC, ECAC and Hockey East conference tournaments to all be won by teams in the top 14. 

We’ll be back Sunday with one final bracketology once the NCAA tournament automatic bids are awarded.

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