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Chris Peters | | January 11, 2017

Bracketology: Who leads as the postseason inches closer?

  Penn State remains atop the PairWise after going 14-2-1 overall so far this season.

The turn of the calendar means a lot of things for college hockey fans. A new semester might bring some new additions to the team, postseason hockey inches ever closer and for many fans, the new year means a green light to start paying closer attention to the Pairwise.

RANKINGS: USCHO.Com | USA Today/ USA Hockey Magazine

The PairWise, of course, is the proxy developed to collect the criteria the selection committee uses to make its decisions for the national tournament and rank the teams accordingly. What we see now is going to be a fairly strong indicator of what we’re most likely (but not guaranteed to see) come March when it’s time to make the selections for the tournament.

There are certainly a few teams in the mix that are going to feel more comfortable than others and there’s always the potential for chaos in conference tournaments, but we’re mostly concerned about the here and now for our second bracketology.

Perhaps many fans were surprised to see Penn State still atop the PairWise, but a long layoff over the holiday break that ended with a series split with fellow top-16 dweller Ohio State made that all but a sure thing from our last edition. The Nittany Lions have their doubters, but to this point in the season, they’re playing some really good hockey and continue closing in on a top seed in the spring.

Meanwhile, Harvard has made a big move up the charts to No. 2. Currently riding a six-game winning streak during which they out-scored opponents 31-12, the Crimson have improved to 11-2-1. Led by a senior trio comprised of Alexander Kerfoot (24 points), Tyler Moy (20) and Sean Malone (19), and strong goaltending from Merrick Madsen, it’s been a solid first half for Harvard.

The somewhat unlikely top-two are trailed by two teams that have to contend with two of the toughest schedules in the country. Denver is a remarkable 14-4-4 so far, which positions them just ahead of Minnesota-Duluth who sits at 12-4-4 after a recent rough patch.

There will surely be more movement ahead, but let’s get to the bracket.

If you need a refresher on how the committee places teams, check out our first bracketology with a full rundown. As a reminder, we’re using teams with the best in-conference winning percentage as proxies for conference tournament champions. RPI is used as the tiebreaker for teams with similar resumes.

First, we take a look at the field we have to pick from as of Jan. 10 (conference tournament champions in parenthesis):

  1. Penn State (Big Ten)
  2. Harvard
  3. Denver (NCHC)
  4. Minnesota Duluth
  5. Boston University
  6. UMass Lowell
  7. North Dakota
  8. Western Michigan
  9. Union (ECAC)
  10. Vermont
  11. Minnesota
  12. Boston College (Hockey East)
  13. Ohio State
  14. St. Lawrence
  15. Air Force (AHA)
  16. Bemidji State (WCHA)

Top five plays of the week

Step 1: Awarding seeds

No. 1 seeds: Penn State, Harvard, Denver, Minnesota Duluth
No. 2 seeds: Boston University, Massachusetts Lowell, North Dakota, Western Michigan
No. 3 seeds: Union, Vermont, Minnesota, Boston College
No. 4 seeds: Ohio State, St. Lawrence, Air Force, Bemidji State

Step 2: Placing hosts

North Dakota is hosting the West regional in Fargo, which guarantees their placement there. That will require some extra movement, which is noted below.

Step 3: Placing the teams

The committee tries to avoid intra-conference matchups in the first round whenever possible. In a natural bracket, we’d be left with Boston College and Boston University as a first-round opponent. Having multiple Hockey East schools as No. 2 and No. 3 seeds offers an additional challenge, which could force the committee (and in this case, your faithful writer) to jumble the natural order of the No. 3 teams.

As part of the maneuvering, I kept my eye on the attendance factor as well.

Here’s what I came up with, with some additional notes.

East (Providence, R.I.)

1. Penn State vs. 16. Bemidji State
8. Western Michigan vs. 10. Vermont

Rationale: Both Cincinnati and Providence are pretty similar in distance for Penn State, but putting the Nittany Lions in Providence gives a little more flexibility in the Midwest. Meanwhile, Vermont was one of the No. 3 seeds jostled to avoid intra-conference matchups.

Northeast (Manchester, N.H.)

2. Harvard vs. 15. Air Force
6. UMass Lowell vs. 9. Union

Rationale: Harvard gets its closest regional location possible and gives Manchester two potential strong draws with UMass Lowell also there. Meanwhile, Union keeps UMass Lowell away from conference foes Boston College and Vermont in a first-round matchup.

West (Fargo, N.D.)

3. Denver vs. 14. St. Lawrence
7. North Dakota vs. 12. Boston College

Rationale: North Dakota can’t move from Fargo and Boston College needs to avoid Boston University and UMass Lowell. With Harvard moved to Manchester, Denver is the next team up. This is the move I could see not going over too well with coaches or fans, but it’s January, so we’re doing it.

Midwest (Cincinnati, Ohio)

4. Minnesota Duluth vs. 13. Ohio State
5. Boston University vs. 11. Minnesota

Rationale: Minnesota slides into the slot that Boston College would have occupied had we been able to keep a natural order. Meanwhile, the Minnesota teams should be able to bring some fans along with them to Cincinnati and Ohio State gives the regional a name brand to connect local hockey fans. Again, you could make a case for Penn State’s bracket going to this side, too, but I think this grouping would be just a touch more palatable for the committee.

RELATED: Denver's Troy Terry leads this week's Three Stars

This was a tough one to put together. I think the committee and at least a few of these participating teams and fan bases will welcome the movement the coming weeks will bring as this is by no means an ideal bracket on a number of levels, but it’s what we’ve got this time.

We’ll be back in a few weeks to see where things stand then.

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