It’s amazing how much can change over the span of two weeks. It seems like the Pairwise rankings got a pretty good shake since the last time we put together our bracketology.
Not a ton has changed at the top of the very rankings, but the bottom is starting to look different. On top of that, the tournament bubble has a lot of interesting names on it. For instance, the Wisconsin Badgers are in the top 16 and tied with Minnesota atop the Big Ten standings. Additionally, Providence College jumped into the top eight after being on the outside looking in just two short weeks ago.
This is what makes this time of year fun for some and stomach-churning for others. Penn State was cruising atop the Pairwise, but a five-game winless streak has taken them from a top seed all the way down to 11th. With their first-ever tournament berth on the line, these next few weeks will be crucial for the Nittany Lions. That should raise the tension in State College just a bit.
The beneficiary of Penn State’s latest stumble is now one of the four top seeds in this week’s bracketology. Minnesota swept the Nittany Lions at home last weekend to rise to the No. 4 spot on this week’s bracket. Having won 10 of their last 12, things are looking pretty good for the Golden Gophers as they enter what could be the most challenging stretch remaining on their schedule, not including the tournament. Back-to-back road series against Ohio State and Penn State followed by a key home series against rival Wisconsin will test Minnesota’s ability to hold onto a top seed, but they have been great in-conference so far.
Meanwhile, Minnesota Duluth and Denver continue to hold down the top two spots, with Boston University looking good at No. 3. UMD is unbeaten in their last seven with just three weekends left in their regular season. DU has wins in six of their last eight with four series left, including a home-and-home with Gold Pan rival Colorado College on the docket for this weekend. BU’s Beanpot semifinal victory over Boston College Monday gives them 11 wins in their last 13 games as the Terriers seem to be hitting their stride.
The top of the bracket looks pretty stable, but there is plenty of time for things to get shaken up even more once again. Here’s a look at our bracket for this week: As a reminder, a full rundown of how the selection committee places teams is available in our first bracketology here. Teams with the best in-conference winning percentage are used as our conference tournament champions, which get automatic bids into the tournament.
First, here is the field as of Feb. 2 (conference tournament champions in parenthesis)
1. Minnesota Duluth (NCHC)
3. Boston University
4. Minnesota (Big Ten)
6. Western Michigan
7. Union (ECAC)
9. North Dakota
10. Boston College (Hockey East)
11. Penn State
12. UMass Lowell
15. Air Force (Atlantic Hockey)
16. Bemidji State (WCHA)
Step 1: Awarding seeds
No. 1 seeds: Minnesota Duluth, Denver, Boston University, Minnesota No. 2 seeds: Harvard, Western Michigan, Union, Providence No. 3 seeds: North Dakota, Boston College, Penn State, UMass-Lowell No. 4 seeds: Cornell, Vermont, Air Force, Bemidji State
Step 2: Placing hosts
North Dakota is locked into the West regional in Fargo. Meanwhile, the East regional is being held in Providence, R.I., but the host school is Brown University. Providence College is not required to be placed there and, at least for this round of bracketology, wasn’t.
Step 3: Placing the teams
Looking at this bracket, a lot of it settles pretty nicely. There are a few necessary moves to avoid intra-conference matchups in the first round.
There are still a few questions to answer, however. The first is where to place the No. 1 overall seed. That seems pretty easy this time around. North Dakota’s ranking this week has them at No. 9, which makes for a perfect scenario. Top seed Minnesota Duluth can go to the closest regional available to them, with the downside being that the No. 3 seed in their region is essentially playing at home, with tickets already sold out. UMD has had North Dakota’s number this year and it’s a much easier trip to go to Fargo than it is to Cincinnati.
As it stands, Providence would have to travel to Fargo despite having a regional literally in their city. It is conceivable that the committee would move Providence to the East regional, but I’m not sure it’s going to be a big enough enticement for them to really upset bracket integrity among the two- and three-seeds. That’s still a change I would not rule out.
Based on all of that, here is what I came up with for a bracket:
West – Fargo, N.D.
1 Minnesota Duluth vs. 16 Bemidji State
8 Providence vs. 9 North Dakota
Reason: A traditional top-seed bracket makes this pretty easy, aside from putting Providence on a plane with a regional right in their backyard. With the other maneuvering that would have to be done to accommodate PC playing at home, I’m not sold that the committee would bend far enough to make it work, especially with other teams close enough to help attendance.
Northeast – Manchester, N.H.
2 Denver vs. 15 Air Force
7 Union vs. 10 Boston College
Reason: With Denver and Air Force having a long trip ahead of them no matter what, sending them to Manchester helps maintain a traditional No. 2 regional bracket. Meanwhile, Boston College’s presence helps on the attendance front. You could make a case for flipping Vermont and Air Force here, too, but I didn’t feel strongly enough about it to make the change.
East – Providence, R.I.
3 Boston University vs. 13 Cornell
5 Harvard vs. 12 UMass-Lowell
Reason: This is where we fudge the bracket integrity just a bit to help maximize attendance in two regionals. With three Massachusetts schools, there are three teams with short drives. Then, with Vermont already having to be moved away from BU as a first-round matchup, Cornell ends up in a tougher, but essentially unavoidable situation.
Midwest – Cincinnati, Ohio
4 Minnesota vs. 14 Vermont
6 Western Michigan vs. 11 Penn State
Reason: Keeping Minnesota in the Midwest may make for more manageable travel for both the team and its fans. I also think Penn State fans would travel fairly well for the school’s first tournament berth and this is close enough to drive out to. Vermont is the only team really far out of the regional footprint, but I’ll still lean just a bit more heavily on bracket integrity this time. That necessary switch between Vermont and Cornell isn’t worth making sweeping changes to where the four-seeds will play.