We’re officially less than two weeks away from Selection Sunday in men’s hockey. With conference tournaments in full swing, there are still several spots in the national tournament that are up for grabs.
The sizable bubble for the NCAA tournament has seemingly shrunk in the last week, but there are still teams that have that last glimmer of hope alive. For most, the only way in is to win their conference tournament. Teams like North Dakota, Wisconsin and Notre Dame – all in this week’s bracket – aren’t breathing easy just yet despite being in position to play in the national tournament because a few surprise conference champs could shake things up.
Meanwhile, Air Force and Vermont, and to a lesser extent, Ohio State and Boston College are still hanging onto hope despite being on the wrong side of the cutline right now. Each are in a situation where it’s likely required they win their conference tournament to keep their seasons going.
Forty six teams are still technically alive. Since we can’t fast forward two weeks, though, let’s take a look at what the potential national championship bracket could look like if the season ended today.
As a reminder, check out our first bracketology for a rundown of how the selection committee places teams. Even though we’re into the tournaments, we’re taking the team that finished as conference champion in the regular season as our stand-in for conference tournament champs.
Here is a look at the tournament field as of March 7 (mock conference champs in parenthesis):
1. Denver (NCHC)
2. Minnesota Duluth
3. Harvard (ECAC)
4. Western Michigan
5. Minnesota (Big Ten)
6. UMass-Lowell (Hockey East)
7. Boston University
9. Penn State
12. North Dakota
14. Notre Dame
15. Canisius (Atlantic Hockey)
16. Bemidji State (WCHA)
Step 1: Awarding seeds
No. 1 seeds: Denver, Minnesota Duluth, Harvard, Western Michigan
No. 2 seeds: Minnesota, UMass-Lowell, Boston University, Union
No. 3 seeds: Penn State, Cornell, Providence, North Dakota
No. 4 seeds: Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Canisius, Bemidji State
Step 2: Placing the hosts
North Dakota is back in the tournament field after being bumped in our Feb. 22 bracketology. That means they have to go to Fargo, where they are hosting the West Regional. That really only ends up impacting the other No. 3 seeds which are going to have to shuffle to avoid in-conference matchups.
Step 3: Placing the teams
Despite the heavy presence of NCHC and Hockey East teams in the bracket, we didn’t have to get too crazy with shuffling things around. At least not much more than some maneuvering to avoid those intra-conference first-round matchups. As always, attendance projections plays a big role in how to place teams, but I leaned much more heavily to bracket integrity on this one.
The committee very well could see things differently than what I came up with here. There’s no doubt that keeping top seeds as close to their natural regionals is something that is on their mind, but I think Denver’s presence as the No. 1 overall team gives them a little flexibility in where to place teams.
Here’s a look at what I came up with:
East – Providence, R.I.
1 Denver vs. 16 Bemidji State
8 Union vs. 11 Providence
Rationale: Denver’s natural regional fit is Fargo, but I’ve always thought, and I think the committee will agree, is that the No. 1 seed should be “protected” and the top team’s bracket should be as close to a traditional 1 vs. 16, 8 vs. 9 as possible. With North Dakota locked into Fargo, I think having to move teams intra-conference matchups doesn’t allow for a perfect top-seed bracket, so this will do. Since the Pioneers are getting on a plane no matter what, I think they’d be comfortable taking their chances away from a conference opponent’s backyard. That said, they’d still have to potentially play a regional opponent on what amounts to their same ice if both they and Providence advance. It’s not the ideal scenario for Denver, but it’s as close as I could get while keeping attendance in mind.
Midwest – Cincinnati, Ohio
2 Minnesota Duluth vs. 15 Canisius
7 Boston University vs. 9 Penn State
Rationale: Was it ever tempting to put Minnesota Duluth in Fargo, but I think this gets us closer to bracket integrity. There could be a case made for more shuffling to move Minnesota to Cincinnati to hope for a larger turnout among traveling fans. That said, I think Penn State is going to have a good-sized travel party of their own for their first ever NCAA berth. There’s not a lot more you can do here from an attendance standpoint that is going to make this regional markedly better.
West – Fargo, N.D.
4 Western Michigan vs. 13 Wisconsin
5 Minnesota vs. 12 North Dakota
Rationale: The way this broke down, it was easy enough to maintain bracket integrity while also making for an intriguing regional. With North Dakota back in and tickets long ago sold for this regional, it made the most sense to me to just leave it as is. A traditional rivalry that is no longer a conference rivalry with Minnesota and North Dakota going head-to-head in the first round? That ought to be good.
Northeast – Manchester, N.H.
3 Harvard vs. 14 Notre Dame
6 UMass-Lowell vs. 10 Cornell
Rationale: This fell into place rather easily. The minor tweak to avoid an intra-conference matchup between UMass-Lowell and Providence has Cornell sliding in seamlessly. There’s not much else left to do with this one.