Putting this week’s bracketology together was pretty darn tricky. A lot of that has to do with the performances we’ve seen so far in the NCHC this year.

As of right now, six of the eight teams from the NCHC are in position to reach the national tournament. One look at their standings shows you the log jam that exists among those six teams. Only six points separates first place Denver from fifth place Minnesota Duluth. Meanwhile, St. Cloud State has the best win percentage in the conference, but has played two fewer games than Denver and is out of first by only two points. Lastly, Nebraska Omaha is only 5-9 in conference play, but are 12-11-1 overall, which barely allows them to be eligible for the tournament.

MORE: Full USCHO DI rankings

It’s going to be a fight to the finish in the NCHC and with all of those tough in-conference games, there could be one or two teams that drop out of the national tournament hunt. It’s going to be awfully exciting.

The dominance of the NCHC this year is giving the tournament a very western flavor. Ten teams in our bracket come from college hockey’s version of the west, which essentially begins in Ohio.

One of the more surprising teams from out west, especially with their play of late, is Minnesota State. They’re only two points ahead of Northern Michigan in the WCHA standings, but they’ve been strong outside of conference play as well, with big wins over St. Cloud State and Minnesota Duluth. The Mavericks have won 10 of their last 12 games as they head into the final month of the regular season. 

Plenty can change over the next several weeks as teams jockey for position and nothing is guaranteed until the conference championships are played, but let’s take a look at where things stand at this point.

Reminder: Check out a full breakdown on how the committee makes its decisions here. For the purposes of this Bracketology, we’re using the teams with the best in-conference winning percentage as of today as proxies for the tournament champions receiving autobids. RPI is used as a tiebreaker for teams with similar resumes. 

The Results

Here’s a look at the first 16 teams considered for our first Bracketology. (Conference names in parenthesis denote mock conference tournament champion)

1. Notre Dame (Big Ten)
2. Cornell
3. St. Cloud State (NCHC)
4. Clarkson (ECAC)
5. Denver
6. Minnesota State (WCHA)
7. Ohio State
8. Western Michigan
9. Minnesota
10. Providence
11. Minnesota Duluth
12. North Dakota
13. Northeastern
14. Nebraska Omaha
15. Boston College (Hockey East)
16. Canisius (Atlantic Hockey)

Step 1: Placing the seeds

No. 1 seeds: Notre Dame, Cornell, St. Cloud State, Clarkson
No. 2 seeds: Denver, Minnesota State, Ohio State, Western Michigan
No. 3 seeds: Minnesota, Providence, Minnesota Duluth, North Dakota
No. 4 seeds: Northeastern, Nebraska Omaha, Boston College, Canisius

Step 2: Place regional hosts

North Dakota is the only regional host standing currently. They’ll head to Sioux Falls. Penn State, hosting in Allentown, is right on the outside. Canisius as an autobid knocked Penn State out of the top 16. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of the Nittany Lions, though.

Step 3: Avoid in-conference matchups

This is where things get a little interesting. The committee always tries to avoid in-conference matchups UNLESS five or more teams from the same conference make the tournament. With a possible six NCHC teams in this particular bracket, the committee will likely lean more on bracket integrity rather than shuffling the deck. The only adjustments we’ll make in this bracket will be for attendance or logistical purposes. So here’s what I came up with.

Midwest: Allentown, Pa.

1. Notre Dame vs. 16. Canisius
8. Western Michigan vs. 9. Minnesota

Rationale: With Notre Dame not having any convenient regionals in terms of travel, Allentown is as good a fit as any. I think the committee would like to try to get Cornell in here because it is the closest top seed by travel, but I couldn’t make it work at the expense of other regionals. The rest of the way, we were able to maintain bracket integrity.

Northeast: Worcester, Mass.

2. Cornell vs. No. 15 Boston College
7. Ohio State vs. 10. Providence

Rationale: Cornell may not love its reward of having to play Boston College in a de facto home game, but there weren’t many alternatives for the Big Red, while also taking attendance under consideration. Additionally, this is a pure No. 2 seed bracket, where two teams just so happen to be from nearby. It checks a lot of boxes that matter to the committee. 

West: Sioux Falls, S.D.

3. St. Cloud State vs. 14. Omaha
6. Minnesota State vs. 12. North Dakota

Rationale: Here’s where we start getting into conference matchups. I think the committee won’t make the switch here as there just aren’t many teams from the East in the tournament and it makes sense to keep Northeastern where they are. It’s not ideal, but it creates the least amount of havoc. Meanwhile, Minnesota State also gets to stay closer to home, but we had to swap No. 12 and No. 11 to get North Dakota in their host site. 

East: Bridgeport, Conn.

4. Clarkson vs. 13. Northeastern
5. Denver vs. 11. Minnesota Duluth

Rationale: Clarkson gets matched up with their natural opponent as the No. 4 overall seed, but things get tricky with that other regional matchup. There are a couple of different ways the committee could go with Denver. They could potentially send them to their closest regional, which would be Sioux Falls. Travel logistics are better, but that puts them in another conference matchup anyway. Denver and UMD are going to have to travel a long way just to play as in-conference opponents, but I think one of the more important moves for bracket integrity is to keep a No. 4 and No. 5 in the same regional over maintaining the regular 5-12 matchup when it’s possible. That decision could go either way, though.