The national tournament bubble is an uncomfortable place to be this time of year, but it can also be exhilarating, or at the very least motivating. With conference tournaments now in full swing, each game already has a ton of meaning, but for several teams across the country a tournament berth is just closer enough they can almost taste it.
For some teams, the only way in at this point is to win the conference tournament and get that coveted autobid to the dance. As we’re now only weeks away from the NCAA Tournament selection show, there’s still a lot up in the air. At this point, the teams in the top half of the Pairwise rankings are essentially locks, or virtual locks to make the tournament. Those last few spots, however, bring a lot of intrigue and potentially a lot of movement over these next few weeks.
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There’s always the potential for surprise conference champions throw things for a loop, so the uncertainty for these bubble teams should bring some focus. Any team still playing has a chance, obviously. Bubble teams Nebraska Omaha, Boston College, North Dakota, Bowling Green, Northern Michigan, Boston University can still control their own destiny. Win the conference and you’re in. Get bounced from your tournament and there’s a good chance the season ends there. For a select few, like Omaha, Boston College, North Dakota and maybe Bowling Green, they could potentially lose in the conference tournaments and still have a slim chance to get in.
That’s part of the fun and the terror of this time of year. You might have a pretty decent idea of how things will shake out, but you just can’t know until the very end who’s in and who’s out.
So let’s take a look at this week’s bracketology.
Reminder: Check out a full breakdown on how the committee makes its decisions here. For the purposes of this Bracketology, we’re using the regular-season conference champions as proxies for the tournament champions receiving autobids. RPI is used as a tiebreaker for teams with similar resumes.
Here are the 16 teams considered for this week’s bracketology. Conference tournament champion proxies are listed in parenthesis.
1. St. Cloud State (NCHC)
2. Notre Dame (Big Ten)
3. Cornell (ECAC)
4. Ohio State
5. Minnesota State (WCHA)
9. Minnesota Duluth
11. Penn State
14. Nebraska Omaha
15. Boston College (Hockey East)
16. Mercyhurst (Atlantic Hockey)
Step 1: Assigning seeds
No. 1: St. Cloud, Notre Dame, Cornell, Ohio State
No. 2: Minnesota State, Denver, Michigan, Clarkson
No. 3: Minnesota Duluth, Northeastern, Providence, Penn State
No. 4: Minnesota, Omaha, Boston College, Mercyhurst
Step 2: Placing regional hosts
It’s been a few weeks, but after sweeping Minnesota in back-to-back weekends, Penn State is back in the tournament picture. They have to be placed in Allentown, Pa., as the tournament hosts. Meanwhile, North Dakota is currently on the tournament bubble. In this bracketyology, they get bounced by our Hockey East champion proxy, Boston College. Should they make the tournament, they’d automatically be placed in Sioux Falls.
Step 3: Avoid in-conference matchups
There is only one matchup in a natural one-through-16 bracket that would pit conference opponents against each other. That would be No. 4 Ohio State against No. 13 Minnesota. We can avoid that simply by flipping Nebraska Omaha and Minnesota.
After all of that, here’s what we’ve got.
West: Sioux Falls, S.D.
1. St. Cloud State vs. 16. Mercyhurst
8. Clarkson and 9. Minnesota Duluth
Rationale: St. Cloud is a virtual lock to retain the No. 1 seed and gets to stay closer to home. North Dakota is currently on the tournament bubble, but if they get in, that may force St. Cloud out of the closer regional due to the in-conference matchup. For now, Mercyhurst (or whoever wins the Atlantic Hockey tournament) will be on their way here. Clarkson is one of only two eastern teams in the top half of the rankings and you could make a case to keep them out that way. I tend to lean towards bracket integrity, though. Minnesota Duluth rounds out the regional as we get a natural No. 1 overall seed regional.
Midwest: Allentown, Pa.
3. Cornell vs. 13. Minnesota
6. Denver vs. 11. Penn State
Rationale: Welcome back, Penn State! The Allentown regional is going to be better if the Nittany Lions are in it and the way that team is building enthusiasm should make for a good environment in the Midwest regional. Additionally, Cornell would be headed to their closest regional as the No. 3 overall seed. We were forced to flip Minnesota and Nebraska Omaha, so that means the Gophers have to travel back to the state that’s given them a few problems this season. Penn State has had their number the last few weeks, so it would make for some good drama if the Gophers and Nittany Lions ended up battling each other. Meanwhile, defending national champion Denver slides into its natural position as the sixth overall seed.
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East: Bridgeport, Conn.
4. Ohio State vs. 14. Nebraska Omaha
5. Minnesota State vs. 12. Providence
Rationale: The dearth of eastern teams really hurts us in Bridgeport when it comes to try to support attendance. The way the rankings shook out, only Providence was available to us to place in the East regional. Nebraska Omaha and Minnesota had to be flipped due to Ohio State being the No. 4 seed. Aside from Omaha, everyone else is in their natural position.
Northeast: Worcester, Mass.
2. Notre Dame vs. 15. Boston College
7. Michigan vs. 10. Northeastern
Rationale: As we’ve been saying all along, Notre Dame can pretty much go anywhere for their regional. Nothing is especially close for the No. 2 overall seed. At this point, Boston College is their natural opponent, but BC is only a proxy and the Hockey East tournament seems wide open, so we’ll see if anyone else can sneak in here. That tournament could have a pretty big impact on the whole thing. Meanwhile, we kept everything else natural. Michigan as the No. 7 is attached to the No. 2 bracket and with a natural bracket we still get two teams in there that could help the attendance situation.