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Nathan Wells | | February 14, 2019

College hockey bracketology: St. Cloud State and UMass stay on top, Harvard enters the fray

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Another week has come and gone, which can only mean one thing. It’s time to work some bracketology magic.

Last weekend saw several top teams stumble or pushed to the brink. St. Cloud State tied Colorado College before coming back from a 4-2 third period deficit to win in overtime. Massachusetts, who temporarily moved ahead of the Huskies after Friday, moved back when UMass Lowell shut out the Minutemen. Quinnipiac lost at home to Brown to snap a five-game winning streak. Minnesota State tied Michigan Tech and dug deep for a road overtime win that puts the Mavericks on the brink of another MacNaughton Cup.

Meanwhile, some had successful weeks. Lowell’s shutout win extended its unbeaten streak to 10 games. Ohio State swept Wisconsin on the road. Northeastern did not need to wait another 30 years to win the Beanpot, taking Boston bragging rights back to Matthews Arena for a second straight year. 

While facing adversity now can help teams when reaching the NCAA Tournament, it’s also a reminder how every game matters in a single-elimination format. Every game also matters for seeds and selection. The Monday title helped the Huskies, however, it was the team who took third, Harvard, who got back in the NCAA Tournament this week.

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For a refresher on how the NCAA selection committee chooses the 16 teams, check out our article on everything you need to know about the selection process. Otherwise, let’s get right to the teams and this week’s bracket.

This Week’s Bracketology (as of February 13):

T-1. St. Cloud State (NCHC)
T-1. Massachusetts (Hockey East)
3. Ohio State (Big Ten)
4. Minnesota Duluth
5. Quinnipiac
6. Minnesota State (WCHA)
7. Denver
8. Cornell (ECAC)
9. Arizona State
10. Western Michigan
T-11. UMass Lowell
T-11. Clarkson
T-13. Harvard
T-13. Northeastern
15. Bowling Green
28. American International (Atlantic Hockey)

Since no team can earn an automatic bid before conference tournaments are played, this bracketology assumes the school with the top in-conference winning percentage in each of the six conferences earns the automatic bid. That school is noted with the conference in parenthesis.

American International once again is the only conference leader outside the top 16. The Yellow Jackets, trying to make its first Division 1 men’s hockey NCAA Tournament, this week bump out Notre Dame and Providence, who are tied for 16th.

Speaking of ties, this week has three among teams with the same number of comparison wins. Besides St. Cloud State and Massachusetts at the top, UMass Lowell and Clarkson are tied with one another as well as Harvard and Northeastern being tied. Using RPI as a tiebreaker, St. Cloud State is placed above the Minutemen, the River Hawks above Clarkson, and Harvard bests the Huskies this time around.

Teams by conference:

Hockey East: 3
Atlantic Hockey: 1
Big Ten: 1
Independent: 1

In this week: Harvard
Out this week: Providence

Here are the seeding groups:

No. 1 seeds: St. Cloud State, Massachusetts, Ohio State, Minnesota Duluth
No. 2 seeds: Quinnipiac, Minnesota State, Denver, Cornell
No. 3 seeds: Arizona State, Western Michigan, UMass Lowell, Clarkson
No. 4 Seeds: Harvard, Northeastern, Bowling Green, AIC

Step 2 is to place the home team of each regional, if applicable. Host teams automatically play at its home regional. None are in this week’s bracket. Providence dropping out also avoids the issue of placing the Friars in Providence for attendance even though Brown officially hosts the East Regional.

Step 3 fills out the bracket with the idea of avoiding first-round inter-conference matchups. Two such matchups occur this week on a 1-16, 2-15, etc. bracket. Quinnipiac and Clarkson would be an all-ECAC matchup and Denver-Western Michigan would be an all-NCHC one.

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To solve this issue, let’s switch UMass Lowell and Clarkson with one another. It’s a simple switch between two teams tied with one another in comparison wins and creates two non-conference matchups.

For the second, the options are to either switch Western Michigan and Arizona State with one another or Denver and Cornell with one another. Remember, teams can only be switched between their seeding groups. One of these options looks better than the other and I’ll explain why below this week’s bracket.

The Bracket:

Northeast Regional (Manchester, NH):
2. Massachusetts vs. 15. Bowling Green
8. Cornell vs. 10. Western Michigan

East Regional (Providence, RI):
4. Minnesota Duluth vs. 13. Harvard
5. Quinnipiac vs. 11. UMass Lowell

Midwest Regional (Allentown, PA):
3. Ohio State vs. 14. Northeastern
6. Minnesota State vs. 12. Clarkson

West Regional (Fargo, ND): 
1. St. Cloud State vs. 16. American International
7. Denver vs. 9. Arizona State

How did we get here?

The option to switch Denver and Cornell made more sense in this bracket for attendance and travel. 

With no host teams, placing the No. 1 seeds in nearby regions falls along regional lines (for the most part). Starting with top overall seed St. Cloud State in Fargo, Massachusetts gets placed in Manchester, Ohio State in Allentown and Minnesota Duluth, by process of elimination, goes to Providence.

Could the Minutemen instead go to Providence with no Friars and Quinnipiac not being a No. 1 seed? Technically yes, as Minnesota Duluth has to travel to the East Coast anyways, but it’s splitting hairs distance-wise. Having three western teams as No. 1 seeds means one of the two eastern regions ends up needing to add an east team or two anyways.

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Of the two possible moves to avoid a Denver-Western Michigan matchup, switching Denver and Cornell would add an eastern team to Massachusetts’ region. It could use another one. On an unchanged bracket, the other three teams besides Massachusetts all come from the west, which would also be the case if Western Michigan and Arizona State are swapped. So the Big Red head to Manchester and Denver travels to Fargo.

Is that it? Attendance is good for the most part. It’d be nice to get Cornell in a Midwest Region currently without Penn State. However, swapping the Cornell-Western Michigan and Minnesota State-Clarkson matchups to get the Big Red in Allentown is a step too far for bracket integrity.

Switching UMass Lowell and Clarkson earlier helped Minnesota Duluth’s regional for attendance. There’s no Providence this week, but having three nearby teams in Quinnipiac, Harvard and UMass Lowell boosts the East Regional. Allentown gets help from Ohio State plus both Clarkson and Northeastern are within 400 miles. The West Regional contains three western teams, while Massachusetts and Cornell help the Northeast.

Who are teams on the bubble to watch?

Going from which teams are safe to those who have work to do, this week’s focus is on teams on the bubble and who can make a late run. 

And it’s late at this stage of the season. With only a few weeks left to change an entire season of work, winning streaks and moves should have begun weeks ago, as UMass Lowell has done. 

Only a handful of schools on the outside can theoretically move into the NCAA Tournament without earning an automatic bid by winning its conference tournament. Using the last five years of data since college hockey realigned into the current six conferences, no team lower than 23rd in the Pairwise on today’s date has made the NCAA Tournament as an at-large bid.

Lowest at-large teams on February 13th to make the NCAA Tournament:

2018: Penn State (17th), Michigan (15th), Northeastern (14th)
2017: Notre Dame (18th), Ohio State (15th)
2016: Minnesota Duluth (23rd), UMass Lowell (13th)
2015: St. Cloud State (22nd and ended up a No. 3 seed), Yale (16th)
2014: Notre Dame (18th and ended up a No. 2 seed), North Dakota (17th)

Additionally, Air Force was 20th at this date in 2017 and ended up as a No. 3 seed after winning the Atlantic Hockey conference tournament. Northeastern was 26th on this date in 2016 and ended up a No. 3 seed after winning the Hockey East conference tournament as part of a 13 game winning streak.

In theory, the teams on the bubble with a chance to earn an at-large bid based on the past five NCAA Tournaments are Notre Dame, Providence, Penn State, Lake Superior State, Union, North Dakota, Michigan and Yale. 

Even then, it’s likely less. Yale and Michigan would need to win the rest of its games and get some major help. (Minnesota Duluth, whose 2016 team came the furthest back, lost its next two games before embarking on a seven-game winning streak in a year where four NCHC teams made the NCAA Tournament.) For both, along with anyone below in the Pairwise, the easier path is winning its conference automatic bid.

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Teams closer to the bubble, such as Providence and Penn State, have slightly more room for error. Knowing what needs to be done to done to get in - whether it’s as an at-large or from the autobid - here are a few bubble teams to watch from each of the six conferences.

Bentley: In a league where only the conference tournament champion will make the NCAA Tournament, several teams could earn the Atlantic Hockey autobid. Besides AIC and Air Force, each of whom led the conference, one to watch is one of the hottest teams in college hockey, Bentley. The Falcons, who earlier in the year defeated Boston College, have yet to lose a game in 2019. During this stretch Bentley swept the two teams directly below in the standings.

Penn State/Notre Dame: The two Big Ten schools are grouped together because both are fighting for what likely could be one at-large spot. Currently, only Ohio State would make the NCAA Tournament from the conference as the Buckeyes sweep while the other teams split. Both are currently two of the first three teams out and shown flashes to make a late season run and get at least one more Big Ten team into the NCAA Tournament a year after three made the Frozen Four.

Penn State has rekindled its potent scoring touch, scoring 18 goals the past three games (all wins) for what could be another late season run. Notre Dame, on the other hand, helped itself out Tuesday night by defeating Michigan to get back its comparison win from the Wolverines. The Fighting Irish will also get a chance next weekend to get its comparison win from Minnesota, who swept Notre Dame in South Bend. If both are still on the bubble, Notre Dame and Penn State play one another the final weekend of the Big Ten regular season March 1-2.

Harvard: With six wins in its last seven games, the Crimson would be on the right side of the bracket if the season ended today. The team still has work to do, however. Harvard ends the regular season with four of its final six games on the road, including a trip to Clarkson. To stay above the bubble, the Crimson need to win at least a couple of those road games.

The other ECAC team to keep an eye on would be Union, as the Dutchmen get slightly boosted by being the only team who holds a comparison win over St. Cloud State. If Union can win four of its next five, the regular season finale against the Crimson on March 2nd could have some big NCAA Tournament implications.

Providence: No team has jumped on and off the bubble as much as the Friars, who in 2019 have been as high as a No. 2 seed and currently one of the first (#) teams out. A 1-2-1 record the past two weekends and four total goals against two of Hockey East’s bottom four teams dealt a setback. While that may be a missed opportunity, Providence can jump back in with its next three games coming against UMass Lowell and Massachusetts. Those games are must-wins and should be ones to watch; especially if PC can re-find its scoring touch. The Friars average 10.93 more shots per game than its opponents. Only Minnesota Duluth has a greater margin.

North Dakota: It’s a slim road to an at-large bid for North Dakota, but there is a path nonetheless for a team currently on pace to start the NCHC playoffs on the road. The Fighting Hawks are midway through a stretch of playing the four NCHC teams both above in the standings and currently in the NCAA Tournament. Wins against teams near the top can help UND more than most teams would get in conference play. It makes next weekend’s home series against Minnesota Duluth loom large.

Lake Superior State: There’s plenty of intrigue in the WCHA with Bowling Green once again being on the bubble and trying to snap a 29 year NCAA Tournament drought. At the same time, Lake Superior State right now has been playing well enough to garner mention. The Lakers are 7-2-1 in its last 10 games, including a win over red-hot Minnesota State. LSSU needs to continue its run of play against Northern Michigan and Michigan Tech the next two weekends with at least one sweep to stay in the at-large bid conversation. Regardless, there’s also the possibility to play well enough to win the WCHA conference tournament.

The bubble can be a stressful place for teams to sit this time of year, however, finishing the year on a strong run to earn an at-large bid can . Each of the past two NCAA Tournaments at this point saw a Frozen Four representative on the outside looking in.

We’ll be back next week with another look at the NCAA Tournament and updated bracket.

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