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Nathan Wells | NCAA.com | March 24, 2019

College hockey bracketology: Here's what the NCAA tournament field could look like

UConn at the top of hockey plays

It’s here. No more games are left to be played. The 2019 NCAA tournament bracket will be unveiled tonight at 7 pm ET on ESPNU.

If the final weekend of conference tournaments is any indication of the NCAA tournament, there's sure to be plenty of entertainment and excitement. Four of the six conference championship games went to overtime. All six ended in 3-2 scores with plenty of last-minute movement throughout the top 16 teams.

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Trailing Bowling Green by two goals with less than two minutes remaining, Minnesota State twice found the back of the net with an extra skater before Nick Rivera took home the Jeff Sauer trophy for the Mavericks with an overtime goal. Despite the loss, Bowling Green appears to be in position to earn an at-large bid and snap a 29 year NCAA Tournament drought.

Boston College, the seventh seed in Hockey East, made a miraculous run to the Hockey East championship game, falling one goal and game short to Northeastern. Clarkson, who lost in overtime of the ECAC championship game a year ago, found itself on the other side Saturday, beating Cornell to win the conference automatic bid.

In a conference tournament where the higher seeds were knocked off one-by-one, American International held strong. The Yellow Jackets defeated Niagara, winning in overtime for a second straight night, on a Hugo Reinhardt goal to earn its first DI NCAA tournament bid in school history.

Notre Dame, playing at home, beat Penn State in a must-win game for both to earn the Big Ten’s automatic bid while Minnesota Duluth’s Nick Swaney, a Minnesota Wild draft pick, scored in the second OT on the home ice of the Wild to defeat St. Cloud State.

For an explanation on how the NCAA selection committee chooses the 16 teams in the tournament, check out our article on everything you need to know about the selection process. Otherwise, let’s begin.

2019 NCAA Tournament Bracketology

T-1. St. Cloud State
T-1. Minnesota Duluth (NCHC)
3. Minnesota State (WCHA)
4. Massachusetts
5. Clarkson (ECAC)
6. Northeastern (Hockey East)
7. Quinnipiac
8. Denver
9. Ohio State
10. Arizona State
11. Cornell 
T-12. Notre Dame (Big Ten)
T-12. Harvard
14. Providence
15. Bowling Green
31. American International (Atlantic Hockey)

Schools that won this weekend’s conference tournaments to earn an automatic bid are noted with the conference in parenthesis. 

Atlantic Hockey champion American International is the only automatic bid outside the top 16. The Yellow Jackets take the place of Penn State as the 16th overall seed.

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Before we can seed the bracket, two ties between teams sharing the same number of comparison wins need to be broken. St. Cloud State and Minnesota Duluth, who along with Minnesota State overtook Massachusetts in the final weekend for an unprecedented 1-2-3 of all Minnesota schools, are tied with 58 comparison wins. Notre Dame and Harvard, meanwhile, need a tiebreaker to decide which team should be a No. 3 seed and which team should be a No. 4 seed.

Using RPI as a tiebreaker, St. Cloud State, with the higher RPI, gets the number one overall seed from the Bulldogs and history. No school since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 16 teams in 2003 has ever been the number one overall seed in back-to-back seasons. The other tie is broken with Notre Dame finishing ahead of Harvard and grabbing the final No. 3 seed.

Teams By Conference:
ECAC: 4
NCHC: 3
Hockey East: 3
Big Ten: 2
WCHA: 2
Atlantic Hockey: 1
Independent: 1

Time to seed. Remember, teams can only be swapped among other teams in its seeding band.

No. 1 seeds: St. Cloud State, Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota State, Massachusetts 
No. 2 seeds: Clarkson, Northeastern, Quinnipiac, Denver,
No. 3 seeds: Ohio State, Arizona State, Cornell, Notre Dame
No. 4 seeds: Harvard, Providence, Bowling Green, American International

Next we place the host team of each regional in that regional if any made the field. None of this year’s hosts - Brown (East), New Hampshire (Northeast), North Dakota (West) and Penn State (Midwest) - earned an automatic bid or finished high enough to earn an at-large bid according to our Bracketology.

While Providence did make the NCAA Tournament, the Friars do not automatically get placed in the hometown East Regional since Brown officially hosts. The committee has shown in the past that it will take measures to place the Friars there, though.

The next step is to fill out the bracket with the idea of avoiding first-round inter-conference matchups. On a straight 1-16, 2-15, etc. bracket, none exist.

In fact, after the past few weeks of brackets needing major tweaks for inter-conference matchups and attendance, the final bracket lines out in a way where the selection committee could leave it alone and be fine. If that ends up being the case, no one would be surprised.

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However, there’s one change I could see the committee making for attendance in the final NCAA.com Bracketology. That change and an explanation can be found below.

The Bracket:

Northeast Regional (Manchester, NH):
4. Massachusetts vs. 13. Harvard
5. Clarkson vs. 12. Notre Dame

East Regional (Providence, RI):
3. Minnesota State vs. 14. Providence
7. Quinnipiac vs. 10. Arizona State

Midwest Regional (Allentown, PA):
2. Minnesota Duluth vs. 15. Bowling Green
6. Northeastern vs. 11. Cornell

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

How did we get here?

The only switch made from a straight 1-16, 2-15, etc. bracket was swapping the Quinnipiac-Arizona State and Northeastern-Cornell matchups with one another to help out a Midwest Region where none of the Midwest teams are within driving distance. 

Placing the number one seeds in the closest regions, number one overall seed St. Cloud State gets placed in nearby Fargo. Minnesota Duluth, as the number 2 overall seed, could go anywhere since none of the remaining regions are close. However, Allentown is not only the closest, but would also protect the Bulldogs from facing Providence in Providence if the Friars get placed there. The committee tries to protect the top two seeds.

That leaves Minnesota State in Providence and Massachusetts in Manchester. It would make sense to place the lowest number one seed in Providence. Unfortunately for the Mavericks, UMass cannot play Providence because it would create a Hockey East inter-conference matchup. It’s unfortunate for a team that finishes third overall, but on a straight bracket Minnesota State would coincidentally be placed in the East Regional against Providence. 

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Technically the committee could also place UMD in Manchester and Massachusetts in Allentown. A flight’s a flight for the Bulldogs, but Minnesota Duluth facing Bowling Green makes more sense to be placed in the Midwest.

At the same time, only Quinnipiac is within driving distance of Allentown if the rest of the field is laid out by the straight 1-16, 2-15, etc. bracket. The Bobcats, even then, are closer to two other regionals, including less than a two hour drive from Providence. So it might make sense to switch the Northeastern-Cornell matchup with Quinnipiac-Arizona State to get two teams within driving distance, including the Big Red fanbase that has shown itself to travel. Cornell is two hours closer to Allentown than Providence although both are within driving distance.

While it’d be easier to swap Cornell and Arizona State, who needs to fly regardless for its first NCAA Tournament appearance, the Big Red cannot face Quinnipiac because it would be an inter-conference matchup. Switching the full matchups also allow Minnesota State to have a slightly lower seed in its region, a nice acknowledgement to a first-round matchup against Providence College in Providence.

That’s a move I could see the selection committee making. Another could be flipping Ohio State and Arizona State, putting the Buckeyes in Allentown for a second straight year. Both schools need to fly for either regional. At the same time, if the committee believes Quinnipiac would be sufficient enough for Midwest Region attendance and wants to keep complete bracket integrity, this would be a fantastic year to run a straight 1-16, 2-15, etc. bracket.

The Northeast and West Regions play Friday March 29th and Saturday March 30th. The East and Midwest Regions play Saturday March 30th and Sunday March 31st with the regional winners moving on to Buffalo April 11th and 13th.

Nathan Wells is a longtime college hockey writer and writes a weekly bracketology column for NCAA.com. You can follow him on Twitter @gopherstate.

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