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Nathan Wells | NCAA.com | December 11, 2019

College hockey bracketology: How things look heading into winter break

Minnesota Duluth wins back-to-back hockey titles

Time flies when you’re having fun with the puck on the ice.

It seems like yesterday that teams were opening their respective seasons. Blink and more than two months have come and gone. College hockey reached the point where several teams are done until 2020.

With it now being December, this week marks a good time to take stock of where teams find themselves with an early look at how the 2020 Division 1 Men’s Hockey NCAA Tournament brackets are beginning to take shape. 

RELATED: Frozen Four 2020 schedule and dates

Make no mistake, the trek to the Frozen Four in Detroit is just beginning. Teams continue to move up and down as the rankings begin to solidify. Being swept at the hands of Boston College saw Notre Dame fall six spots. Meanwhile, the top three overall seeds, each of whom so far only lost once this season, all spent time at No. 1 overall at one point Saturday.

To find out more about how the selection committee chooses the 16 teams, please check our Bracketology 101 on NCAA.com. That goes more in-depth on everything you need to know about the selection process.

By using these steps and the Pairwise Rankings, which mimic the criteria the committee uses to select teams, it’s time for 2019-20’s first bracketology. The Pairwise Rankings can be found at College Hockey News or USCHO.com.

This week’s Bracketology (as of 12/11/19):

1. Minnesota State (WCHA)
2. North Dakota (NCHC)
3. Cornell (ECAC)
4. Denver
5. Boston College (Hockey East)
6. Penn State (Big Ten)
7. Bowling Green
8. Ohio State
9. Arizona State
10. Massachusetts
11. Minnesota Duluth
12. UMass Lowell
13. Michigan Tech
14. Clarkson
15. Notre Dame
20. Sacred Heart (Atlantic Hockey)

One caveat: 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 earns the automatic bid in each of the six conferences. That school will be noted above with the conference in parenthesis.

FROZEN FOUR 2020: Tickets and Info

Not every conference leader is among the top 16 teams, however. Atlantic Hockey leader Sacred Heart, who has never appeared, therefore takes the place of 2019 Frozen Four participant and 16th overall seed Providence.

Normally this would be the time when any ties get broken. Surprisingly, this week’s bracketology features no ties. Unfortunately, seeding the bracket doesn’t stay as clean.

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

Time to seed. Based on step one, the seeding bands would be as follows:

No. 1 seeds: Minnesota State, North Dakota, Cornell, Denver
No. 2 seeds: Boston College, Penn State, Bowling Green, Ohio State
No. 3 seeds: Arizona State, Massachusetts, Minnesota Duluth, UMass Lowell
No. 4 seeds: Michigan Tech, Clarkson, Notre Dame, Sacred Heart

Step two, now that the seeds are assigned, is to automatically place the host institution of each region in that region if any made the field. Two host schools - Denver and Penn State - are currently in the field. That means Denver (No. 1 seed) gets placed in the Loveland Regional while Penn State (No. 2 seed) goes to the Allentown Regional on each respective seeding band.

Step three looks at filling the bracket to avoid first-round inter-conference matchups if possible. On a straight 1-16, 2-15, etc. bracket, two such matchups occur. Cornell and Clarkson, the only two ECAC schools, slot in against one another. So do Boston College and UMass Lowell in Hockey East.

MEN'S HOCKEY: Stats | Scores | Champ History 

To avoid inter-conference matchups, let’s switch UMass Lowell and Minnesota Duluth with one another along with Clarkson and Notre Dame. Remember teams can only be switched between their seeding bands. So while UMass Lowell is one place higher than Michigan Tech, the River Hawks cannot swap places with the Huskies since one is a No. 3 seed and the other is a No. 4 seed. UMass Lowell and Minnesota Duluth, meanwhile, are both No. 3 seeds.

The committee has options placing teams after the required hosts, so all the work and decision making is shown below this week’s bracket.

The Bracket:

Albany Regional (Albany, NY - Host ECAC)
1. Minnesota State vs. 16 Sacred Heart
8. Ohio State vs. 9. Arizona State

Worcester Regional (Worcester, MA - Host Holy Cross)
2. North Dakota vs. 14. Clarkson
7. Bowling Green vs. 10 Massachusetts

Allentown Regional (Allentown, PA - Host Penn State)
3. Cornell vs. 15. Notre Dame
6. Penn State vs. 12. UMass Lowell

Loveland Regional (Loveland, CO - Host Denver)
4. Denver vs. 13. Michigan Tech
5. Boston College vs. 11. Minnesota Duluth

How did we get here?

By protecting the top two overall seeds and avoiding hosts.

While it’s December, two host teams in the top six make it likely the battle for the number one overall seed ends up being one to get the best of a tough situation. Both Minnesota State and North Dakota get sent eastward by default. Denver, as a No. 1 seed and host, must play in the West Regional and takes away the option for both. 

Neither team would face Penn State in the first round, but it seems like a benefit for the top teams to not play in the Allentown Regional with the Nittany Lions having a hosting advantage. Add in the fact that all three remaining options are flights and neither team truly loses an advantage by going to an eastern regional.

So with that in mind, let’s place Minnesota State in the slightly closer Albany Regional and North Dakota in the Worcester Regional. Cornell, by default, goes to the nearby Allentown Regional with Penn State. 

After that, the rest of the bracket fills in easily. No matchups need to be switched for attendance purposes.

RANKINGS: USCHO | USA Today/USA Hockey | RPI

Now, the committee could use a few other options. Attendance could use a pickup in the Albany Regional. Only Sacred Heart is within driving distance. It would make sense to find a way to get Cornell there if bracket integrity calls for it, however, there’s not a good way without putting the number one overall seed in a tough situation. The Big Red are close to both the Allentown and Albany Regionals. Allentown is only 10 miles further from the Big Red than Albany. Plus there’s a precedent in the lowest available No. 1 seed being placed in a situation with a host or school in its home city, as Minnesota State knows all too well.

Switching another nearby matchup with Ohio State-Arizona State does not solve the issue. Penn State must play in Allentown. Swapping Bowling Green-UMass, or just UMass with Arizona State, would help, but also puts all three Massachusetts schools playing outside the regional in Massachusetts. Only having six Eastern teams means there will be holes.

Still, it’s early. These will change between now and March 24th, when the NCAA Tournament bracket gets unveiled. If your team isn’t listed here, that’s not the end of the world. 2018 Frozen Four participant Michigan was under .500 in mid-January. Clarkson was 26th at the holiday break last season before being the fifth overall seed in 2019.

There’s plenty of hockey left to be played. Just don’t blink. It’ll be March before you know it.

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