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Nathan Wells | NCAA.com | January 15, 2020

College hockey bracketology: How things look less than three months from the Frozen Four

Minnesota Duluth wins back-to-back hockey titles

It's been a month since NCAA.com last posted its initial men’s hockey bracketology, and much has changed across the sport.

Not only have teams at the top shuffled around slightly, but several new schools joined the ranks of the top 16 due to upsets and post-holiday break hot or cold streaks. 

The same six teams leading the way in December, however, remain the top six. Only two teams swapped spots as Cornell takes the top overall seed from former top overall seed and now-third overall Minnesota State. The group begins to separate into different tiers, which can be said for the remaining 54 schools (more on that another time). For now, a look at the latest bracket beckons.

CHAMPIONSHIP: Frozen Four 2020 schedule and dates

To find out more about how the selection committee chooses the 16 NCAA Tournament teams, please check our Bracketology 101 article on NCAA.com, which gives a deep dive on everything to know about the selection process. 

This Week’s Bracketology (as of 1/15/20):

1. Cornell (ECAC)
2. North Dakota (NCHC)
3. Minnesota State (WCHA)
4. Denver
T-5. Boston College (Hockey East)
T-5. Penn State (Big Ten)
7. Ohio State
T-8. Massachusetts
T-8. Minnesota Duluth
10. Clarkson 
11. Providence
12. Northeastern 
13. UMass-Lowell
14. Arizona State
15. Northern Michigan
28. Sacred Heart (Atlantic Hockey)

A 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.

Once again, the only conference leader outside the top 16 teams is Atlantic Hockey’s Sacred Heart. The Pioneers therefore take the place of Michigan State as the 16th overall seed.

FROZEN FOUR 2020: Tickets and Info

Unlike last month’s bracketology, a pair of ties need to be broken. Boston College and Penn State each claim 54 comparison wins. Massachusetts and Minnesota Duluth are tied for eighth, meaning one will be a No. 2 seed and one will be a No. 3 seed. Using RPI as a tiebreaker, the Eagles are placed above PSU while Massachusetts is 8th overall and UMD is 9th overall.

Teams by conference:
Hockey East: 5
NCHC: 3
Big Ten: 2
ECAC: 2
WCHA: 2
Atlantic Hockey: 1
Independent: 1

In: Providence, Northeastern, Northern Michigan
Out: Bowling Green, Michigan Tech, Notre Dame

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

No. 1 seeds: Cornell, North Dakota, Minnesota State, Denver
No. 2 seeds: Boston College, Penn State, Ohio State, Massachusetts
No. 3 seeds: Minnesota Duluth, Clarkson, Providence, Northeastern
No. 4 Seeds: UMass Lowell, Arizona State Northern Michigan, Sacred Heart

With the seeds assigned, step two is to automatically place the host institution of each regional at that regional if any made the field. Two host schools would be in the field if the season ended today. Denver (No. 1 seed) gets placed in the Loveland Regional and Penn State (No. 2 seed) goes to the Allentown Regional. Each will be there regardless of the bracket.

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, one matchup occurs between Hockey East city rivals Boston College and Northeastern.

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To make matters difficult, the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds feature four Hockey East teams and Penn State, who must be placed in Allentown. (Remember, teams can only be switched with ones on the same seeding band. A No. 3 seed cannot swap places with a No. 4 seed.) The options are limited to find a way to get around an inter-conference matchup, but a solution can be seen in the bracket below.

The Bracket:

Albany Regional (Albany, NY - Host ECAC)
1. Cornell vs. 16. Sacred Heart
8. Massachusetts vs. 9. Minnesota Duluth

Worcester Regional (Worcester, MA - Host Holy Cross)
2. North Dakota vs. 15. Northern Michigan 
5. Boston College vs. 10. Clarkson

Allentown Regional (Allentown, PA - Host Penn State)
3. Minnesota State vs. 14. Arizona State
6. Penn State vs. 11. Providence

Loveland Regional (Loveland, CO - Host Denver)
4. Denver vs. 13. UMass Lowell
7. Ohio State vs. 12. Northeastern

How Did We Get Here:

By making one switch to help out Worcester attendance and solve the Boston College-Northeastern problem, the bracket fell into place.

To separate Boston College and Northeastern, BC was switched with Ohio State, who goes to the Loveland Regional to face the Huskies. The rationale was simple — only Ohio State-Clarkson does not create an inter-conference matchup between two Hockey East teams.

RANKINGS: USCHO | USA Today/USA Hockey RPI

An easy switch with the teams next to Boston College and Northeastern cannot happen. Swapping Northeastern with Providence keeps the issue of an all-Hockey East matchup. The same issue arises with swapping Boston College and Massachusetts or Northeastern and Minnesota Duluth. 

That leaves moving either Boston College or Northeastern from Loveland to Worcester, where the committee’s choice boils down to attendance versus an easier path for the second overall seed, North Dakota.

How did North Dakota end up in Worcester? To answer, let’s take a step back to place the No. 1 seeds in preferred order. Cornell, the top overall seed, gets sent to nearby Albany. North Dakota, with Denver already placed in Loveland due to step two, goes to Worcester rather than Allentown to avoid a regional where the No. 2 seed (Penn State) holds an advantage hosting. Third overall seed Minnesota State goes to Allentown, whose path sees all its past bracketology nightmares at once down to Providence being in the same region.

While the committee tries to protect the top two overall seeds, it does not always if limited options force its hand. In this case, placing BC 40 miles away in nearby Worcester - a location where the Eagles have been successful over the years - gives an eastern regional two eastern teams and a boost in attendance. (There’s also a possibility of a regional final between two historic powers with a rich NCAA Tournament history against one another, but that’s more a bonus.) Placing Northeastern would see three western teams in Worcester and three eastern teams in Loveland. 

For that reason, it makes more sense to switch Boston College here rather than the Huskies. 

What’s Changed Since The Last Bracketology?

After the top three teams, Denver keeps the inside track as the final No. 1 seed thanks in part to a six-game winning streak and an early season sweep over Boston College. 

Due to the two wins and the two teams sharing no more common opponents, the Pioneers will hold the comparison win over BC regardless of RPI. For the Eagles to soar ahead for a No. 1 seed, Boston College would need to win an extra comparison or another team below them hold one against Denver. 

All three new teams made leaps into the bracket. Both Providence and Northeastern moved up five spots in the Pairwise to get on the right side of the bubble. Those pale in comparison to Northern Michigan, where the Wildcats went from 29th to 15th in the span of a month. NMU was nearly joined by Quinnipiac, who went from 28th to just outside the bubble at 17th.

The biggest drop? Bowling Green. BGSU was seventh in the initial bracketology. The Falcons now find itself 24th and fifth among WCHA teams. Arizona State, meanwhile, dropped five spots. At one point the Sun Devils were outside the NCAA Tournament bubble before getting back in last weekend.

We’ll get into this more next time with another bracket, breaking down the tiers and where teams find itself as the stretch run begins in earnest.

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