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Nathan Wells | | February 12, 2020

The 2020 NCAA college hockey bracket, predicted about 2 months from the Frozen Four

Denver captures this week's hockey top play

So much for everything falling into place.

The projected 2020 men’s hockey NCAA Tournament bracket has a whole new look since we last made projections. Four new teams got on the right side of the 16-team field and there was change near the top when Minnesota Duluth went from nearly a No. 4 seed to the fourth overall seed.

The NCAA tournament features 16 teams, including six that qualify by winning a conference tournament in the Big Ten, Atlantic Hockey, ECAC, Hockey East, NCHC and WCHA. The remaining 10 spots are filled by at-large bids made up of the 10 best teams who didn’t earn an automatic bid. To find out more about how the selection committee chooses the 16 NCAA Tournament teams, please check our Bracketology 101 article, which explains everything about the selection process. 

Here are the latest projections:

Projected 2020 college hockey tournament field (as of Feb. 12)

1. North Dakota (NCHC)
2. Minnesota State (WCHA)
3. Cornell (ECAC)
4. Minnesota Duluth
5. Denver
6. Boston College (Hockey East)
7. Massachusetts 
8. Penn State
9. Clarkson
10. Arizona State
11. UMass Lowell
12. Northeastern
T-13. Maine
T-13. Quinnipiac
T-19. Michigan State (Big Ten)
33. American International College (Atlantic Hockey)

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

The leaders of the Big Ten and Atlantic Hockey conferences are outside the top 16. Michigan State owns the tie-breaker versus Penn State, and due to a comeback win against Minnesota, Sparty now sits atop the conference. In Atlantic Hockey, AIC overtakes Providence as the 16th overall seed after its 6-2 defeat of second-place Sacred Heart on Tuesday.

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Using RPI as a tiebreaker, the only tie which would need to be broken for seeding is Maine and Quinnipiac for the 13th overall seed. Each school has 46 comparison wins. Maine, having the higher RPI, is placed 13th overall while the Bobcats are 14th.

Here is how the projected field breaks down, by conference:

  • Hockey East: 5
  • ECAC: 3
  • NCHC: 3
  • Big Ten: 2
  • Atlantic Hockey: 1
  • Independent: 1
  • WCHA: 1

In since the last projection: UMass Lowell, Maine, Quinnipiac, Michigan State
Out since the last projection: Providence, Ohio State, New Hampshire, Northern Michigan

Based on step one, the seeding bands would be as follows:

No. 1 seeds: North Dakota, Minnesota State, Cornell, Minnesota Duluth
No. 2 seeds: Denver, Boston College, Massachusetts, Penn State
No. 3 seeds: Clarkson, Arizona State, UMass Lowell, Northeastern
No. 4 Seeds: Maine, Quinnipiac, Michigan State, AIC

With the seeds assigned, step two is to automatically place the host of each regional at that regional if any made the field. This week, a pair of No. 2 seeds host between Denver and Penn State. Both making the field would mean Denver would be placed in the Loveland Regional and Penn State the Allentown Regional.

Step three fills the bracket to avoid first-round inter-conference matchups if possible. On a straight 1-16, 2-15, etc. bracket, a pair of inter-conference games would occur. Cornell lines up against ECAC foe Quinnipiac. Boston College faces UMass Lowell in an all-Hockey East showdown.

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Moving those teams around creates this week’s bracket:

The projected 2020 NCAA college hockey bracket (as of Feb. 12)

Albany Regional (Albany, NY - Host ECAC)
1. North Dakota vs. 16. American International
6. Boston College vs. 9. Clarkson

Worcester Region (Worcester, MA - Host Holy Cross)
2. Minnesota State vs. 14. Quinnipiac
7. Massachusetts vs. 10. Arizona State

Allentown Region (Allentown, PA - Host Penn State)
3. Cornell vs. 15. Michigan State
8. Penn State vs. 11. UMass Lowell

Loveland Region (Loveland, CO - Host Denver)
4. Minnesota Duluth vs. 13. Maine
5. Denver vs. 12. Northeastern

This bracket is full of intriguing contests on the road to Detroit by getting rid of inter-conference matchups and protecting the No. 1 overall seed.

The easier of the two inter-conference swaps involves a simple switch between Michigan State and Quinnipiac. In this case, the committee has two options. However, swapping these two instead of Quinnipiac and Maine puts a much-needed second Eastern team in an Eastern regional. It also gives a rematch of an early season series between Cornell and Michigan State. 

The more difficult switch involves the same regional as Cornell. With four Hockey East teams spread across No. 2 and No. 3 seeds, the only first-round game where either Boston College or UMass Lowell can be swapped without creating another all-Hockey East game is Penn State-Clarkson. 

Penn State, as discussed in step two, must play in Allentown as regional host. On a straight 1-16, 2-15, etc. bracket, this would leave No. 1 overall seed North Dakota in a regional where the host team is the No. 2 seed. Swapping the Nittany Lions with Boston College and into Cornell’s regional would mean Cornell, the No. 3 overall seed, plays in Allentown — only 10 miles further from the Big Red than Albany. North Dakota gets protected by not having a host team in its regional. As a trade off, Cornell benefits by having slightly lower No. 2 and No. 4 seeds.

With the inter-conference matchups swapped, the No. 1 seeds can be placed. North Dakota is slotted in Albany. Minnesota State, as the No. 2 overall, goes to Worcester. Cornell drives to Allentown. Minnesota Duluth goes west to Loveland, where host Denver sits as the No. 2 seed.

The bracket also looks pretty good from an attendance perspective thanks to earlier swapping Michigan State with Quinnipiac.

What’s changed since the last bracketology

A 4-0 run with the right wins put Minnesota Duluth from the bottom of a tightly packed “likely in” tier to leaping over two teams fighting for the final No. 1 seed. All in all, the Bulldogs moved up eight spots in two weeks.

By sweeping Denver, UMD went 3-0-1 against the Pioneers this season and took the comparison between the two teams regardless of how the rest of the season goes. A win is worth one point. Denver can only take two points with a better RPI and record against common opponents, which is currently the case. Losing the comparison also took away the advantage DU, who holds Boston College’s comparison, had over BC in holding the No. 4 overall seed regardless of RPI. 


When Boston College lost to UMass Lowell last weekend, Minnesota Duluth was able to leap over both teams thanks to a better RPI over the Eagles and by holding Denver’s comparison. 

For the three new at-large teams, Quinnipiac got back to its spot lost by falling to Sacred Heart thanks in part to a 5-0 win over Cornell. In Hockey East, the juggling continues with five teams fighting for three spots. Maine went 3-0 over the last two weeks, beating Northeastern, while UMass Lowell got back thanks to the win over Boston College. Providence’s three-game losing streak saw the Friars being the odd Hockey East team out this week while Ohio State dropped five spots in a 1-2-1 stretch.

Several series with NCAA Tournament implications occur this weekend. Denver faces North Dakota in a battle of two top-five teams. Arizona State, nearing the end of its season, can almost solidify a spot with a sweep over Alaska Anchorage. Quinnipiac is on the bubble and faces Clarkson on Friday.

Those games and many more will leave a new bracket to sort through as the 2020 NCAA Tournament inches closer.

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