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Nathan Wells | | December 20, 2018

NCAA hockey bracketology: The field of 16 projected for the Frozen Four

Minnesota Duluth adds second trophy to case

The 2018-19 DI men’s hockey season reached its unofficial halfway point over the weekend. 

With that said, this is a good time to take stock of the first half and look at what the second half could bring with an early look at how the NCAA tournament bracket could shape up for this year’s Frozen Four in Buffalo, New York. 

2019 Frozen Four: Tickets and Info

Below is our first Bracketology for the season: 

*See more about the selection process below or check out our article on everything you need to know about the selection process.

This week’s Bracketology (as of 12/19/18):

1. Massachusetts (Hockey East)
2. St. Cloud State (NCHC)
3. Quinnipiac (ECAC)
4. Ohio State (Big Ten)
5. Minnesota Duluth
6. Notre Dame
7. Denver
8. Minnesota State
9. Arizona State
10. Bowling Green
11. Penn State
12. Providence
T-13. Northeastern
T-13. Union
23. Michigan Tech (WCHA)
27. Air Force (Atlantic Hockey)

A few things to shake out. First, there is a tie to break. Northeastern has the same number of comparison wins as Union. The tiebreaker is RPI so the Huskies, with the higher RPI, are placed above the Dutchmen.

Second, not every conference leader is among the top 16 teams. Therefore WCHA leader Michigan Tech and Atlantic Hockey leader Air Force get added, taking the place of 15th place Western Michigan and tied for 16th North Dakota. While not in the tournament for this week’s bracketology, there is a silver lining for Broncos and Fighting Hawks fans. Minnesota Duluth was in the exact same spot at this time last season.

Teams by conference:
Atlantic Hockey: 1
Big Ten: 3
Hockey East: 3
Independent: 1

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

No. 1 seeds: Massachusetts, St. Cloud State, Quinnipiac, Ohio State
No. 2 seeds: Minnesota Duluth, Notre Dame, Denver, Minnesota State
No. 3 seeds: Arizona State, Bowling Green, Penn State, Providence
No. 4 seeds: Northeastern, Union, Michigan Tech, Air Force

Now that the seeds are assigned, step two is to place the home teams of each regional. Host institutions automatically will play at its home regional. Of the four hosts, only Penn State is currently in this week’s bracketology. The Nittany Lions are hence placed in the Midwest Regional. 

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, there are currently two of those matchups: Quinnipiac-Union and Notre Dame-Penn State.

To get rid of those, let’s switch Union and Northeastern with one another. Both are four seeds (Remember: Teams cannot be switched to a different seed.) and were tied for comparison wins. On the other side, let’s switch Providence and Penn State with one another so that Notre Dame now faces the Friars and UMD plays the Nittany Lions. Doing this also avoids Denver and Penn State being in the same regional three straight years.

With no more inter-conference first round matchups, I put UMass in the Northeast Regional, St. Cloud State in the West Regional, Quinnipiac in the East Regional and Ohio State in the Midwest Regional to keep all as close to home as possible. 

From there it’s a matter of setting up the regional brackets to get:

Northeast Regional (Manchester, NH):
1. Massachusetts vs. 16. Air Force
8. Minnesota State vs. 9. Arizona State

East Regional (Providence, RI):
3. Quinnipiac vs. 13. Northeastern
6. Notre Dame vs. 12. Providence

Midwest Regional (Allentown, PA):
4. Ohio State vs. 14. Union
5. Minnesota Duluth vs. 11. Penn State

West Regional (Fargo, ND):
2. St. Cloud State vs. 15. Michigan Tech
7. Denver vs. 10. Bowling Green

Having all four of the two seeds be from the Big Ten, NCHC and WCHA doesn’t make it easy, but this ends up being a pretty good bracket for attendance while keeping bracket integrity. As a side effect of Penn State needing to be in Allentown, Providence now plays in Providence. St. Cloud State and Michigan Tech get a chance to recreate its memorable 2015 NCAA Tournament game in the same building. Notre Dame and Providence had one in last year’s regional final as well. 

RELATED: Everything you need to know ahead of the 2019 Beanpot

All in all, 11 of the 16 teams from 2018, including three of the four making the Frozen Four, made the first bracketology cut for the 2019 tournament.

That’s just if the season ended today, however. There’s still a half season of hockey to be played. It’ll be interesting to see how much changes or stays the same when the NCAA Tournament brackets are announced on March 24th.

Until then, we’ll keep regularly updating the brackets and go through some of the intricacies of placing teams in various regionals as teams get back from break and play games. 

ALSO: The best power play teams in college hockey, right now

The bracket can and will change until the very last game before the NCAA tournament finishes in mid-March; a fact defending national champion Minnesota Duluth knows all too well. The Bulldogs engraved “.0001” on its 2018 national championship rings for the difference between UMD getting into the tournament and staying home after a slow start of the season for a young team.

Each game counts the same for tournament consideration no matter whether it happens October 6th or March 23rd, but it’s been an eventful first half throughout the college hockey landscape. “New” seems to be a running theme, from players to coaches to the entertaining success in Amherst that is “#NewMass.”

Two years removed from a 5 win season that saw the Minutemen lose 22 of its final 23 games, head coach Greg Carvel’s University of Massachusetts team flipped the script so far this year. UMass finds itself atop Hockey East with a 14-2-0 record and undefeated in conference play. Carvel and company have been getting it done with help from underclassmen. Led by dynamic sophomore defenseman Cale Makar, eight of the Minutemen’s top 10 scorers are either freshmen or sophomores, as are goaltenders Matt Murray and Filip Lindberg.

Right with the Minutemen is last year’s top overall seed, St. Cloud State, continuing its regular season success with new head coach Brett Larson. The Huskies, the only team to be averaging more than four goals per game and giving up less than two, have a single loss in 16 games and a seven point lead in the always difficult race for the Penrose Cup awarded to the NCHC regular season champion.

The new theme continues with DI’s two newest schools, Penn State and Arizona State, both showcasing offense. Penn State is averaging 5.22 goals per game, a number not seen in men’s D1 college hockey since Quinnipiac in 1999-2000, and has scored five or more goals eight times already. Five different Nittany Lions players ended the first half scoring 20 or more points.

RELATED: Latest Rankings

Arizona State, meanwhile, features the nation’s leading goal scorer through the first half with sophomore forward Johnny Walker. Currently in its fourth season of playing an independent schedule, the Sun Devils (14-6-0) are trying to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history. 

Some other highlights so far this season: Defensively, it’s been an exciting first half on the blue line whether it’s Quinnipiac’s Chase Priskie scoring 12 goals in 17 games, Harvard’s Adam Fox and Michigan’s Quinn Hughes making nightly highlight-reels, or Bowling Green shutting down top WCHA offenses as the Falcons try to snap a nearly 30-year NCAA tournament drought.

As a refresher, and for any new college hockey fans, here’s a quick Bracketology 101 lesson for how the committee selects which schools make the NCAA tournament. Spoiler: It’s math.

How The Committee Decides:

The tournament features 16 teams. Six qualify by winning one of the six conference tournaments and earning an automatic bid. The remaining 10 spots are filled by at-large bids made up of the 10 best teams who didn’t earn an automatic bid.

RELATED: 2019 NCAA championships winter selection show schedule

To decide the at-large bids, the committee uses a computer ranking system comprised of three different criteria that compares each of the 60 men’s Division 1 teams against one another. The more comparisons a team can claim over opponents, the higher it will be ranked. 

As for the three different criteria, two - record against common opponents and head-to-head record - are straightforward. A team earns a point for the better record and for each win in head-to-head play. 

The third criteria, Ratings Percentage Index (hereafter referred to as RPI), also awards a single point but involves a little more math. RPI combines a team’s win-loss record (25 percent), its opponents’ winning percentage (21 percent) and its opponents’ opponents’ winning percentage (54 percent) into a ranking. Teams also can get quality win bonuses for beating teams in the top 20 and home/away wins are weighted differently. If two teams are tied in points when comparing one another, RPI may also act as a determining factor.

RELATED: RPI rankings

The committee may also evaluate each team’s eligibility and availability of student-athletes for NCAA championships.

Those are the basic ideas. There are other, more advanced factors that may come up later as March gets closer, but for now, keep those main Bracketology 101 ideas in mind. Also keep in mind that the and USA Today/USA Hockey national polls do not play a role in the committee deciding which teams make the NCAA Tournament.


Determining the seeding of all 16 teams involves the committee using a three-step process taken verbatim from the NCAA tournament pre-championship manual:

1. Once the six automatic qualifiers and 10 at-large teams are selected, the next step is to develop four groups from the committee’s rankings of 1-16. The top four teams are No. 1 seeds and will be placed in the bracket so that if all four teams advance to the Men’s Frozen Four, the No. 1 seed will play the No. 4 seed and the No. 2 seed will play the No. 3 seed in the semifinals. The next four are targeted as No. 2 seeds. The next four are No. 3 seeds and the last four are No. 4 seeds. 

2. Step two is to place the home teams. Host institutions that qualify will be placed at home. 

The following schools will host 2019 NCAA tournament regionals:
East Regional (Providence, RI) - Brown University

Northeast Regional (Manchester, NH) - University of New Hampshire

Midwest Regional (Allentown, PA) - Penn State University

West Regional (Fargo, ND) - University of North Dakota

3. Step three is to fill in the bracket so that first-round conference matchups are avoided, unless it corrupts the integrity of the bracket. If five or more teams from one conference are selected to the championship, then the integrity of the bracket will be protected (i.e., maintaining the pairing process according to seed will take priority over avoidance of first-round conference matchups). To complete each regional, the committee assigns one team from each of the remaining seeded groups so there is a No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 seed at each regional site.

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

RELATED: 2018 Championship Bracket

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

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