A lot can change on the ice in a few months. At this time two months ago, UMass Lowell was on the outside looking in to the 2020 NCAA tournament field. Maine held a Pairwise ranking in the 30s and Michigan was in need of an automatic bid. With less than two weeks to Selection Sunday, all three sit on the right side of the bubble in our latest edition of bracketology.
As all six conferences engage in postseason tournaments this weekend, it’s not out of the question for more teams to fluctuate around the NCAA tournament bubble.
To find out more about how the selection committee chooses the 16 Division I men’s hockey NCAA Tournament teams, please check our Bracketology 101 article which goes deep into everything to know about the selection process that will happen March 22.
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Otherwise, it’s time to break down the latest bracket.
This week’s bracketology (as of 3/11/20):
1. North Dakota (NCHC)
2. Minnesota State (WCHA)
3. Cornell (ECAC)
4. Minnesota Duluth
6. Boston College (Hockey East)
7. Penn State (Big Ten)
10. Ohio State
11. UMass Lowell
T-12. Bemidji State
T-12. Arizona State
26. American International (Atlantic Hockey)
A caveat: Since no team can earn an automatic bid before conference tournaments end, this bracketology assumes the highest remaining seed in each of the six conferences earns the automatic bid. That school will be noted above with the conference in parentheses.
The only team with an automatic bid outside the top 16 is Atlantic Hockey regular-season champion AIC. The Yellow Jackets take the place of the 16th overall seed, Quinnipiac.
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Only one tie needs to be broken. It’s a big one that determines seeding, however, as Bemidji State and Arizona State each have 47 comparison wins. The Beavers, with the higher RPI, are placed as the 12th overall and final No. 3 seed. ASU is the highest No. 4 seed and placed 13th overall.
Teams by conference:
- Hockey East: 4
- Big Ten: 3
- NCHC: 3
- ECAC: 2
- WCHA: 2
- Atlantic Hockey: 1
- Independent: 1
In: UMass Lowell, Michigan, Maine
Out: Northeastern, Minnesota, Western Michigan
First four out: Quinnipiac, Minnesota, Western Michigan, Northeastern
Time to seed. 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, Penn State, Massachusetts
No. 3 seeds: Clarkson, Ohio State, UMass Lowell, Bemidji State
No. 4 Seeds: Arizona State, Michigan, Maine, AIC
With the seeds now assigned, step two automatically places the host institution of each regional at that regional if any made the field. Two such teams make this bracket. Denver, as a No. 2 seed, hosts the Loveland Regional. Penn State, also as a 2 seed, hosts the Allentown Regional. Both get placed at their respective regionals.
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 this week. Boston College and UMass Lowell would play an all-Hockey East game while Penn State would face Ohio State in a Big Ten showdown.
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There’s a single swap which solves both issues in this week’s bracket, revealed below.
Albany Regional (Albany, NY – Host ECAC):
1. North Dakota vs. 16. American International College
8. Massachusetts vs. 9. Clarkson
Worcester Regional (Worcester, MA – Host Holy Cross)
2. Minnesota State vs. 15. Maine
6. Boston College vs. 10. Ohio State
Allentown Regional (Allentown, PA – Host Penn State)
3. Cornell vs. 14. Michigan
7. Penn State vs. 11. UMass Lowell
Loveland Regional (Loveland, CO – Host Denver)
4. Minnesota Duluth vs. 13. Arizona State
5. Denver vs. 12. Bemidji State
How we got here
This week’s bracket falls into place by making one giant assumption.
The bracket assumes No. 1 overall North Dakota goes to Albany. The rationale is that while all four regions are a flight for the Fighting Hawks, Albany is the closest without a host team. That protects the No. 1 overall seed by giving UND a slightly easier path to the Frozen Four without the potential of facing a host team in a regional final.
With North Dakota placed, and three western teams being No. 1 seeds once again, second overall seed Minnesota State goes to Worcester and avoids a regional host as well. Third overall seed Cornell gets placed in nearby Allentown. Fourth overall seed Minnesota Duluth heads west to Loveland.
Keeping a 1-16, 2-15, etc. straight bracket, this setup keeps Denver in Loveland without switching places and a region with four Western teams. Bracket integrity gives Albany three teams within driving distance plus North Dakota’s fanbase. Allentown has Cornell within driving distance and Boston College helps Worcester thanks to swapping places with Penn State.
Since Penn State-Ohio State and Boston College-UMass Lowell cannot happen, and Penn State needs to be in Allentown, it makes sense to switch the Nittany Lions and Eagles with one another. That way Penn State is also in Allentown while BC ends up closer to home with a non-Hockey East opponent.
Making the one change creates a solid bracket. Each of the seven eastern teams are within driving distance of a regional and each regional besides Loveland has at least two nearby teams. It’s difficult to make everyone happy, but this seems to with minimal change to bracket integrity.
However, could it be better for attendance? That’s a good question and one discussed next.
About that one bracket assumption
This bracket only works under the assumption North Dakota will be protected as the No. 1 overall seed.
Historically the No. 1 overall seed ends up being protected. However, if attendance is a factor, then would the committee place the Fighting Hawks in Allentown with host Penn State to boost both eastern regions? Or stay out west in Loveland? Does Minnesota State, as the second overall seed, get protected? Could the Mavericks end up in Allentown and Cornell placed in Worcester to give that region a third eastern team?
There’s also the hybrid option of placing North Dakota in Worcester and Cornell in Albany to help attendance. That bracket has the added effect of keeping the top eight overall seeds in the same spots.
These questions will be crucial for the committee to decide. Even with this week’s bracket, there could be discussion about switching Clarkson and Ohio State with one another for attendance. Remember, teams on the same seeding band can be swapped for one another if it does not create an inter-conference matchup.
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For now, I’m working under the assumption the No. 1 overall seed gets protected from a region with a host team and Cornell, as close to Allentown as it is to Albany, would be better off there than Worcester.
What’s changed since the last bracketology
As Selection Sunday draws near, bracketology gets back to the biggest change being the final No. 1 seed. Thanks to New Hampshire tying Boston College on Saturday, Minnesota Duluth was able to leapfrog into the fourth overall spot. At this point, it appears likely one of those two teams will end up with the final No. 1 seed.
Three new teams entered this week’s bracket. Two took the place of conference mates in the same seeding band. Michigan, after going 3-0-1 and taking five of six points against Minnesota, replaced the Gophers. UMass Lowell, after dropping out of the previous bracketology, returned and jumped up to a No. 3 seed. The River Hawks replace Northeastern, whose six-game losing streak knocked the Huskies to the other side of the bubble.
Maine, meanwhile, sneaks past Western Michigan by the smallest of margins. The difference between in and out sees Maine, Quinnipiac and Western Michigan all currently separated by .0002 in RPI.
Four of the six conferences began their tournaments last weekend. Of the teams whose season ended, Notre Dame was the highest profile to fall. The Fighting Irish, beginning the weekend 20th in the PairWise, were a win away from being one of the first four teams out. Instead, Jeff Jackson’s team will sit at home during the NCAA tournament for the first time in five seasons.
So will Michigan State, who led the Big Ten as late as last month, and a Dartmouth team that was 19th in the PairWise on January 20th.
The bubble watch
One loss this time of the season can make or break a team’s chances. One loss can also move a team perceived to be safe, such as Bemidji State prior to its loss to Lake Superior State, closer to the bubble.
All conference tournaments this weekend are best-of-three series besides the Big Ten semifinals.
Bemidji State (T-12th in the PairWise) hosts Bowling Green (21st). BSU swept when the two teams played in Bemidji Jan. 31-Feb.1, however, the Falcons are unbeaten (8-0-2) since. A BGSU series win would put Bowling Green near the bubble and likely end the Beavers’ NCAA hopes.
Maine (15th) hosts a UConn team who was on a 6-2-0 run before being swept last weekend UMass Lowell. Northeastern (19th) faces Massachusetts and Providence (22nd), the final squad to make the eight-team Hockey East playoffs, heads to top-seed Boston College. Both need a series win to continue any postseason dreams.
Minnesota and Michigan both travel on the road for single-elimination Big Ten semifinals. The Gophers (17th) head to Penn State to face the regular-season champion Nittany Lions likely needing a victory to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive. While the Wolverines (14th) would be in better position to handle a damaging loss, a win for either team would be a major boost to the chances of an at-large bid.
Quinnipiac (16th) hosts rival Yale in an ECAC quarterfinal series. Western Michigan (18th) hosts St. Cloud State (24th). Only the Atlantic Hockey winner will represent the conference in NCAA play, but series to watch include Bentley at AIC, along with Robert Morris at Sacred Heart.
Of course, Arizona State (T-12th) continues to sit. We’ll wait and see if the Sun Devils end up on the right side of the bubble.
We’ll be back next week with a final look at what work teams have left to make the NCAA tournament in the final week before Selection Sunday.