Teams in top 12 of PairWise on March 1 have history on their side

Below are the PairWise Rankings through Feb. 29, with notations from 13 years of data on the 16-team NCAA tournament.

1. Quinnipiac
2. North Dakota
3. St. Cloud State
4. Providence
5. Boston College
6. Michigan
7t. Denver
7t. Yale
9t. Notre Dame
9t. Boston University
11. Harvard
12. Massachusetts-Lowell
13. Omaha
14t. Penn State
— Projected cut line —
14t. Minnesota-Duluth
16t. Minnesota
16t. Michigan Tech
— Average position for outsider to make the tournament —
18. Miami
19t. Robert Morris
19t. Cornell
19t. Minnesota State
22. Northeastern
23. Clarkson
24. St. Lawrence
25t. Rensselaer
25t. Bowling Green
— Lowest any team has been ranked and still qualified —
25t. Dartmouth
28t. Air Force
28t. Union
30. Holy Cross
31. Northern Michigan
32. Bemidji State
33. Ferris State
34. Mercyhurst
35. Merrimack
36. Vermont
37t. Ohio State
37t. Western Michigan
39. New Hampshire
40t. Connecticut
40t. RIT
40t. Wisconsin
40t. Colgate
44. Michigan State
45. Army
46. Lake Superior
47. Brown
48t. Sacred Heart
48t. Massachusetts
50. Alaska-Anchorage
51t. Bentley
51t. Maine
53. Colorado College
54. Canisius
55. Alaska
56. Princeton
57. Alabama-Huntsville
58. Niagara
59. Arizona State
60. American International

As you can see, the margin for error has gotten much tighter. The average team from outside the rankings to make it only comes from the No. 17 spot. The outlier is the 2010 Michigan Wolverines squad, which was ranked 25th and then went on a rampage through the CCHA playoffs.

Since the field expanded to 16 teams in 2003, 88.1 percent of teams that have been in the field as of March 1 have eventually made the tournament. Among teams ranked 1-12 on March 1, 93 percent have qualified, with the 2007 Denver team being the only No. 2 seed to fall from the field. Of the 13 previous seasons, all 12 teams remained in the field on Selection Sunday five times. In 2006 and 2011, the top 14 teams all made the tournament. In 2006, the cut line was 14 so it was a perfect field three weeks out. In 2011, only No. 15 Dartmouth was replaced by No. 19 Western Michigan in the tournament.

All of the top seeds should historically be safe by this time. In the race to be the No. 1 overall team, the contest still favors the current No. 1 team historically, but the Nos. 2 and 3 teams have a growing chance.

Of the 13 seasons, the overall No. 1 at the end of February retained the top seed six times. The No. 2 team has taken the top seed four times, and in each of the first three seasons of the current format the No. 3 team captured the overall top seed. No other team has ever captured the overall No. 1 ranking. History says it will be a three-way race this season between Quinnipiac, North Dakota and St. Cloud State.

In 12 of the 13 seasons, the overall No. 1 in the PairWise at the start of March remained in the top three on Selection Sunday. The only team that did not is the 2012 Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, who dropped from No. 1 overall to No. 7 after a loss and a tie at St. Cloud State and a double-OT loss to Denver in the WCHA semifinals. That’s very good news for Quinnipiac.

The news isn’t as good for the defending champion Providence Friars. Only five times has the No. 4 overall team on March 1 captured a No. 1 regional seed. The other eight times they have dropped into the second band. Four times they have been replaced by the No. 5 team and twice by No. 6.

The recent past has shown that teams from outside the top 10 can rise up and take a No. 1 regional seed. From 2003 to 2010, no team lower than No. 8 had ever achieved this. Then in 2011, No. 10 Miami jumped to No. 4 overall. The next year, No. 14 North Dakota captured a No. 1 regional seed. And in 2013, No. 11 Massachusetts-Lowell and No. 14 Notre Dame climbed the rankings as both won conference championships to rise to Nos. 3 and 4, respectively.

At the tail end of the rankings — with very few exceptions — a team must already be on the bubble like Minnesota-Duluth, Minnesota or Michigan Tech. Only three teams have clawed their way into the tournament from No. 20 or worse at this point: the aforementioned Wolverines, the 2013 Union Dutchmen (No. 21) and the 2010 Northern Michigan Wildcats (No. 20).

Of course, this is all according to history. One of the reasons we watch the sport as passionately as we do is because we just might see something that has never happened before. Will anyone step up and be this year’s Michigan? Or will it be like 2006 and we already know who is in the field? This is why we watch.