Bracketology: With more games played, what teams are in, out of the upcoming NCAA men’s hockey tournament?

Would Boston University and high-end defenseman David Farrance make the NCAA tournament if the event began today? (photo: Rich Gagnon).

Last week, in the inaugural edition of Bracketology for the 2020-21 season, Jim and Jayson attempted to layout their potential field for this year’s NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey tournament.

Jim took an approach that attempted to rank the six conferences and pick teams based on that using a recent memo (see below) from the men’s ice hockey committee.

Jayson decided to take a different route, allowing each conference to place their top two teams in the tournament and then filling the final four spots based on winning percentages, without any conference bias whatsoever.

Let’s see how these two approach this week:

As mentioned last week, at-large selection of teams will change. Based on the extremely limited amount of inter-conference play, it is very difficult to compare one league to another and thus, one team to another.

The NCAA has attempted to clarify the process. In a memo from the NCAA that was issued on February 16, it states:

“Due to the limited number of inter-conference games played this year, the committee has determined that the statistical value of the PairWise and RPI is not what it is in a typical year. As a result, the committee will not be using a strict PairWise comparisons as the sole determinant for at-large selection and seeding; however, the various criteria that have made up the PairWise and the RPI will be the primary basis for consideration by the committee in its selection and seeding process.

The criteria include:
• Won/Loss Record
• Strength of Schedule
• Head-to-Head Results
• Results vs. Common Opponents
• Quality Wins
• Home/Away Weighting

Due to the unusual nature of this year’s selection process, the committee will institute the use of two regional advisory committees comprised of six members each. Three national committee members from each region, as well as additional coach from each conference in the region, will serve on the regional advisory committees. The representatives were provided to the committee based on recommendations from the conference commissioners. These committees will assist in the observation and evaluation of teams and provide recommendations to the national committee.”

Let’s attempt to translate.

Basically, the PairWise, as we all know it can be thrown out. But the criteria used to establish the PairWise can and will be used to rank teams, particularly within each conference. From there, though, there will be an “eye test” provided by two regional committees that will help the six-member NCAA committee select the field.

Thus, in this year’s Brackteology, Jim Connelly and Jayson Moy will work each week to give their best guesses based on games played to date, which teams should qualify for the 16-team field.

Jim: Well, Jayson, you stirred the pot last week when you placed three teams from Atlantic Hockey in the 16-team field but just two from the Big Ten. So I’m curious to see if you’ll use the same approach this week.

I’m going to try to remain consistent, at least in my approach. Last week, I ranked the conferences and will do that again. I gave them letter grades last week but will change and use tiers this week.

Tier I: NCHC
Tier II: Hockey East, Big Ten
Tier IV: WCHA, Atlantic Hockey

Based on that approach, I want to maximize the number of teams that earn bids in my top two tiers. If possible, I think it is fair to have four teams from the NCHC, Hockey East and Big Ten – though that might not be easy for the latter two (I’ll explain more in a bit).

ECAC, with only four teams, shouldn’t have more than one team, in my opinion, unless its leading team, Quinnipiac, doesn’t win the automatic qualifier as conference champion.

I think the WCHA definitely has a case for two teams, maybe three, while Atlantic Hockey to me already has a lock in AIC and could gain a second team if the Yellow Jackets don’t win the conference tournament.

So let me begin with placing some of my “locks” into my field. I have 12 thus far.

NCHC: North Dakota, St. Cloud State, Minnesota Duluth and Omaha
Hockey East: Boston College, Massachusetts
Big Ten: Minnesota, Wisconsin
ECAC: Quinnipiac
WCHA: Minnesota State, Bowling Green

One caveat I have is Boston University in Hockey East. At 10-3-0, the Terriers have the sixth-best winning percentage in the nation. But, should BU lose twice this weekend, the final weekend of the regular season and go one-and-done in the conference tournament, I’d be hard pressed to call them a lock at 10-6-0. So right now, I’m holding off on calling BU a lock.

But with 12 locks, I’ll only have four spots to fill. It won’t be easy, but that’s my approach.

How are you approaching things this week?

Jayson: I still like my approach. I know that there are grumblings because of the perceived strength of conferences. But again, and I need to stress this, this is not your typical year and without Inter-Conference play, you just can’t tell who if one conference is better than another. Yes, polls tell you one thing, but is it true? Probably. But in a numbers-driven selection like NCAA Hockey has been, you just can’t go by smoke and mirrors again.

So here I go again. The top two in each conference:

Atlantic Hockey – AIC, Army
Big 10 – Minnesota, Wisconsin
ECAC – Quinnipiac, Clarkson
Hockey East – Boston College, Boston University
NCHC – North Dakota, St. Cloud State (note: NCHC is using points per game as a seeding mechanism)
WCHA – Minnesota St, Lake Superior

Third Place Teams

Atlantic Hockey – Robert Morris
Big 10 – Michigan
ECAC – Colgate (does not qualify due to sub-.500 record)
Hockey East – Massachusetts
NCHC – Minnesota-Duluth
WCHA – Bowling Green

Last week I just went by winning percentage. This week, I will take it a bit further. The tiebreaker for me will be winning percentage vs the top team in the conference. If it’s still tied, then percentage against the second-place team, and so on and so forth.

Atlantic Hockey – Robert Morris vs. AIC (DNP)
Big 10 – Michigan vs. Minnesota (0-2 with 2 games left to play this weekend)
Hockey East – Massachusetts vs. Boston College (1-2)
NCHC – Minnesota-Duluth vs. North Dakota (0-1-1)
WCHA – Bowling Green vs. Minnesota State (0-2)

From this, I put Massachusetts and Minnesota-Duluth into the field, as they are the only teams to gain any points from the first-place teams.

Two more teams to place.

Atlantic Hockey – Robert Morris vs. Army (DNP)
Big 10 – Michigan vs. Wisconsin (3-1)
WCHA – Bowling Green vs. Lake Superior (0-2)

Michigan is placed into the field.

Now we move onto the records versus the fourth-place teams

Atlantic Hockey – Robert Morris vs. Canisius (1-1)
WCHA – Bowling Green vs. Michigan Tech (2-0)

I place Bowling Green into the field.

So, my teams are:

Atlantic Hockey: AIC, Army
Big 10: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan
ECAC: Quinnipiac, Clarkson
Hockey East: Boston College, Boston University, Massachusetts
NCHC: North Dakota, St Cloud, Minnesota-Duluth
WCHA: Minnesota St, Lake Superior, Bowling Green

Seems like the only team I don’t have that you have is Omaha.

The other wavering I have is Robert Morris. Because it did not play against AIC or Army, it’s tough to actually estimate how it did against those two because of the pods in Atlantic Hockey this season.

Jim: Again, and interesting approach but in a strange year, I’ll take it.

I left myself a little work to do and that’s find my last four teams. I’ll start by picking some teams to consider:

Atlantic Hockey: Robert Morris, Army
Big Ten: Michigan, Notre Dame, Penn State
ECAC: Clarkson
Hockey East: Boston University, Providence (I’m going to leave off UConn as they are currently under .500)
NCHC: None
WCHA: Bemidji State, Michigan Tech, Lake Superior

So right now I have 11 teams for four spots. That’s significant work still to do.

I’m going to begin by using my league rankings again. NCHC is my top league, but I’ve already placed my four teams from that league into the field. So I’ll move to Big Ten and Hockey East. Two of those teams belong as of today – Boston University and Michigan. In fact, Michigan is very close to a lock in my mind. BU, not so much. They have a maximum of two losses still possible and it could leave them at 10-5-0. That doesn’t work for me. So BU still needs a win. But we’ll include them for now at 10-3-0.

That leaves me with two more teams. Providence is clearly on the bubble and I’ll look at ECAC to add Clarkson, another bubble team.

I’m prepared to eliminate Robert Morris, Army and Lake Superior. And Notre Dame and Penn State, though I could be swayed on whichever of those two end up above .500 (if either) down the line.

So Providence, Clarkson, Bemidji State and Michigan Tech will fill my final two slots. I’m going to compare Bemidji State and Michigan Tech because those teams are in the same conference. Right now, Bemidji State is ranked higher in the PairWise, despite having a lower winning percentage. The Beavers have played a much tougher schedule with five of their 11 wins coming against the top two teams in the WCHA – Minnesota State and Bowling Green.

I’m down to three – Providence, Clarkson and Bemidji State – for two slots. Right now, I’m leaning towards eliminating Clarkson as they played much of their season in a four-team conference and earned only six regulation wins in ECAC play, and 11 total wins in 22 games.

With that, I have my 16 teams.

Let’s stop here this week. Maybe next week we can try to come to a more unified decision and rank these teams in hopes to seeding the regionals.

Until then…

Jim’s field this week:

Big Ten: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan
ECAC: Quinnipiac
Hockey East: Boston College, Massachusetts, Boston University, Providence
NCHC: North Dakota, St. Cloud State, Minnesota Duluth and Omaha
WCHA: Minnesota State, Bowling Green, Bemidji State

Jayson’s field this week:

Atlantic Hockey: AIC, Army
Big 10: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan
ECAC: Quinnipiac, Clarkson
Hockey East: Boston College, Boston University, Massachusetts
NCHC: North Dakota, St Cloud, Minnesota-Duluth
WCHA: Minnesota St, Lake Superior, Bowling Green