NCAA hockey bracket: 2020 projections a month from selections
We’re less than four weeks from selections on March 22 and Arizona State is already waiting to find out its fate.
The Sun Devils currently sit on the right side of my bubble despite ending their regular season last weekend being swept by Wisconsin. They are an independent team with no conference tournament, so they’ll sit back for a few weeks and hope their resume holds up while other teams around them beat one another.
If this week is any indication, there is plenty of room for change. Four new teams not in the previous NCAA.com bracketology enter the fold. Another new team takes over the final No. 1 seed.
Before I get to the rankings, you can find out more about how the 16 NCAA DI hockey teams make the tournament in the Bracketology 101 article on NCAA.com. The quick version: six 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.
Here’s the latest bracket.
Projected 2020 college hockey tournament field (as Feb. 26)
- 1. North Dakota (NCHC)
- 2. Minnesota State (WCHA)
- 3. Cornell (ECAC)
- T-4. Boston College (Hockey East)
- T-4. Minnesota Duluth
- T-4. Denver
- 7. Penn State (Big Ten)
- 8. Massachusetts
- 9. Ohio State
- 10. Clarkson
- T-11. Bemidji State
- T-11. Northeastern
- 13. Arizona State
- 14. Minnesota
- 15. Western Michigan
- 26. American International (Atlantic Hockey)
A caveat: Since no team can earn an automatic bid before conference tournaments are played, this 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.
This week, only Atlantic Hockey leader AIC is outside the top 16. The Yellow Jackets take the place of 16th overall UMass Lowell.
Penn State once again claims the Big Ten’s top spot after some hot-potato passing between the Nittany Lions, Michigan State and Minnesota.
Every other leader stays the same.
Two ties need to be broken for seeding purposes. Boston College, Minnesota Duluth and Denver all share 55 comparison wins thanks in part to Denver holding Boston College’s comparison and Minnesota Duluth holding Denver’s comparison. Using RPI as a tiebreaker, Boston College is placed ahead of both for the final No. 1 seed. Minnesota Duluth is fifth overall and the highest No. 2 seed while Denver is sixth overall.
Bemidji State and Northeastern are each tied for 11th overall with 48 comparison wins. BSU is placed 11th and the Huskies 12th due to the Beavers holding a higher RPI.
FROZEN FOUR 2020: Tickets and Info
Time to seed. Based on step one, the seeding bands would be as follows:
The next step is to automatically place the host institution of each regional at that regional if any made the field. Two such teams would. Denver, as a No. 2 seed, hosts the Loveland Regional. Penn State, also as a No. 2 seed, hosts the Allentown Regional. Both would be placed at its 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, none would occur this week.
That does not mean it’s an easy decision. Several options exist for this week’s bracket, which will be explained after the reveal.
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The projected 2020 NCAA college hockey bracket (as of Feb. 23)
By choosing to protect the No. 1 overall and look out for attendance, this week’s bracket keeps its integrity minus the two host teams.
Boston College becoming the fourth No. 1 seed this week leaves the committee with a new choice. Until now, the bracket has had three Western teams and one Eastern as No. 1 seeds, making it easy to send the lowest No. 1 seed to Loveland or Allentown. With the split now two and two, the question becomes whether to send BC out west into a Denver-hosted regional with Denver, or keep the Eagles east for attendance purposes.
While the committee has shown a willingness to put the lowest No. 1 seed in the toughest situation, this would be testing the limits. It makes it more difficult with the top two overall seeds North Dakota and Minnesota State needing a flight to every region.
An option would be to place the Fighting Hawks in Worcester to protect the No. 1 seed. A flight’s a flight. Working down, Boston College ends up in Loveland. Doing this would keep in line with the lowest seed being in a regional with a host team, but creates some attendance questions for both Albany (outside of Cornell) and Worcester. Trying UND in Albany solves at least one of those.
So this week, I place North Dakota in Albany, protecting the No. 1 overall seed as the committee historically does with a regional not featuring a host team. Minnesota State goes out west to Loveland, creating a Western region with three Western teams. Cornell, within driving distance, heads to Allentown. Boston College stays in Massachusetts, going to Worcester and boosting attendance with BC and Northeastern.
No switches need to happen. This solves the most issues, even if the lowest No. 1 seed does not head to a regional with a host team. Therefore, this is our bracket.
Still, this week’s bracket brings up big bracketology questions which will be answered in the coming weeks, none bigger than where does North Dakota (or the top overall seed) get placed? Most years there is a simple answer. This year does not have one. Wherever that team gets placed changes the outlook of the bracket.
It’s a topic which will be heavily discussed by the selection committee.
What’s changed since the last bracketology?
Four new teams enter the bracket. For what’s changed, look out west and to the North Star State.
On Dec. 28, Minnesota was 36th in the Pairwise and facing a Bemidji State team 21st. In two months, both find themselves on the right side of the bubble. The Gophers have gone 9-3-2 to move up to 14th. BSU has done even better, going 11-1-2 in 2020.
Joining the two are Western Michigan and Ohio State, whose sweep of Michigan State ended the Spartans’ at-large hopes. The Buckeyes also had by the biggest jump, going from 16th to 9th over the past two weeks. With the four new schools replacing three eastern schools, the balance has swung back out west.
The 2020 bubble watch
While Arizona State sits and waits, a few series this weekend look to have bubble ramifications. Perhaps none more than the Big Ten’s final regular-season weekend.
With three teams on the bubble, including a series between two of them in Minnesota (14th) and Michigan (20th), more is on the line than seeding. No one can afford to lose twice. Even Ohio State, who would win the Big Ten with five points against Wisconsin to overtake idle Penn State, would drop to the bubble being swept by the Badgers.
Notre Dame (17th) hosts Michigan State and likely needs a sweep to keep its at-large bid hopes entering the Big Ten conference tournament.
Outside the Big Ten, UMass Lowell (16th) can solidify its chances with a sweep of New Hampshire. Quinnipiac (19th) finds itself in a must-win weekend against Brown and Yale. Maine (18th) faces Providence in a home-and-home series. Western Michigan (15th), meanwhile, can make the biggest statement in a road series at North Dakota. Needing two to three wins, the Broncos end the regular season by going to Grand Forks and hosting Miami.
It’s hard to believe next week marks the start of conference tournaments and the end of the regular season. There will be another bracket to sort through and then the NCAA Tournament is just around the corner.