UMD on track for 5th straight NCAA appearance … but where?

UMD hockey coaches Scott Sandelin and Brett Larson watch their team go through drills Thursday, March 23, 2017, during practice for the NCAA West Regional hockey tournament at Scheels Arena in Fargo. The Rink Live

By Matt Wellens

DULUTH, Minn. — Minnesota Duluth sophomore defensemen Louie Roehl and Matt Anderson joined the Bulldog Insider Podcast this week to talk about a variety of subjects. During the rapid fire round, we touched on the NCAA tournament.

With one regional in the west — Fargo, N.D. — and three out east — Allentown, Pa., Manchester, N.H., and Providence, R.I. — this year, I posed the question, ‘Would you rather take a bus ride to Fargo or fly out east?’

Asked if they’d be willing to lose in this weekend’s NCHC tournament first round in order to head to Fargo, however, their answer changed.

“Flight.”

With less than two weeks to go before the men’s ice hockey version of Selection Sunday, the Bulldogs are on track to make their fifth consecutive NCAA tournament and be one of the four No. 1 seeds when regionals get underway March 29. UMD sits fourth in the Pairwise rankings — the formula used to select and seed the tournament — and is one of six teams that are considered locks to make the field of 16.

The road to … Providence?

There won’t be any .0001 theatrics this year. The only real mystery for the Bulldogs at this point is where will they end up?

If the season ended today, the Bulldogs likely would be the top seed in the East Regional in Providence.

Why there of all places?

St. Cloud State, as a near lock to be the tournament’s top overall seed for the second year in a row, gets first dibs, so the Huskies will stay close to home in Fargo.

Second overall seed Massachusetts should technically go to Providence since that’s the closest regional to their Amherst campus, however, the NCAA selection committee likes to protect the top seeds. The committee also likes to place the Providence Friars — ninth in the Pairwise — in their hometown for attendance reasons. Brown is the actual East Regional host.

To protect the Minutemen, the NCAA will make them drive an extra 20 miles or so north to Manchester for the Northeast Regional.

As the third overall seed, Minnesota State-Mankato would get sent to the closest regional left — the not-so-Midwest in Allentown — while the Bulldogs as the lowest No. 1 seed gets a regional in Providence that features Providence.

Tight ratings

So how locked in is all of this? Not very. Minus the Huskies in Fargo, the bracket changes on a week-to-week basis.

Only last week, the Bulldogs were the third overall seed and projected to be less than 100 miles from the ocean in the Midwest Regional. UMD could easily flip with the Mavericks again — they are separated by .0024 in the ratings percentage index — or the Bulldogs could flip with No. 5 Quinnipiac, which is .0002 of an RPI point back of UMD.

So how can Roehl and Anderson — and the fans and local media — get the sought-after short drive to Fargo? Most won’t like the answer. You will have to root for North Dakota to win the NCHC Frozen Faceoff.

That’s right. Remember all that talk about protecting the top seeds? Well if North Dakota wins twice at Denver — even after getting diverted around a Rocky Mountain blizzard 500 miles south to Albuquerque, N.M. — and captures the NCHC postseason title, they’ll be the No. 4 seed in Fargo as the hosts.

If that happens, the Huskies will get protected and Brett Larson and Co. will head out east — but not to Providence. Then either UMD or Minnesota State would be placed in Fargo before a raucous crowd of Fighting Hawks fans. It likely would be whoever is No. 4 overall.

A lot can change between now and Selection Sunday, though. No one knows that better than the Bulldogs, who a year ago went into the Frozen Faceoff eighth in the Pairwise before tumbling to 12th and nabbing the final at-large spot from Minnesota by .0001 of an RPI point.

My advice, hold off on booking any travel until after the 6 p.m. selection show March 24, and if you do reserve anything, make sure it’s 100 percent refundable.

Bracketology

If the season ended today:

West Regional

Fargo, N.D.

1. St. Cloud State vs. 16. American International

7. Denver vs. 10. Arizona State

Northeast Regional

Manchester, N.H.

2. Massachusetts vs. 15. Notre Dame

8. Northeastern vs. 11. Clarkson

Midwest Regional

Allentown, Pa.

3. Minnesota State vs. 13. Western Michigan

6. Ohio State vs. 12. Cornell

East Regional

Providence, R.I.

4. Minnesota Duluth vs. 14. Harvard

5. Quinnipiac vs. 9. Providence

Matt Wellens (@mattwellens) can be reached at mwellens@duluthnews.com or (218) 723-5317.
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