Last month, both the Minnesota Duluth men’s and women’s hockey programs found themselves in Pairwise predicaments.
The Bulldogs men’s team was on the NCAA tournament bubble at No. 12 in the rankings system used to select at-large berths and seed the 16-team field. It appeared as if they’d be skating right into another .0001 scenario for the second time in three seasons.
Meanwhile, the UMD women’s squad was stuck well on the outside of the bubble of their eight-team field. It was looking as if a WCHA Final Faceoff championship would be their only way in.
The last two weeks have changed everything. The UMD men are now in the running for a No. 1 seed at fourth overall in the Pairwise after splitting with North Dakota and sweeping both Denver and Nebraska-Omaha. The women are knocking on the door of an at-large berth at No. 8 following three-straight wins over top-5 teams — beating Minnesota and sweeping Ohio State.
With two weekends remaining in the women’s regular season and four to go now in the men’s regular season, here’s a look at where both teams would be heading if the NCAA tournament started today.
Women need wins
If the season ended today, the No. 8 Bulldogs women would be the last team left out of the NCAA tournament. Eight teams make it, but four of those eight bids go to conference postseason champions.
Champions from the WCHA, Hockey East and ECAC traditionally come from inside the Pairwise’s top eight, but that isn’t the case for the College Hockey American champ. That team comes from well outside and will be the eighth seed.
So the Bulldogs have to find a way to at least get to No. 7 in the Pairwise if they want to earn an at-large bid, and even then must hope there are no Cinderella runs in the WCHA, Hockey East and ECAC tournaments.
UMD could very well overtake Clarkson — which beat the Bulldogs in November — for No. 7 this weekend with a sweep at Minnesota State-Mankato, combined with a Clarkson loss at home to Quinnipiac.
One of the components of the Pairwise rankings is record against common opponents. Clarkson and UMD have all played Minnesota State, Quinnipiac, Mercyhurst and Colgate, with the Bulldogs going 4-1-1 against those four and the Golden Knights going 4-0-2.
So let’s just say everything goes the Bulldogs' way this weekend and they jump to No. 7. What would the bracket look like? Here's a projection:
8. Robert Morris at 1. Wisconsin
5. Princeton at 4. Northeastern
7. Minnesota Duluth at 3. Minnesota
6. Ohio State at 2. Cornell
Unlike the men’s field, the NCAA doesn’t shy away from intraconference matchups in the first round. What the committee will do is try and save itself from having to fly a team somewhere by making slight tweaks. In this case, they can cut the total first-round flights from three to two by sending the Bulldogs to Minnesota and the Buckeyes to Cornell.
The women’s NCAA selection show is March 8.
Men returning to Rockies?
Two weeks for now, the UMD men will be making their second trip to Colorado in a five-week span to play an NCHC series at Colorado College. Should things stand where they are, the Bulldogs would be back in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains at the end of March.
Here is the latest projection of the NCAA men’s tournament bracket from the News Tribune this week:
1. North Dakota vs. 16. American International
8. Penn State vs. 11. UMass-Lowell
4. Minnesota Duluth vs. 14. Quinnipiac
5. Denver vs. 12. Northeastern
2. Minnesota State vs. 15. Michigan State
7. Massachusetts vs. 9. Clarkson
3. Cornell vs. 13. Maine
6. Boston College vs. 10. Arizona State
Note there are a number of competing philosophies at this point of where to send No. 1 overall North Dakota. Nate Wells at NCAA.com is trying to protect the host Fighting Hawks from having to play anywhere close to another team’s home ice at all costs, so he has them in Albany this week.
USCHO.com has two different bracket predictions this week, with different takes on where to send North Dakota.
As the lowest No. 1 seed, no one will be protecting the Bulldogs from having to play at a site like Loveland, Colo., where Denver is the host. You won't hear much complaining from the Bulldogs, either, considering they swept the Pioneers at Magness Arena in Denver a few weeks ago.
I wouldn't worry about playing in Allentown, either. I’d argue it’s much more advantageous to play in Allentown — which is three hours away from host Penn State — compared to Worcester, Mass., where either Massachusetts or Boston College will land. Also, Allentown is just nicer than Worcester (like, a lot nicer).
The NCAA men’s tournament selection show is March 22.