As the Gophers await to hear what their NCAA tournament fate will be next Sunday, one result from Sunday night will have them sweating things out a bit more.
Michigan Tech upset WCHA regular-season champion Minnesota State Mankato 2-1 in overtime of Game 3 of the conference semifinal series on Sunday. That put Tech into Saturday’s WCHA title game at Northern Michigan, with the winner receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. That means the WCHA will have two NCAA tournament teams (MSU Mankato is a lock as an at-large team), rather than one had MSU Mankato went on to win the WCHA tourney. So, for teams near the NCAA bubble according to the PairWise Ratings – No. 15 Boston College, No. 14 North Dakota and the No. 13 Gophers – the tension will ramp up next weekend.
The PairWise is a formula that mimics what the NCAA uses to fill its 16-team tournament team, and each game’s result has an impact.
College Hockey News has a PairWise Probability Matrix, which runs thousands of simulations of the remaining games. It had the Gophers making the NCAA tournament in 98 percent of the simulations entering the weekend, but that fell to 91 percent after Sunday’s results.
PairWise Ratings (through Sunday)
1. St. Cloud State
2. Notre Dame
4. Ohio State
6. Minnesota State Mankato
8. Minnesota Duluth
12. Penn State
14. North Dakota
15. Boston College
16. Bowling Green
Biggest threats outside the PairWise top 16 that are still alive to win a conference tournament and automatic NCAA bid:
17. Northern Michigan (in WCHA final vs. Michigan Tech)
18. Boston University (in Hockey East semifinals vs. Boston College)
20. Mercyhurst (In Atlantic Hockey semifinals vs. Robert Morris)
22. Princeton (in ECAC semifinals vs. Cornell)
24. Michigan Tech (in WCHA final vs. Northern Michigan)
26. Harvard (in ECAC semifinals vs. Clarkson)
A look at the bubble
The 16th spot in the NCAA tournament likely will be taken by either the Atlantic Hockey tournament champ or Michigan Tech, if it wins the WCHA final. Mercyhurst, Robert Morris, Air Force and Canisius are in the Atlatnic semifinals, and none likely will be in the PairWise top 16. The same goes for Michigan Tech.
If Northern Michigan beats Michigan Tech in the WCHA final, it likely would bump the No. 15 team in the PairWise. Currently, that’s Boston College, but the Eagles are in the Hockey East semifinals and would move up if they win the conference tournament and its automatic bid.
Whichever team is at No. 14 – North Dakota at the present – could be bumped if the Hockey East or ECAC tournament champions come from outside the top 16. If tournament champs of both Hockey East and the ECAC come from outside the top 16, then the No. 13 team – currently the Gophers – would get bumped, too.
Tracking the Gophers
Here’s a look at how the rest of certain conference tournaments could impact the Gophers’ chances of making the NCAA tournament:
NCHC: All four teams in the semifinals are in the top 16 of the PairWise. No. 14 North Dakota, which plays St. Cloud State in the semifinals, is the biggest threat to No. 13 Minnesota because it could win the NCHC tournament and secure an NCAA bid, and in the process push the Gophers to the No. 14 spot. There also is a third-place game in the NCHC tournament, which would be a factor should North Dakota lose in the semifinals.
ECAC: The Gophers’ NCAA hopes will be helped if either Cornell or Clarkson wins the tournament. If Princeton or Harvard wins it, another NCAA at-large bid is taken because Cornell is safely in the field and Clarkson likely is in.
Hockey East: If either Northeastern or Providence wins the conference tourney, that helps the Gophers. If Boston College or Boston University wins it, that’s bad for Minnesota’s chances. Northeastern and Providence are safely in the NCAA field.
For the Gophers’ NCAA hopes, bad news would be any team from outside the PairWise top 16 winning the Hockey East and ECAC tournaments and North Dakota winning the NCHC.
Projecting the NCAA field
Using the PairWise and the automatic qualifiers from projected conference tournament champions, here’s what the field could look like through Sunday's games. For simplicity’s sake, I projected the top remaining seeds to win their conference tournaments. With games remaining, these potential matchups certainly will change, so consider this a snapshot.
West Regional (Sioux Falls)
1. St. Cloud State vs. 16. Mercyhurst
8. Minnesota Duluth vs. 10. Michigan
Notes: North Dakota is the West host, but at No. 14, it is bumped by projected Hockey East tournament champion Boston College. … No. 9 Providence would have matched up with No. 8 UMD, but I moved it to the East Regional for attendance purposes, with No. 10 Michigan replacing it.
Northeast Regional (Worcester, Mass.)
2. Notre Dame vs. 14. Boston College
7. Northeastern vs. 11. Clarkson
Note: To get Providence to the East in Bridgeport, Clarkson moves here and Michigan moves to the West.
Midwest Regional (Allentown, Pa.)
3. Cornell vs. 13. Gophers
6. Minnesota State Mankato vs. No. 12 Penn State
Notes: Gophers would be in line to play No. 4 Ohio State in the East, but they are moved to the Midwest to avoid an intraconference first-round matchup. Penn State is the host, so it must be placed in Allentown.
East Regional (Bridgeport, Conn.)
4. Ohio State vs. 15. Northern Michigan
5. Denver vs. 9. Providence
Note: This regional appeared to have the most attendance concerns, so the move of Providence should help.