The Minnesota Golden Gophers Hockey team’s chances to make the NCAA Tournament are looking much brighter this week, and Minnesota didn’t even need to win any games. With the Gophers on a bye last weekend they moved up from #11 to #9 in the Pairwise rankings used to decide on the field for the NCAA Hockey Tournament. With only three weeks left in the regular season, Minnesota appears to be near a virtual lock to make the NCAA Tournament as an at large team if they can just split out the last three series of the season, at Wisconsin, at home for Ohio State, and at Penn State.
The one advantage Minnesota has coming down the stretch is that they do not have a chance to pick up any more “bad losses” Ohio State is currently #6 in the pairwise, Penn State is #16, and Wisconsin is #17. Its not like Minnesota may lose to #34 Michigan State and see their ranking tank. The other part of this is that all three teams, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Penn State are playing to either keep themselves off the bubble, or get off of the bubble and into the tournament. There will be no easy games the rest of the way for the Gophers.
Jim Dahl at www.collegehockeyranked.com projects out the season ending pairwise for all the Ncaa teams, and he thinks the Gophers are in a pretty good spot.
By his metrics, if the Gophers can go 3-3 down the stretch, and then of course not tank in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, Minnesota is likely to finish somewhere between 9th and 12th in the pairwise, locking up a #3 seed in the tournament. If the Gophers falter and can only muster a 2-4 finish down the stretch, they still look relatively solid, but there is about a 40% chance they will end up ranked #14 or lower which would but them squarely on the edge of the bubble depending on what happens in the various conference postseason tournaments.
Dahl also has a pairwise calculator on his website where you can play with the remaining games on the season and try and get a relative look at where teams may finish out. This is where you can see how individual results will affect how the Gophers do down the stretch. For example, if you take this weekend’s series in Madison against the Badgers, it does not matter whether Minnesota sweeps or splits with Wisconsin, either of those results leaves Minnesota at #9 in the rankings. BUT, if the Gophers have a disastrous weekend and get swept by Wisconsin, the Badgers would leap over Minnesota and end up at #13, while the Gophers would sit at #14 with two weekends left. Ouch. As we saw last week with Minnesota moving up two slots while on bye other teams games will have an affect on the rankings as well, but this gives you a relative idea of just what Minnesota needs to do to stay steady in the Pairwise and get closer and closer to locking up an at-large bid.
So assuming the Gophers do what they need to do to make the tournament, we can feel a bit more comfortable about looking at some projected bracketology. USCHO.com puts out a weekly look at their projected brackets based upon the pairwise after the previous weekends games. They have a thing for loading up the West Regional that will be hosed by North Dakota in Sioux Falls this season every week. You know how in the World Cup there is always a group they call “The Group of Death”? Well if this week’s projected bracketology would be how it actually plays out, there is no doubt what the bracket of death would be in this year’s tournament:
Midwest Regional (Allentown):
16 Canisius vs. 1 Notre Dame
10 Omaha vs. 7 Clarkson
East Regional (Bridgeport):
13 Northeastern vs. 4 Cornell
12 Minnesota Duluth vs. 5 Minnesota State
West Regional (Sioux Falls):
15 Boston College vs. 2 St. Cloud State
9 Minnesota vs. 8 North Dakota
Northeast Regional (Worcester):
14 Western Michigan vs. 3 Denver
11 Providence vs. 6 Ohio State
Yeesh. The winner of that regional would definitely deserve to make it to the Frozen Four after those two games. And good luck getting tickets.
So long story short, if the Gophers can just get three splits, they should be NCAA Tournament bound. I’ll have a more in depth look at the Big Ten home ice chase as well in my preview of the Wisconsin series on Friday.