by Mathieu Webb
Senior Writer, D3hockey.com
The weekend is almost here, which means that within a few days nine conference champions will be crowned and eight of them will have earned a trip to the NCAA tournament. Four others will get in via at-large Pool C selection and by mid-morning Monday we'll all know this year's tournament bracket.
|Is Norwich at any risk of missing this year's field? We don't think so, but the result of the NEHC title game will still loom large.
By this point of the season the hot topic is always "who's in and who's out?" as it pertains to the NCAA tournament and while we know eight will win their way in, what are the prospects for teams as far as Pool C goes? This is now a bit easier to size up as we know that the top four teams in the Pairwise that don't win a Pool A bid will be the four Pool C teams.
Since we know that, let's take a look at the top of the current Pairwise and break down where things stand as well as try to identify the things that will be the most important to watch, at least as far as the Pairwise is concerned, this weekend. We have included the RPI for each team still in contention as it is a good indicator of how close teams are in the current rankings.
Men's NCAA Pairwise Rankings as of February 28
|15||University of New England||19-6-2||.5626|
As a reminder, in all three editions of our Men's Bracketology, the Pool C cutoff has come between spots seven and eight in the Pairwise. We don't think this is going to change, thanks in large part to the fact there are two teams from the NCHA, NEHC and SUNYAC in the top seven and all are playing for conference titles this weekend, which means opportunities for a Cinderella to drastically alter things are quite, if not completely, limited as none can be unseated by a surprise conference tournament winner.
With that as the groundwork, here's how we rate the NCAA chances of all:
ELIMINATED: All teams not listed above
If you aren't listed above, you're out. But with the exception of UW-Stevens Point and UW-Eau Claire, all teams that are listed above can still win their conference championship and an automatic berth to the field.
COMPLETELY SAFE: UW-Stevens Point, Geneseo, Norwich
The Pointers and Knights have been the class of the nation since the early stages of the season, and they remain so far clear of the rest of the field in the Pairwise that even a loss in their respective conference title games won't change that. In fact, it's quite possible that even if they both lose they'll remain 1-2 in the rankings. Both these teams are in, which means at least one Pool C is already gone as the WIAC does not have an autobid.
And we'll even throw in Norwich as the Cadets would have to lose and be passed by three other Pool C-eligible teams to get bumped from the field. It's not happening.
LIKELY SAFE: Oswego State, St. Norbert -- in that order
Even with losses it's hard to see how either could get bumped from the field. For that to happen, they would have to lose and two or three at-large eligible teams would have to pass them for it to occur. Is there any path to this occuring? A Hobart win over Norwich would drop the Cadets into Pool C contention and they would likely remain ahead of both so that would account for one spot, but after that it's hard to see how two others get there. For this to come into play it means both Hobart and Adrian have won, so up next would be idle UMass Boston. Both would have to fall behind the Beacons as well, which looks unlikely considering the current gaps in RPI. But if it happens, then the final spot would then come down to the Lakers and Green Knights, and it's quite likely that Oswego would remain ahead and land in the field.
Overall, for these two to land in any jeopardy, the following would have to occur: losses by both, a win by Hobart, and an unlikely slide in the rankings big enough to get passed by UMass Boston. And in this instance Oswego would still have another buffer spot so long as it remains ahead of St. Norbert.
SOMEWHAT SAFE: Hobart
The Statesmen only end up in the Pool C mix should they lose to Norwich and if that happens it's clear two Pool Cs will already be gone by virtue of UW-Stevens Point and the SUNYAC runner-up. A third would go to St. Norbert should it lose to and that means one other team would have to find a way past Hobart to bump it from the field. But who would that be? There are only two possibilities as spots 9-12 are all occupied by teams that would only end up in the Pool C mix with a loss and thus not threaten Hobart, so that just leaves UMass Boston and UW-Eau Claire. Would a loss drop Hobart behind UMB or a victorious UW-Eau Claire? Based on the numerical changes we've seen over the past few weeks it sure doesn't seem likely, but may not be impossible.
ON A KNIFE'S EDGE: Adrian
Adrian's situation is simple: Though it is the last team in as it stands it only ends up in the final Pool C mix with a loss. As it currently sits just ahead of UMass Boston, would a loss drop the Bulldogs behind the Beacons? Without a Division III Pairwise Calculator there's no way to know for sure but we wouldn't want to find out were we Adrian. Our best bet is that the Bulldogs are in a "win to get in" spot and it just can't be proven, but it could be close -- very close.
WAIT AND SEE, BUT HAS A CHANCE: UMass Boston
The Beacons are the lone team on the list that is idle this week and are currently sitting as the first team out. So what do they need to happen to have a shot? Wins by St. Norbert and/or Norwich, with a St. Norbert win likely being more beneficial. A Norwich win would help to keep the Cadets from eating up a Pool C spot and could potentially drop Hobart far enough to give the Beacons the edge, but more significantly a win by St. Norbert is necessary to potentially drop Adrian far enough that UMB might slide past it. Is the gap between the Bulldogs and Beacons small enough for that to happen? It's definitely possible. The short of it for the Beacons is that they need St. Norbert to win and might need Norwich to win, and then hope the associated Hobart or Adrian loss is enough to get them past the Statesmen or Bulldogs.
WIN TO GET IN: Trinity, Augsburg, Salve Regina, Utica, University of New England, Wesleyan, Amherst, Manhattanville, Hamilton, Plymouth State, Saint John's, Salem State
All are currently on the outside looking in and the only way they'll end up in the Pool C mix is to lose again this weekend, which means none will be leapfrogging enough teams to slide into a Pool C spot. That's the bad news, but the good news is that all are still alive in their conference tournaments and can win their way in -- which is exactly what five of them will do.
THE MIRACLE PULL: UW-Eau Claire
It seems extremely unlikely but can UW-Eau Claire find a way in if it beats UW-Stevens Point for the title in the 2019 WIAC Men's Ice Hockey Championship/Commissioner's Cup (Presented by Culver's)? Last Friday's loss to UW-Superior dropped the Blugolds six spots so could a big win shoot it up six? It seems a tough sell, but the Blugolds are the only horse left in this field that could make a run from deep.
For it to have any chance of happening, Eau Claire needs: win over Stevens Point, win by St. Norbert, win by Norwich. Should those occur the Blugolds would need the effect of its win to be so significant that it gets it all the way past two of Hobart, Adrian and UMass Boston. It's a big ask and might not even be possible, but this is the only way it has any chance of happening.
WHAT TO WATCH THIS WEEKEND
As far as the PWR goes, it's actually fairly simple to summarize as the CCC, MASCAC, MIAC, NESCAC and UCHC as are all going to be single bid leagues while the SUNYAC is almost assured to take two spots.
So that leaves the NCHA, NEHC and WIAC as the places that could lead to changes. Here's why this weekend's outcome in each is important.
NCHA: A win by Adrian drops St. Norbert into the Pool C mix and likely eats up a Pool C spot that isn't currently projected -- though that may prove a wash as Adrian is also currently projected to make the field. More importantly, an Adrian loss helps open the door for UMass Boston and, as a long shot, UW-Eau Claire. It would also solidify Hobart's spot should the Statesmen fall to Norwich.
NEHC: A very similar situation as the NCHA. A win by Hobart drops Norwich into the Pool C mix though that may likewise be a wash as both are currently projected to be in the field. However, a loss by Hobart puts it in a more precarious spot as while it seems more likely than not it would remain ahead of UMass Boston (or a miracle push by UW-Eau Claire) if it does lose, there's just no way to tell for sure.
WIAC: Granted it would have to be paired with other results, but a win by Eau Claire over Stevens Point would give the Blugolds a big boost, but how big? Even if it seems unlikely to be big enough to move them into the field, it's worth keeping an eye on.
Results elsewhere will certainly affect tournament seeding, but without trying to make a bunch of headache-inducing mathematical estimates that's the general lay of the land as it pertains to this weekend's action, the Pairwise, and NCAA tournament selection.
WHERE WILL THE FROZEN FOUR BE?
And finally, at the last second we decided to throw this in here. 2019 (the other being in 2021) brings the first of a two-year experiment involving a campus-site Frozen Four, which is something the men's side hasn't had since 2005. Yes, 2007 was at Wessman Arena, home of UW-Superior, but that was a pre-determined site as opposed to a campus site chosen from among the Frozen Four participants a mere five days in advance.
So that's what we'll see: the Frozen Four will be held at the rink of one of the four participants. Do we have an inclination as to who could be in the running? Perhaps, as while no one other than us ever seems to reference it, the NCAA Men's Ice Hockey Committee 2017 Annual Report states "...the committee will give preference to a West Region host in 2019 and an East Region host in 2021."
Now of course a preference is by no means a guarantee, but as no contradictory language has been published since the best bet is that, based on the institutions that have bid to host, the Frozen Four will be at Stevens Point or St. Norbert should one advance to it. It's hard to believe either facility fails to meet the minimum hosting requirements as if that's the case then there was no point to the experiment to begin with as it rules out almost the entirety of the West Region, which seems a rather illogical thing for the committee to do.
If they're both in, history shows that the highest remaining seed tends to get preference and that would be Stevens Point, though as this hasn't been done on the men's side in a long time that is also not a guarantee. If neither is in? Then it's headed to the East.
The short version: Based on the only public language from the NCAA on this matter the smart bet is that it will be at Stevens Point or St. Norbert so long as one makes this year's Frozen Four.