Welcome to the first week of February, where things are beginning to solidify in the Pairwise and in these power rankings. Splits in the NCHC tightened up the second tier while the WCHA strengthened their bid to get two teams into the tournament for the second straight year. Meanwhile, the Big Ten continues to cannibalize themselves, with only Ohio State reasonably certain they will make the tournament. Finally, the lone conference-less team placed a stranglehold on their chances at their first NCAA tournament appearance. While the other side of the country celebrates Beanpot Week, it is business as usual here in the western conferences. This week we will quickly discuss the teams in the top two years, totaling only 8 teams. Onward!
The Basement Tier
26. Alaska-Anchorage (Last Week: 26)
25. Alabama-Huntsville (LW: 25)
24. Ferris State (LW: 23)
23. Alaska (LW: 24)
The “Coaches Might Be on the Hot Seat” Tier
22. Nebraska-Omaha (LW: 22)
21. Miami (LW: 16)
20. Wisconsin (LW: 18)
19. Michigan Tech (LW: 21)
18. Northern Michigan (LW: 20)
17. Bemidji State (LW: 17)
16. Michigan State (LW: 19)
The “Time to Get Hot or the Season Ends Early” Tier
15. Penn State (LW: 14)
14. Colorado College (LW: 15)
13. Minnesota (LW: 13)
12. Michigan (LW: 12)
11. Lake Superior State (LW: 11)
10. Notre Dame (LW: 7)
9. North Dakota (LW: 9)
The “Don’t Call Them a Tournament Lock Quite Yet” Tier
8. Arizona State (LW: 10)
Arizona State is the most interesting team in the country because they have no conference tournament so their regular season, and thus Pairwise potential, is limited to just four more games. ASU’s sweep of RIT this weekend was enormous, setting them up to only need to go 2-2 to have a very good shot of making the NCAA tournament. With such a limited schedule remaining, each of their games matter more than anyone else’s. First up, a home series against American International this coming weekend.
7. Bowling Green (LW: 8)
BGSU has split five straight weekends since their December 14-15 sweep of Minnesota State, which has put them in perilous position for an at-large bid. Their remaining schedule is one of the easiest in the country – home against Alaska, at Bemidji, home against Alabama-Huntsville – which sounds good on paper but leaves them with no room for error. To be in an at-large position prior to the conference tournament, they likely need to win 7 games, a tall order for any team regardless of their opponents.
6. Western Michigan (LW: 4)
WMU had a terribly disappointed loss to Omaha on Saturday, which hurt them severely in the Pairwise and in the NCHC standings. The loss once again outlined their greatest flaw: Western is not very good away from home. So while they will probably make the NCAA tournament, they need to find some confidence away from Lawson Ice Arena lest they suffer another first-round exit.
5. Minnesota State (LW: 6)
The Mavericks continue to fly under the radar (at least for me), some of which likely is attributed to their recent postseason failures, especially in the NCAA tournament. Still, this is a new year and since the calendar flipped, MSU is 9-1-0. They have yet to lose by more than a goal since December 15 and have lost at home only once all season. With an 11-point lead in the WCHA standings, MSU will probably have home-ice through the conference tournament which sets them up perfectly for not only an NCAA tournament bid but perhaps another 1-seed.
4. Denver (LW: 5)
Denver continues to be somewhat confusing, seemingly just off the cusp of greatness and losing points at surprising times. They took 5 of 6 while hosting North Dakota this weekend, but they were certainly outplayed for most of the last 25 minutes on Saturday’s game. If not for the stellar effort by Filip Larsson in net, they would have lost that game and all three points. I view them a full step below the likes of St. Cloud and Ohio State.
3. Minnesota-Duluth (LW: 2)
Duluth was severely outplayed by an underrated Colorado College team for the first four periods of the weekend, but their talent finally overtook the Tigers with a firestorm of a second period on Saturday night to earn the Bulldogs a split. In the end, a split in Colorado Springs is just fine for UMD, who, like everyone else in that brutal conference, still have an absurdly hard schedule: a home series against Denver, road series against North Dakota and St. Cloud. They will be in the NCAA tournament battle-tested and ready to defend their title.
The “Go to Vegas and Bet Futures on These Guys” Tier
2. Ohio State (LW: 3)
Someone outside of the NCHC finally cracks the top two, and deservedly so for the red-hot Buckeyes who swept a top-20 team back-to-back weekends (Penn State and Notre Dame). OSU is running a nearly true goaltending split, with Sean Romeo and Tommy Nappier finding varying degrees of success. The latter has two shutouts since winter break, but it appears Romeo, the incumbent, is still favored by the coaching staff. Right now, it is a good problem to have, and perhaps the only interesting story line right now for the team who is running away with the Big Ten regular season title and an effective lock for the tournament.
1. St. Cloud State (LW: 1)
The Huskies were able to avoid losing points this week, unlike the other elite NCHC teams. They are top eight nationally in goals per game, goals allowed per game, power play percentage, and penalty kill percentage. Only Quinnipiac, who plays a much easier schedule, can claim the same. St. Cloud is running on all cylinders with no obvious flaws and remains the team to beat in the sport.