With the Huskies idle for the only weekend in the second half of the season, it’s a good time to look at the other Division I conferences and see what’s going on. There are a lot of interesting stories developing, so let’s dig through the standings and figure out who’s hot and who’s not. And we’ll also look at how the NCAA tournament is shaping up.
The ECAC is a have-and-have-not collection at this point. The ECAC awards two points for a win and one for a tie, and doesn’t settle ties, so point totals are lower in this conference. There are six teams within two points at the top of the heap—Cornell, Quinnipiac, Yale, Clarkson and Harvard. There’s a less-endowed group in the middle, with Dartmouth, Brown and Union barely within striking distance of the top five. Finally, the bottom four have no chance to break into the top tier.
In the leadership group, Harvard is at #17 and all of the other teams except Yale are members of the top twelve in the Pairwise Rankings (PWR). However, this group has a lot of games remaining against each other. So, this will probably shake out before the season is over and there will be further separation. Right now, the Old Dog thinks the ECAC will have three teams qualify for one of the sixteen spots in the Big Skate—and my favorites are Quinnipiac, Cornell and Clarkson.
For a second, I thought I was looking at the football standings when I peeked in on the B1G (as they call themselves). Ohio State is all alone at the top, and “B1G” looks like the Big One and Little Six. Minnesota is in second place, but the Gophers are just one game over .500, and the other five teams are all under .500. Penn State, after a great start, has faded badly and is mired in last place. Wisconsin is just barely ahead of the Nittany Lions, though, and the others are all bunched together, so anything could happen before the season is over.
Ohio State is the only Big Ten team that is solid in the Pairwise Rankings, and looks like a lock for the NCAA tournament. Notre Dame is tied for 15th in the PWR and Penn State—believe it or not—is currently 18th. They both may well fall out of any at-large hope unless one of them manages to run the table from this point forward. If OSU wins the playoff in this conference, the Big Ten could be a one-team tournament participant after putting three teams into the Frozen Four last year. Two tournament teams is a likely outcome for the Big Ten this year.
As usual, the NCHC is a very tough neighborhood to live in. There are four teams above .500 in the league, and all four are in the first ten slots in the PWR. St. Cloud is at the top of both the league and the national Pairwise, and they’ve opened up a fairly large lead over Minnesota-Duluth and Western Michigan. Denver is basically out of contention for the league championship, but they can still claim the #7 spot in the PWR by virtue of a great record in non-league contests—albeit largely in games played at home.
It’s hard to see how any of the other teams could win the league playoff, although at least one upset in the opening round isn’t out of the question. No matter, the Old Dog believes that the NACHO boys will still end up with four NCAA tournament teams before the last buzzer sounds on the 2018-2019 pre-tournament schedule.
On the downside, Miami and Omaha are getting pummeled this season. However, the reality is that they could very well sit in the upper tier of most other conferences. They’ve each had a few surprise wins, and might get a couple more in their remaining games. No team can afford to let up in the NCHC, and if you do, you’ll be beaten like a dirty rug.
Ah, Atlantic Hockey—where almost anything can happen and usually does. After years of finishing at or near the very bottom of the overall NCAA rankings, American International is not just in first place, but has a six point lead over Air Force. Five more teams are bunched up behind the Falcons, and again surprisingly—Robert Morris is near the bottom. Still, the AIC Yellow Jackets are only in the 32nd slot in the Pairwise Rankings and they are the only AH team above .500 in all of their games. So it’s a foregone conclusion that there will only be one AH team in the NCAA tournament.
In past years, the AH playoffs have been utterly unpredictable, and that may well be the case again this year. What this league lacks in terms of national talent and power, they more than make up for in upsets and entertainment.
After a red hot start, UMass has cooled off a bit, but they are still on top of Hockey East and ranked second in the Pairwise. Boston College—with a terrible start and now on a hot streak—has climbed into second. The Minutemen and the Eagles go head to head in a home-and-home series on February 15-16 that might determine the regular season champion.
UMass-Lowell, Northeastern, Boston University and Providence are all within striking distance of the top as well. However, the schedule pits so many of the top six teams against each other, it seems unlikely that any of these four could claw their way past both BC and UMass.
At this point, Northeastern and UMass-Lowell and have the inside track for at-large tournament slots, sitting at 13-14 in the PWR. Boston College has such a terrible non-league record that their only hope for a place in the tournament is to win the Hockey East playoffs. That’s not out of the question, but it’s not the most likely outcome, because there’s just too much power in the top six teams for BC to run that gauntlet.
At the end of the season, the Old Dog sees Hockey East and the WCHA slugging it out for the last at-large spot in the Big Skate. But, much as I hate to admit it, Hockey East is likely to take that last spot, since a win in Hockey East is likely to count more in the Pairwise than a win in the WCHA. Overall, I think Hockey East will claim three spots when the dust clears.
The Sun Devils have been a very good team all year, capable of playing—and winning—on any rink against any team. They are 19-10-1 and in the eighth slot in the PWR. With just four games left (2 against AIC and 2 against Minnesota), ASU is going to their first NCAA tournament.
Finally, we come to the WCHA. Minnesota State might as well keep the McNaughton Cup in their trophy case where it’s been for a while. While 2nd place Bowling Green has a mathematical chance to catch the Mavericks, that’s all it is—a totally far-fetched mathematical chance. In addition, MSU is a solid 5th in the Pairwise and the Mavs are a lock for the NCAA tournament. For everyone else, the race is on for playoff seeding.
Bowling Green (#14) may have a chance to get an at-large berth, but with Atlantic Hockey (at a minimum) getting one tournament spot with a team that’s will be outside of the top 16 in the Pairwise, the 15th spot will be the most optimistic cutoff. Bowling Green can’t afford to cede much in their remaining games or they will fall off the edge for an at-large NCAA tournament bid.
Lake State is solid at #19, but because the Lakers don’t have any games with MSU left, they are very unlikely to gain enough PWR ground to get an at-large bid.
For the Huskies, as well as Northern and Bemidji State, it all comes down to finishing in the top four to gain home ice and somehow winning the league playoff to get into the NCAA tournament. If anyone thinks that a team will win five road games like Tech did last year to take the Jeff Sauer Trophy, the Old Dog suspects you might have been visiting Colorado and smoking some high-end weed.
BGSU is locked in to home ice. They have the most points, and their remaining games are with Alaska, Bemidji State and Alabama-Huntsville. They just aren’t going on the road in the first round of the playoffs. Lake State is hot but they do have a road series with Northern Michigan. They also play two each at home against Tech and Ferris State, so it looks they should be favored to earn the third home ice slot.
That leaves the Wildcats (currently with 39 points), the Huskies (36 points) and the Beavers (34 points) scrambling for the last home ice position. Them Dogs have the toughest road, with Minnesota State, Northern, Alaska-Anchorage and Lake State remaining on the schedule. Bemidji has it tough, too, with remaining series against Northern, Ferris State (in Big Rapids), BGSU and Minnesota State. Northern has a road trip to Alabama as well as pairs with Bemidji, Lake State and Tech.
All in all, the Old Dog suspects that the WCHA will get two teams into the NCAA tournament—the Mavericks and the playoff winner. On the other hand, if MSU finally puts it all together and wins the playoffs, there might only be one WCHA team among the 16 Big Skate teams.