The Gophers won the B1G regular season title on Saturday night, but that doesn't mean they're a lock to make the NCAA tournament.
Teams that make the Big Dance are determined by the PairWise Rankings, a mathematical formula that simulates the actions the NCAA Selection Committee takes to decide which teams are in and which teams are out.
16 teams make the NCAA Tournament. Currently, Minnesota ranks 13th in the PWR, but next weekend's results could dramatically shape the Gophers' chances of punching their tickets to the Tourney. The only way they're guaranteed to make the NCAA Tournament is by winning the B1G Conference tourney and securing the conference's auto-bid, but each other conference has an auto-bid as well. Any lower-ranked teams that win their conference tournament effectively take a spot away from the bottom of the bubble, drastically limiting the Gophers' scenarios to make the Tournament if they are not the B1G tournament champion.
After looking at many scenarios and crunching some numbers, here's who you should be rooting for in each conference's championship tournament this upcoming weekend:
Atlantic Hockey - (1) Robert Morris vs. (4) Mercyhurst, (2) Canisius vs. (3) RIT. It honestly doesn't matter who wins this one. The conference is only going to get one team into the tournament, whichever team wins their playoff this weekend. The best team in AH is Robert Morris, a team that made the tourney last year and lost to Minnesota in the first round. I'd like to see them win as they have the best chance out of any team in AH to give a #1 seed a run.
B1G - (3) Michigan vs. (6) Wisconsin, (4) Penn State vs. (5) Ohio State, (1) Minnesota vs. 4/5 Winner, (2) Michigan State vs 3/6 Winner. We want Minnesota to win, obviously. If not, then it doesn't really matter who wins, although the Gophers' chances are better if they lose in the championship game than in the semifinal.
ECAC - (1) Quinnipiac vs. (4) Harvard, (2) St. Lawrence vs. (3) Colgate. For the Gophers to make it, we need as many teams "already in" the tournament to win their conference championships as possible. In the ECAC, the highest ranked team is Quinnipiac at T10th. Harvard and Colgate are still alive at 15th and 16th respectively, as is St. Lawrence at T20th. We'd like to see Quinnipiac win this one. If not Q, then Harvard would be the next best bet, but things start to get tight for Minnesota if more than one or two non-tourney teams win their conferences, since if the Gophers don't have the B1G auto-bid that means that another B1G team is already in the tournament, already pushing the bubble down to 14 (B1G team and AH team taking away #15 and #16 spot).
Hockey East - (1) Boston University vs. (4) New Hampshire, (2) UMass-Lowell vs. (3) Vermont. This is another conference tourney where only one team is guaranteed to make the NCAAs - BU. Lowell currently sits T16th and outside the bubble, while Vermont is 19th right now. We want Boston University to take the tournament here.
NCHC - (1) North Dakota vs. (4) St. Cloud State, (2) Miami vs. (3) Denver. Here's one where we really only have one team to root against, and it's not the team you're thinking. North Dakota, Miami and Denver are safely in the NCAA Tournament already. The NCHC has a third place game in their Frozen Faceoff tournament, which means that the losing teams of the first round game have a chance to win another game to bolster their RPI scores. We want St. Cloud State to lose as many games as possible here. St. Cloud's RPI is a bit higher than the Gophers' RPI is right now, despite the fact that they are only one game over .500 at 18-17-1. Just one St. Cloud win on the weekend would be enough to boost their RPI ahead of Minnesota's and put them safely in the tournament. Two losses would send them below Minnesota and onto the bubble. So, Gopher fans should root for Miami, Denver or (shudder) North Dakota to win the NCHC, but more importantly root against St. Cloud in all of their games.
WCHA - (1) Minnesota State vs. (4) Ferris State, (2) Michigan Tech vs. (3) Bowling Green. This one is easy. There are two teams remaining in the WCHA that are already "in" - Minnesota State and Michigan Tech. Gopher fans should root for Mankato and Michigan Tech to win their games and square off in the Final Five (?) title game.