Why should March Madness have all the fun? The NCAA hockey tournament bracket has just been unveiled days before the pucks drop.
Only the nation's best and brightest have earned the right to compete in the Frozen Four. Since Yale, the 2013 champion, did not make the cut this time around, a new champion is guaranteed to emerge from this bracket.
The quaint, 16-team field can be viewed on NCAA.com. The first two rounds will take place over Friday, Saturday and Sunday (March 28-30). Then the remaining four squads take a 10-day rest before beginning the Frozen Four in Philadelphia.
Here's a look at the full slate of games, as well as a closer look at the tournament's top contenders.
|Mar. 28||No. 3 Union vs.Vermont||2:00 p.m.||ESPN U|
|Mar. 28||Ferris State vs. Colgate||4:30 p.m.||ESPN 3|
|Mar. 28||Providence vs. Quinnipiac||5:30 p.m.||ESPN U|
|Mar. 28||No. 4 Wisconsin s. North Dakota||8:00 p.m.||ESPN U|
|Mar. 29||No. 2 Boston College vs. Denver||4:00 p.m.||ESPN U|
|Mar. 29||No. 1 Minnesota vs. Robert Morris||5:30 p.m.||ESPN 2|
|Mar. 29||Mass. Lowell vs. Minnesota St. Mankato||7:30 p.m.||ESPN 3|
|Mar. 29||St. Cloud State vs. Notre Dame||9:00 p.m.||ESPN U|
Top Storylines to Watch
Can Anyone Stop Minnesota?
The Minnesota Golden Gophers enter the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 seed and considerable favorite.
Why is that, you ask? Minnesota leads the NCAA with 3.48 goals scored per game while also brandishing a ferocious defense that rates third with 2.00 goals allowed per contest. That gives them the NCAA's top scoring margin by a lot.
Minnesota will open the tournament at home against Robert Morris, which earned an at-large bid despite finishing the season at 17-17-5. The Colonials won the Atlantic Hockey Association Championship to earn their first NCAA tournament bid, but the underdogs look significantly overmatched in the opening round.
Minnesota has built a hockey juggernaut, though the women's side fell short of capturing its third straight championship in a finals loss against Clarkson on March 24. Saint Cloud State or Notre Dame could present a tougher challenge in the second round, but expect the Golden Gophers to make the trip to Philadelphia with the field boiled down to four.
Can Union (N.Y.) Stop Quinnipiac from Returning to Frozen Four?
Union (N.Y.) has earned its first No. 1 seed on the strength of a 26-6-4 season. If it can overpower another strong one-and-done candidate in Vermont, a brutal Quinnipiac awaits.
The Dutchmen won their third straight Whitelaw Cup title to finish first in the USCHO poll. While they rank 17th with 3.08 goals per game, they place seventh with just 2.13 goals allowed per contest. Although they're one of the top championship contenders, another potent squad lurks in their region.
Consider Quinnipiac, who made the championship game last year, the hockey equivalent of Louisville or Michigan State on the basketball side. It wasn't rewarded a top seed, but it should be treated with the same prestige as one due to its track record and overlooked success.
The Bobcats lead the NCAA with a microscopic 1.67 goals allowed per game. The 24-9-6 club squandered its chances of top billing by falling to Colgate in the Eastern College Athletic Conference tournament.
Yet Quinnipiac, ranked No. 6 in NCAA's RPI, is the only squad besides Minnesota to hold a scoring margin (1.35) above one goal per game. Only once did it lose by more than two goals when it fell 6-3 to Merrimack on January 18.
The winner of that likely second-round showdown is a team to be reckoned with during the Frozen Four.
Top Seeds Primed for Upsets?
Those searching for upsets may be weary of the top teams dominating their way through the tournament. Don't worry, because anything could happen elsewhere in the bracket.
Which top seed is more likely to experience a first-round upset?
No. 4 seed Wisconsin is the top team on upset alert in the opening round, as it must conquer North Dakota, its Western Collegiate Hockey Association foe.
While Wisconsin finished the season 24-10-2, North Dakota did not trail far behind at 23-13-3. UW coach Mike Eaves acknowledged the tough matchup to the Journal Sentinel's Jeff Potrykus after the bracket came out on Sunday.
"Getting matched up with North Dakota just tells me that the gantlet starts right now," Eaves said Sunday. "We're starting with a foe that we have a history with so it should be an awesome game."
He might not think it's awesome afterward. NDU holds a plus-.76 scoring margin behind one of the NCAA's most prolific offenses. Meanwhile, Wisconsin sits at plus-.55 with 33 fewer goals scored during the season.
In terms of goals scored and allowed, No. 2 Boston College stands on nearly equal footing with Denver, its first-round opponent. Although the Pioneers have not matched that success in the standings with an 18-15-6 record, they could give the Eagles a run for their money to kick off the proceedings.
Minnesota, Quinnipiac, North Dakota and Boston College will be the last four teams standing. In the end, the Golden Gophers will prove too much to handle in the Frozen Four. Look for them to defeat the Bobcats to earn their sixth national championship.