Wisconsin men’s hockey finishes up their regular season soon, as the playoffs near. Here’s everything you need to know about how things will work come March.
Number of Teams
16 teams make it to the 2017 NCAA Division I Men’s Hockey Tournament.
Breakdown of Field
The tournament essentially functions as if it were March Madness for college basketball. The only differences are the number of teams (16) and the regional locations (East, Midwest, Northeast, and West).
Determining the Bids
Currently, each conference receives one automatic bid. Conferences include the Big Ten, Atlantic Hockey, ECAC Hockey, Hockey East, NCHC, and the WCHA. Since conference realignment, each conference decides which team will receive a bid on an individual basis. The Big Ten auto-bid comes from the winner of the conference tournament.
Media and coaches polls are not utilized in the determination of the at-large bids.
The selection committee looks specifically at teams that are above .500, and have played at least 20 games against Division I opponents. Although subjective information is theoretically thrown out the window when determining the bids, the committee “reserves the right to evaluate each team based on the relative strength of its retrospective conference.”
Chances for Badgers
Considering the fact that the Big Ten has only six teams, the Badgers have a chance to make it to the tournament for the first time since 2014. Michigan and Michigan State should not pose huge tests. However, the remaining four teams (including Wisconsin) reside in the top 20 nationally with three weeks left in the season. Barring either a huge win streak or a slump in play over the next three weeks, the Badgers should have a realistic shot at an at-large bid, even if they falter in the tournament.
If the season were to end today, the Badgers would be looking at a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament. This means that they theoretically would be in the Final Four, and thus would most likely face one of the three other powerhouse programs in the conference (Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State). Although nothing is guaranteed without a tournament championship, the Badgers’ chances look considerably better than they have in the last few years. Considering that each of the three teams the Badgers are competing against – Minnesota, Ohio State, and Penn State – are within the top 16 nationally, a win would mean a potential at-large bid for the program even if they falter in the Big Ten Championship.
The Badgers do have a tough road ahead, though. Two of Wisconsin’s next three opponents they face on the road, and the single-elimination nature of the conference tournament makes it a little more daunting. The Badgers need to perform very well – i.e., winning at least four, if not five of their last six regular season games – in order to secure an at-large bid, and otherwise, a tournament win might be necessary.
With slightly less than a month left until Selection Sunday, it is clearly still early for concrete predictions. However, one thing can be said for the first time in three seasons: the Badgers control their own destiny. Coach Granato has done a phenomenal job of shaping the young and talented group into a team of fierce competitors, and it has shown through their performances on the ice. With three Big Ten series remaining against rivals Minnesota (2/24), Penn State (3/3), and Ohio State (3/10), it is nearing crunch time for the Badgers. Considering the team’s play throughout the course of the season, it is definitely an exciting time to be a Wisconsin hockey fan again.