It’s hard to believe that less than two weeks ago the Penn State hockey team was on the outside of the NCAA tournament field looking in, hoping to make a run into a position that might qualify for an at-large bid. First the team needed to sweep the nearly unsweepable Minnesota Golden Gophers in order to avoid traveling to their over-sized sheet of ice and the advantage that comes with playing in Mariucci Arena.
After completing the miraculous sweep on the final day of the regular-season, gaining home-ice advantage in the first round in the Big Ten Tournament by just one single point in conference standings, the Lions did it again. By sweeping Minnesota for the second weekend in a row, avoiding even one loss in the best-of-three series, Penn State has almost clinched a spot in the NCAA tournament.
Tracking At-Large Bids
The highest-ranked team remaining in the Atlantic Hockey Conference Tournament is Erie, Pennsylvania’s Mercyhurst University, with a respectable Pairwise ranking of 22. This means that there will only be 15 at-large bids at most for the rest of the NCAA hockey teams, as the eventual winner of the AHC will be outside of the top-16 and will bump whichever team finishes in that spot.
On the flip side, we also know that the eventual winner of the Big Ten Tournament will be ranked in the top-10. Penn State is ranked No.11, but with two more wins it would finish inside the top-10. Michigan, Ohio State, and Notre Dame will finish in the top-10 regardless of how the next two weekends work out.
So at this point we know that the margin of error lies between 16 and 11. The number 16 team in the final Pairwise rankings, after all of the conference tournaments are complete, will not make the NCAA tournament. The number 11 team will gain an at-large bid with 100% certainty. Over the next couple of weeks, as this changes, we will update the scenario.
College Hockey News does a nice job running the Pairwise Probability Matrix. It is unofficial, and the website gives a very thorough explanation for how the numbers are gathered, but it is also very accurate, especially this late in the season. Right now it has Penn State with a 99.7% chance of making the NCAA tournament.
There is only the slightest chance that the Lions could miss the NCAA tournament at this point. Penn State would have to lose this weekend to Notre Dame and then drop to the No. 12 position by having a team such as Providence or Omaha rise in the rankings. Then there would have to be a team outside of the top-16 to win each of the four remaining conference championships other than the AHC and B1G. The Pairwise Probability Matrix gives this a .3% chance of happening. By the end of the weekend it may be safe to give Guy Gadowsky’s team a full 100% probability, even if it loses in South Bend.
Here are the current Pairwise Rankings.
Penn State’s NCAA Tournament Destination Is Known
While the team may need to wait until Sunday to be guaranteed a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the second time in program history and second season in a row, it knows where it will play if it gains a bid.
Penn State was named the host institution for the Allentown Regional on March 24-25. As a result, if the team advances to the NCAA field, it will play in the PPL Center on March 24.
It will be a great chance for fans that have cheered on the Lions in Hockey Valley to make a short trip to Allentown to support the team. For fans in eastern Pennsylvania, it will make for a much easier journey to watch the Lions play.
We will continue to share updates of the experience planned in Allentown two weeks from now as the tournament approaches. The Penn State Lehigh Valley Alumni Society is planning a Barbecue on Saturday March 24 , the PSULVBBQ as it can be needlessly abbreviated.
The Big Ten Tournament games last weekend were held in Hockey Valley with just a few days notice. As a result the team had a hard time filling the stadium. There are seldom sell-out crowds at NCAA hockey regional locations. We will enlist all of the help that we can muster to fill the PPL Center on March 23, using the resources of the media, university and alumni to encourage as many fans to attend as possible. This will be a great chance to show the entire college hockey scene what fan support is all about in the Penn State family.