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How the Gopher men's hockey team can make the NCAA Tournament

They closed the regular season on a high note.

The Gopher men's hockey team (16-15-4) closed its regular season on a high note by sweeping No. 12 Arizona State on home ice over the weekend.

The victories were crucial because it allows the Gophers to remain at 3M Arena at Mariucci to host the Michigan Wolverines next weekend in Big Ten Tournament play.

Currently, the U of M is 21st in the Pairwise, which is a tool used to determine the 16-seed NCAA tournament field. There's a couple ways they can find their way in.

Win the Big Ten tournament

The easiest way is for the team to win the Big Ten conference tournament, which grants them automatic entry into the dance.

According to College Hockey News' Pairwise Probability Matrix, there's a 2-3 percent chance the Gophers can land a 14, 15 or 16 seed in the tournament field. So not great odds, but still achievable.

The good news is, the U of M had one of the best strength of schedules which is helping them stay alive despite their record being just one game over .500.

The other way

For the sake of our argument, let's say they beat Michigan in the best-of-three quarterfinal series and then advance to the single elimination semifinals where they would face the second-highest remaining seed. 

Simply advancing to the semifinals might not be enough, but reaching the tourney title game might be enough to receive one of the last at-large bids. 

Gophers fan probably don't want to hear that after what happened last year, when they had a 98 percent chance of making the tournament only to have everything go wrong and miss the tourney. 

The string of unlikely occurrences meant Minnesota-Duluth leapfrogged the U of M by .0001 RPI for the last at-large bid.

Oh, and those Bulldogs went on to win the national championship. 

So how delicious would it be for the Gophers, if the opposite happens this year? If they were to get in, that means someone is getting bumped out by slim margins.

What's more exciting is it would likely set them up against an in-state rival in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. 

St. Cloud State, Minnesota-Duluth and Minnesota State are three of the top four teams in the Pairwise, meaning they'll probably have No. 1 seeds at regionals.

Just last year, No. 1 seed St. Cloud State lost to No. 16 seed Air Force. It's a one-and-done, stomp on your heart out kind of tournament.

With Minnesota ending the regular season strong by winning five of their last six – all against ranked teams – they're trending in the right direction for the first time all season.

We'll see what happens with their season on the line this week. 

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