When Wisconsin steps on the ice this week at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., for the WCHA Final Five, it will be doing so in a must-win situation. Thanks to UW's poor 1-7-2 start to the season, the Badgers dug themselves a hole they're still trying to climb out of.
Wisconsin currently sits at No. 16 in the PairWise rankings that mimic the formula used by the NCAA to determine the NCAA tournament field. Thankfully for the Badgers, they hold their destiny in their own hands as long as they keep on winning.
If Wisconsin wins all three games this weekend at the Final Five, it will earn the WCHA's automatic-bid to the NCAA tournament. If the Badgers don't earn the auto-bid, they're going to need to rely on help from others to get an at-large bid in the 16-team field.
Regardless, the Badgers must win two games at the Final Five to have a chance at making the NCAA's. That would mean Wisconsin making an appearance in the Final Five title game, a place the Badgers have never reached in the Mike Eaves era in Madison.
According to PairWise expert Jim Dahl from SiouxSports.com, Wisconsin has a zero percent chance of finishing in the top 16 in the PWR if it loses on Thursday to Minnesota State. If Wisconsin wins on Thursday but loses to St. Cloud on Friday, it has a 0.1 percent chance of finishing in the top 16.
Even if the Badgers win two this week in St. Paul, a bid isn't guaranteed. According to the numbers from Dahl's calculations, two wins would give the Badgers a 2.0 percent chance at earning the No. 14 seed, 12.2 percent chance at the No. 15 seed and 36.9 percent chance at the No. 16 seed. That adds up to a 51.1 percent chance of Wisconsin earning a top-16 spot in the PWR with two wins.
That said, finishing in the top 16 might not be enough for Wisconsin. Remember that each of the six conferences awards its auto-bid to the team that wins the conference tournament. That means that if there are any teams outside of the top 16 in the PWR that win a conference tournament, that takes away a spot from Wisconsin.
One specific conference tournament to keep an eye on is Atlantic Hockey. Niagara looks like it is going to get a bid to the tournament regardless, which means that if it's upset in its tournament, Wisconsin will need to finish in the top 15 of the PairWise.
The same can be said for the other tournaments; Wisconsin must have teams already in the tournament field winning conference tournaments.
The players and coaches in the Badgers' locker room are certainly aware of their situation, but understand they can't win three games in one day. During his press conference on Monday, Eaves said Wisconsin is focused solely on Minnesota State on Thursday.
"If you think about the whole enchilada, that's a big gorilla to eat, and you've got to start with the first bite," Eaves said. "So we'll start on Thursday."
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