Women's Hockey Bracketology: March 4th, 2014

Where does BC stand on the road to Hamden? We take a look the current Pairwise, and run through some 'what-if' scenarios for the Eagles.

The end of the women's hockey season is rapidly approaching, and with Selection Sunday coming this weekend (!!!), it's about time we take a look at where the Eagles are likely to end up. Just for fun, we'll run a couple of conference championship "what if" scenarios to look at BC's best and worst case brackets.

As a quick refresher, here are the basics:

The men's hockey and women's hockey tournaments are set up differently, with slightly different Pairwise formulas and different bracket priorities. In the men's tournament, the selection committee primarily avoids intraconference first round matchups and tries to improve attendance, and the 16 teams are seeded 1-16. Women's hockey only seeds the top 4 of 8 teams.

Here is the wording as set forth in the women's hockey handbook:

The Women’s Ice Hockey Committee will seed the selected participants as follows:

1. The top four teams according to the selection criteria will be seeded 1-4 at the time of the selection call. The remaining four teams will be placed in the bracket based on relative strength as long as these pairings do not result in additional flights. These teams will not be reseeded and the committee will not change the bracket once the tournament has begun.

2. Assuming it meets the committee’s hosting criteria, the highest seeded team will be given the opportunity to host the quarterfinal game.

Pairings in the quarterfinal round shall be based primarily on the teams’ geographical proximity to one another, regardless of their region, in order to avoid air travel in quarterfinal-round games whenever possible. Teams’ relative strength, according to the committee’s selection criteria, shall be considered when establishing pairings if such pairings do not result in air travel that otherwise could be avoided.

So, let's take a look at where the Eagles would be headed if the season ended today.

Current Bracket:

First, we take the top 8 teams in the women's Pairwise Rankings, and seed the top 4.

1) Minnesota -- WCHA champion
2) Wisconsin
3) Clarkson -- ECAC champion
4) Cornell
Boston College -- HEA Champion
Harvard
Robert Morris
Mercyhurst

Let's arrange the bracket first according to relative strength:

Mercyhurst @ #1 Minnesota
Robert Morris @ #2 Wisconsin
Harvard @ #3 Clarkson
Boston College @ #4 Cornell

Can we reduce the number of flights? As it stands, no we can't -- whoever plays Minnesota and Wisconsin is going to require a flight no matter what, with all of the other teams out east. And Clarkson and Cornell are both set up with Boston teams which are both (long) bus trips. So, that's our current bracket:

Mercyhurst @ #1 Minnesota
Robert Morris @ #2 Wisconsin
Harvard @ #3 Clarkson
Boston College @ #4 Cornell

The trouble is, this bracket probably won't happen. With so many ECAC teams bunched together, the results of those games will shuffle things up. So let's take a look at what happens if chalk holds in the conference tournaments.

Most Likely Scenario:

With Minnesota taking the WCHA and Boston College earning the Hockey East crown, it comes down to the top-heavy ECAC.

Clarkson is the favorite, and the top seed, while Harvard and Clarkson are neck and neck at #2 and #3 respectively. Quinnipiac brings up the rear as a more-than-respectable 4 seed.

Cornell is behind Harvard in the ECAC standings, but ahead of the Crimson in nearly every other ranking. So we'll have Cornell win the semifinal matchup. Fortunately that result won't affect things too much -- if Harvard wins, you would just flip the two teams in the final rankings and bracket.

This would result in Cornell and BC flipping spots. Your top 8 would be as follows:

1) Minnesota -- WCHA champion
2) Wisconsin
3) Clarkson -- ECAC champion
4) Boston College -- HEA Champion
Cornell
Harvard
Robert Morris
Mercyhurst

Arranged by relative strength:

Mercyhurst @ #1 Minnesota
Robert Morris @ #2 Wisconsin
Harvard @ #3 Clarkson
Cornell @ #4 Boston College

No way to reduce flights. However -- with the excessively long bus rides that both Harvard and Cornell would have to make, and with how closely ranked those teams would be in the Pairwise, I think you would see Cornell and Harvard get flipped anyway just to improve proximity:

Mercyhurst @ #1 Minnesota
Robert Morris @ #2 Wisconsin
Cornell @ #3 Clarkson
Harvard @ #4 Boston College

That's a judgment call for the committee, but one I think they would make. And that's a damn fine bracket for BC.

Worst Case Scenario:

The "worst case scenario," at this point, is actually that BC is not mathematically locked into the tournament. The Eagles can conceivably fall to only 6th in the Pairwise, but with all three autobid conferences each having a team below BC still alive, it's possible to be bumped out entirely:

1) Minnesota
2) Wisconsin
3) Clarkson
4) Cornell
Harvard
Quinnipiac -- ECAC champion
North Dakota -- WCHA champion
Boston University -- HEA champion

Woof.

Fortunately the chances of this happening are incredibly slim. So let's just pretend it can't.

Best Case Scenario:

The worst case scenario is pretty bad, but also pretty unlikely. The best case scenario, however, is pretty great, and much more possible.

It wouldn't be a sure thing, but a Wisconsin semifinal loss to North Dakota or a Clarkson loss to Quinnipiac could *possibly* drop one of those teams far enough in the Pairwise for BC to overtake them for 3rd. Either one would have a similar effect, but let's run with Wisconsin losing to North Dakota because there are other complications for us if Cornell or Harvard wins the ECAC.

With a BC Hockey East title, you would have:

1) Minnesota -- WCHA champion
2) Clarkson -- ECAC champion
3) Boston College -- HEA champion
4) Wisconsin
Cornell
Harvard
Robert Morris
Mercyhurst

Arranging by relative strength:

Mercyhurst @ #1 Minnesota
Robert Morris @ #2 Clarkson
Harvard @ #3 Boston College
Cornell @ #4 Wisconsin

There's no way to reduce flights here, so that's our bracket. And wow, what a beauty for BC:

--Boston College earns a quarterfinal home game after toiling for much of the season on the NCAA bubble.
--BC faces Harvard, who many of us consider to be one of the weakest in the field.
--BC would also avoid the WCHA until the NCAA finals -- at long last, after years of having to face a WCHA foe in an earlier round.

So there you have it. A lot can happen this weekend to shake things up, but barring total conference tournament anarchy the Eagles appear to be in great shape for, at a minimum, an eastern quarterfinal.

BC takes on Vermont in the Hockey East semifinals on Saturday before wrapping up (hopefully) against either Northeastern or Boston University for the title on Sunday. The selection show comes at 6pm Sunday evening. We'll be back with a bracket prediction that afternoon.

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