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NCAA Women’s Hockey Bracketology: January 25th, 2018

It’s kind of a mess!

It might sound ridiculous, but we’re less than a month away from the women’s hockey postseason. What??

The puck drops on the conference quarterfinals on Friday, February 23rd, which means we’re just 29 days away from tourney time. With Trophy Season just around the corner, it’s time to check in on the Pairwise Rankings for the first women’s hockey bracketology of the year!

Here is the selection criteria 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. The NCAA Division I Competition Oversight Committee shall have the authority to modify its working principles related to the championship site assignment on a case-by-case basis.

There are a few key differences between the men’s hockey criteria and the women’s hockey criteria. 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, and the primary consideration is minimizing the number of flights, with bracket integrity the secondary consideration.

One last caveat is that this year, the women’s hockey handbook added in language stating that “during the selection process, each team’s full body of work will be evaluated.” Presumably, this was added to give the committee some leeway in whether or not the newly-eligible D-I/D-II independents would be selected for the tournament regardless of any top 8 ranking.

Here are the current autobids, chosen based on best in-conference winning percentage:

WHEA: Boston College
WCHA: Wisconsin
ECAC: Colgate*
CHA: Mercyhurst

*Colgate and Clarkson are currently tied atop the ECAC standings, but Colgate has the head to head tiebreaker.

Before we go any further, we have two things to discuss..

First, the Saint Anselm question. By the end of the season, Saint Anselm will have played 20 games against eligible D-I/D-II opponents, and will therefore be eligible for NCAA selection. However, those 20 games will have been against only the five other D-I/D-II independents, none of whom have D-I quality talent. The insular quality of their schedule means that their ranking in the Pairwise may be the top 8 due to the mathematical flaws of the RPI, but the committee may opt not to select them due to their overall body of work. In our bracketology, we will present both scenarios.

At this time, we do not have any inside knowledge whatsoever whether the committee will select Saint Anselm or not, however at this time it is our best guess that Saint Anselm will not be selected. It would have been a more difficult question if the Hawks were undefeated, but with Saint Anselm hovering around other deserving bubble teams, we do not believe the committee will select them for tournament play.

Second, USCHO’s Pairwise Rankings do not appear to be calculating correctly. We addressed this earlier today, but whether or not Saint Anselm is selected for the tournament, they will still have an affect on the RPI and, by extention, the Pairwise. We will be using the Pairwise Rankings as we have calculated them here at BC Interruption, as we believe them to be correct.

Now that that’s all out of the way, let’s take our conference autobids and fill in the rest of the top eight using the Pairwise Rankings, seeding only the top 4 teams.

We’ll start with the inclusion of Saint Anselm first.

1) Wisconsin — WCHA Champion
2) Clarkson
3) Colgate — ECAC Champion
4) Boston College — WHEA Champion
Ohio State
Saint Anselm
Minnesota
Mercyhurst — CHA Champion

Straight bracket integrity gives us the following:

Mercyhurst @ (1) Wisconsin
Minnesota @ (2) Clarkson
Saint Anselm @ (3) Colgate
Ohio State @ (4) Boston College

We have three flights and one very long bus ride. We can get rid of one of those flights by flipping Minnesota and Mercyhurst and sending the Gophers to Wisconsin:

Minnesota @ (1) Wisconsin
Mercyhurst @ (2) Clarkson
Saint Anselm @ (3) Colgate
Ohio State @ (4) Boston College

We still have two flights, but there’s nothing we can do about that. Saint Anselm is a much shorter bus ride to Boston College, but as we have no directives to shorten bus rides (despite what the committee did in 2016), we will leave this bracket as-is.

Now let’s take a look at the bracket with Saint Anselm excluded.

1) Wisconsin — WCHA Champion
2) Clarkson
3) Colgate — ECAC Champion
4) Boston College — WHEA Champion
Ohio State
Minnesota
Cornell
Mercyhurst — CHA Champion

Straight bracket integrity gives us the following:

Mercyhurst @ (1) Wisconsin
Cornell @ (2) Clarkson
Minnesota @ (3) Colgate
Ohio State @ (4) Boston College

Once again we have three flights, and once again the Gophers have no choice but to fly to Madison to face the Badgers.

We have a bit of a mess with the other matchups, though. Mercyhurst is much closer to Colgate, but it’s still a bus trip to Clarkson. The committee should try to preserve bracket integrity as much as possible without increasing the number of flights, which would send Mercyhurst to the next best team after Wisconsin, which would be Clarkson.

But with Clarkson and Colgate almost interchangeable in the Pairwise, might the committee just opt to straight-up swap Mercyhurst and Minnesota, leaving the other matchups untouched and shorterning the Lakers’ bus ride to upstate New York?

For now, I’m going to stick with the directive given to the committee, which is to preserve bracket integrity as much as possible without increasing the number of flights. They’ve deviated from this in the past, but given that what they end up deciding to do is a total crapshoot, we’ll just stick with what they’re supposed to do.

Minnesota @ (1) Wisconsin
Mercyhurst @ (2) Clarkson
Cornell @ (3) Colgate
Ohio State @ (4) Boston College

The alternative would be sending Cornell to Clarkson and Mercyhurst to Colgate, but I think the above bracket is what we’d see. It does help that Cornell is pretty close to Colgate.

This year’s Selection Sunday has the potential to be a real mess. There’s still plenty of hockey to be played, so hopefully the bracket selection process turns out to be a little less chaotic in the end.