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Final NCAA Women’s Hockey Bracketology: A Decision For The Committee

We know the teams in the field... but where is everyone going?

The conference championships are in the books — and they were a little crazy! Even though the Eagles were bounced in the semifinals, they’ve still earned themselves a top four spot in the Pairwise and the home ice NCAA quarterfinal that goes with it.

The selection show is tonight at 9pm EST on NCAA.com. Let’s take a look at our final bracketology, and see what the committee has to work with.

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 (a flight being anything over 400 miles according to the NCAA’s official calculator), 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 four conference champions who earned themselves automatic bids into the tournament:

WHEA: Northeastern
WCHA: Minnesota
ECAC: Clarkson
CHA: Mercyhurst

Now 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. While we have no inside information, it is our best guess that D-II Saint Anselm will not be included in the tournament despite sitting 5th in the Pairwise. So we’ll take a look at the bracket without the Hawks.

(1) Clarkson ECAC Champion
(2) Wisconsin
(3) Colgate
(4) Boston College
Minnesota WCHA Champion
Ohio State
NortheasternWHEA Champion
MercyhurstCHA Champion

Perfect bracket integrity gives us the following:

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

What a mess! Three flights. We can get rid of two of them by sending Minnesota to Wisconsin, which is a bus trip, and moving Northeastern out east. We’ll preserve bracket integrity as best we can by moving up Minnesota to Madison and bumping the other road teams below them to the next weaker opponent:

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

Just one flight, and bracket integrity is otherwise preserved as best we can, so this is the bracket we should have based on the NCAA’s selection criteria.

But given the NCAA’s history, it’s not a foregone conclusion.

Two years ago, the NCAA bucked their directives and further reduced costs by sending Northeastern, instead of Princeton, to Boston College. The committee chair tried to justify the move by saying that they felt Princeton was a stronger team than Northeastern, even though there wasn’t a single metric that produced that result.

Might the committee once again further try and save some money by sending Northeastern down the street to Boston College once again? If so, they would do so by flipping the BC and Colgate opponents, resulting in the following bracket:

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

Or perhaps instead of flipping NU and OSU, they flip BC into the #3 seed and Colgate into the #4, with the justification that RPI was close and BC won the common opponent’s comparison against Colgate. But that would be a bit more complicated than the committee needs to make it.

The NCAA has decided to try and save extra money before, but this is a tough call — further saving money is not in their directives beyond just reducing the number of flights, and if they do this once again, they’ve officially started a precedent to go against what the handbook directs them to do.

So, we should get one of these two brackets. By the book, the Eagles should be getting Ohio State. If the NCAA wants to save extra money, as they have done in the past, the Eagles might get another matchup with Northeastern. This shouldn’t be difficult — the handbook tells the committee to go with the first option, sending Ohio State to BC and Northeastern to Colgate — but the committee seems to do what it wants lately.

We’ll find out what happens tonight at 9pm EST on NCAA.com!