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NCAA Women’s Hockey Bracketology: January 29th, 2019

Projecting this year’s NCAA tournament

Trophy season is nearly upon us! The conference tournaments are just a month away, which means it’s time for everyone’s favorite annual rite of passage: the way-too-early prognostications on the NCAA women’s hockey tournament bracket.

Let’s check in on the Pairwise Rankings and see where things currently stand.

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.

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

WCHA: Wisconsin
WHEA: Northeastern
ECAC: Princeton
CHA: Robert Morris

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

First, the NEWHA question. Last year, the New England Women’s Hockey Alliance brought together the six D-I/D-II independents into a scheduling alliance that gave them all 20 games against D-I/D-II competition. That made them eligible for NCAA tournament selection for the first time. Due to the inability for the Pairwise to distinguish these teams as weaker than the rest of the field, Saint Anselm played well enough to climb into an at-large position. In the end, Saint Anselm, as expected, was not selected due to their comparably weak body of work, but they were still technically in the running.

This year, we shouldn’t have that problem. Holy Cross, a member of the NEWHA last season, is now part of Hockey East, so the NEWHA teams now play fewer than the required 20 countable games (with the exception of Sacred Heart & Post, who both scheduled additional D-I non-conference games, but neither will be a factor in the Pairwise) and will not be eligible for selection.

That brings us to our second point: USCHO’s Pairwise Rankings do not appear to be calculating correctly. USCHO has Saint Anselm included in its calculation of the rankings, which is affecting everyone’s Quality Wins Bonus. With Saint Anselm ineligible, they should not be included in these calculations. 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.

1) Wisconsin — WCHA Champion
2) Minnesota
3) Northeastern — WHEA Champion
4) Clarkson
Princeton — ECAC Champion
Boston College
Robert Morris — CHA Champion

Straight bracket integrity gives us the following:

Robert Morris @ (1) Wisconsin
Boston College @ (2) Minnesota
Cornell @ (3) Northeastern
Princeton @ (4) Clarkson

This gives us two flights and two bus trips. Right now, with the bottom four consisting of three eastern teams plus the CHA champion, Wisconsin and Minnesota are going to require flights no matter what, so with that the case, the committee should just keep bracket integrity. This is the bracket that, based on the directives they’re given, the committee should give us based on these rankings.

Of course, as we’ve seen in the past, the selection committee has a habit of bucking their directives and just kind of doing whatever they want in an effort to save some money. In 2016, the committee unexpectedly sent Northeastern to Boston College and Princeton to Minnesota, presumably in an attempt to save money on hotel rooms and shorten the bus trip — neither of which is in their directives. The committee chair denied that was the case, but, I mean, come on.

There is plenty the committee could do this year with this bracket if they wanted to do the same thing. Princeton to Clarkson, for example, is just barely under the 400 mile threshold for a bus trip vs. a flight, and Boston College is, as we know, close enough to Northeastern where money can be saved on hotel rooms. If the committee really wanted to go crazy, they could send Princeton to Minnesota (again), pair up Boston College with Northeastern (again), and send Cornell to Clarkson, which is a significantly shorter bus ride for the Big Red than Northeastern would be — wins all around as far as the committee is concerned.

With 4th through 7th in the Pairwise so close to begin with (4, 5, and 6 are in fact tied in comparisons won), and with the committee having done essentially the same thing just a few years ago, this is certainly a decision the committee would make. That would give us a bracket of:

Robert Morris @ (1) Wisconsin
Princeton @ (2) Minnesota
Boston College @ (3) Northeastern
Cornell @ (4) Clarkson

It would be a shame if the committee did this, as it would make for a less interesting tournament, but it’s certainly a possibility. The fact that the “minimize flights” directive could be removed next season may or may not affect their decision in either direction this year as well.

We’ll check back in each week as long as we have a different ranking to see what the bracket would be from now until Selection Sunday!