Well, my dear reader, we have got ourselves one of the most interesting NCAA tournament races in recent memory.
Minnesota and Wisconsin have given themselves a little separation from the pack, and Northeastern is still kind of in their own area code in both directions at third... but from there? Total chaos. With the CHA champion locked into taking one at-large spot away, Clarkson, Cornell, Boston College, Princeton, and Boston University are the five teams battling for the final four playoff positions. Not only that, but one of those teams is guaranteed to get a quarterfinal home game... and one of them is guaranteed to not be playing at all. Any surprises in the conference championships would send another one of those teams home as well.
We don’t know where those teams will end up, but we do know where they are now! So let’s run through everyone’s favorite fruitless exercise... Bracketology!
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:
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. Not only has USCHO’s Pairwise been way off over the last month or so, it also 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
3) Northeastern — WHEA Champion
Princeton — ECAC Champion
Robert Morris — CHA Champion
Straight bracket integrity gives us the following:
Robert Morris @ (1) Wisconsin
Princeton @ (2) Minnesota
Boston College @ (3) Northeastern
Cornell @ (4) Clarkson
This bracket has two flights which cannot be eliminated, so by the committee’s directive, this is the bracket we should end up with.
Not only have we minimized flights, but this arrangement also has the most ideal travel arrangements possible for the eight teams. Last month we had a slightly different top 8, but we acknowledged that the committee could consider switching things around to save some hotel rooms and shorten bus rides by rearranging things to end up with... exactly this bracket. The difference this week is that the committee won’t have to come up with any justification to do so — this arrangement maintains bracket integrity on its own, with this top 8.
There is still a ton to be determined, but we’re starting to get at least a little bit of clarity of where teams would end up if they win out.
(1) If Minnesota or Wisconsin wins the WCHA, that team should end up first, and the other should end up second.
(2) Northeastern could conceivably drop a spot with a bad conference tournament (and bad last regular season weekend), but they’re pretty well set with a top four spot and should probably end up third, in all likelihood.
(3) If Cornell, Princeton, or Clarson can win the rest of their games, they’ll end up fourth and get that last home ice spot (or technically 3rd, if Northeastern finishes poorly enough, but it’s unlikely). Where the others land depends on how BC/BU do.
(4) If BC can win the rest of their games, they have a good shot of ending up fourth, as long as Cornell, Princeton, and Clarkson each get one more loss. Clarkson and Princeton still have to play each other once in the regular season, this this is certainly a possibility. Otherwise, BC’s looking at finishing 5th if they win out.
(5) Boston University has by far the worst positioning of everyone here. They’re pretty much required to at least get to the Hockey East finals to have any sort of chance, as a loss in the semifinals would almost certainly be to the Eagles. That would sink BU by yet another Pairwise point... not good for a team that’s already on the outside looking in.
Our annual Pairwise Predictor drops this Saturday once the regular season is over, so starting this weekend, we’ll all be able to play with results and see how the Pairwise should shake out. It’s looking like it’ll be a wild race to the finish!