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NCAA Women's Hockey Bracketology: January 15th, 2015

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The squids are #1 in the nation -- how is the bracket shaking out?

Believe it or not, we're slowly starting to approach the end of the women's hockey regular season. With just over five weeks until the regular-season-ending home-and-home against Boston University, the Eagles sit atop the college hockey rankings with the nation's only undefeated record, at 20-0-1.

Let's take a look at some Pairwise scenarios to see how things might shake out come selection Sunday in early March.

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.

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. This will be key to determining BC's first round matchup.

Here at BC Interruption we've put together a neat tool that allows you to play with the results of past and future games to see what happens to the Pairwise rankings. We'll use this to put our bracket together.

Current autobids (based on conference winning percentage):

Hockey East: Boston College
WCHA: Minnesota
ECAC: Harvard
CHA*: Mercyhurst

*This is the first season that the CHA has an autobid.

We'll fill in the rest of the top 8, seeding only the top 4:

1) Boston College – HEA Champion
2) Minnesota – WCHA Champion
3) Wisconsin
4) Quinnipiac
Harvard (PWR 5th) – ECAC Champion
Minnesota-Duluth (PWR 6th)
Boston University (PWR 7th)
Mercyhurst (PWR 10th) – CHA Champion

Straight bracket integrity gives us the following:

Mercyhurst @ (1) Boston College
Boston University @ (2) Minnesota
Minnesota-Duluth @ (3) Wisconsin
Harvard @ (4) Quinnipiac

We have a couple problems: Mercyhurst to Boston College is a flight (cutoff for flight vs. bus trip is 400 miles), as well as Boston University to Minnesota. Duluth to Madison and Harvard to Quinnipiac are bus trips.

Simple solution for the committee is to swap Mercyhurst and Boston University:

Current Bracket:

Boston University @ (1) Boston College
Mercyhurst @ (2) Minnesota
Minnesota-Duluth @ (3) Wisconsin
Harvard @ (4) Quinnipiac

This gives us an awful bracket, featuring 3 intraconference matchups, but with only one flight, the committee's hands would be tied. This is the bracket you would see if the season ended today.

Syracuse is the only CHA team that would be a bus trip to BC, so it is unlikely that BC would play a non-Cuse CHA champion on the first round. The caveats to that are if Syracuse wins the CHA or a second western team such as Ohio State climbs into the top 7 (though neither would be impossible):

Scenario #1: Syracuse wins CHA

Syracuse @ (1) Boston College
Boston University @ (2) Minnesota
Minnesota-Duluth @ (3) Wisconsin
Harvard @ (4) Quinnipiac

In this scenario, you have only one flight: Boston University to Minnesota. You can't have any fewer flights in this setup, so even though BC is much less of a bus ride for BU than Syracuse, BC would be given CHA champion Syracuse.

Scenario #2: Ohio State climbs to 7th

Mercyhurst @ (1) Boston College
Ohio State @ (2) Minnesota
Minnesota-Duluth @ (3) Wisconsin
Harvard @ (4) Quinnipiac

Ohio State, like Mercyhurst, is a flight for everyone with a shot at making the top 4. So there would be no benefit to swapping the bottom two teams, and BC would play Mercyhurst.

The bracket as we have it set up above ("Current Bracket") sets up pretty well for BC, although you'd like to avoid the rivalry game in the first round if you can. But as the top seed, BC would avoid playing either Minnesota or Wisconsin.

Still plenty of hockey left, but the bracket is starting to find its first semblance of clarity.