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NCAA Women's Hockey Bracketology: February 16th, 2015

Just one weekend left in the regular season

BC Athletics

The regular season is coming to a close, with this weekend's Thursday/Saturday home-and-home with Boston University the last two games before the conference tournaments kick off.

The Eagles were handed their first and only loss of the season last week in the Beanpot championship to Harvard, but it hasn't affected BC's national ranking: still #1 in both polls and where it counts, in the Pairwise.

The tournament field is really starting to firm up. Let's take a look at the three most likely scenarios and the resulting NCAA tournament bracket.

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) Harvard ECAC Champion
Quinnipiac (PWR 5th)
Boston University (PWR 6th)
Clarkson (PWR 7th)
Mercyhurst (PWR 13th) – CHA Champion

Straight bracket integrity gives us the following:

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

We have some problems: Mercyhurst to Boston College is a flight (cutoff for flight vs. bus trip is 400 miles), as well as Clarkson to Minnesota and Boston University to Wisconsin. Quinnipiac to Harvard is a bus trip.

We are obligated to minimize flights as much as is possible without adjusting the top 4 seeds. The fewest number of flights possible is 2, and the easiest way to do that without hurting bracket integrity too much is to swap Mercyhurst and Clarkson.

Current Bracket:

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

This gives us a bracket that isn't too bad, from the committee's point of view. The handbook gives no allowance for avoiding intraconference matchups, so even though swapping BU and Quinnpiac will result in the same number of flights and removes the only intraconference matchup, it hurts bracket integrity (which is mentioned in the handbook), so this should be the bracket we would get if the season ended today.

Very unfortunate that BC doesn't get to play the weak CHA champion in this case (the highest ranked team is Mercyhurst in 13th) but BC can't possibly complain—the Eagles have benefited from this setup for years, so it's time to reap what we've sown.

The only CHA champion BC is likely to face is Syracuse, who would be looking at a (very long) bus trip to Conte. That's not exceptionally unlikely, but Mercyhurst has to be favored at this point.

The tournament field has really started to firm up, with Boston College & Minnesota as virtual locks for 1/2, Wisconsin & Harvard as virtual locks for 3/4, Quinnpiac firmly slotted in at #5, and BU also somewhat firmly entrenched in at #6.

Below that is a three-team battle for the last remaining spot (barring any surprise conference autobids) between Clarkson, Minnesota-Duluth, and North Dakota. Should Clarkson drop out, it would dramatically affect the bracket.

Let's take a look.

Scenario #1: Minnesota-Duluth climbs to #7, knocking out Clarkson

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

The kicker here is that Duluth would have to bus to either Wisconsin or Minnesota. In the interest of bracket integrity, it makes the most sense to send them to Wisconsin, rewarding one of the top 2 seeds with the CHA autobid winner.

Scenario #2: North Dakota climbs to #7, knocking out Clarkson

Boston University @ (1) Boston College
North Dakota @ (2) Minnesota
Mercyhurst (3) Wisconsin
Quinnipiac @ (4) Harvard

This is an absolute mess of a bracket, but the committee's hands would be tied. North Dakota has to be paired with Minnesota, as the only school it can bus to. Then Mercyhurst and BU are swapped as well, giving just the one flight.

Three intraconference matchups and the CHA champion goes to the #3 seed. Yikes. The only way this could be worse is if Harvard jumped Wisconsin in into 3rd (which will happen this weekend if Harvard sweeps their two games). In that case, the worst team in the tournament would be facing the lowest ranked team possible, #4 Wisconsin.

BC's possible opponents are pretty narrowed down at this point. If I were a betting man, I would estimate that BC is 45% likely to face BU, 40% likely to face Clarkson, 7.5% likely to face Syracuse, and 7.5% likely to play an unranked ECAC or Hockey East champion such as Cornell or Northeastern.

It's worth noting that whether BC is #1 or #2, their NCAA regional opponent will probably be the same either way.