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NCAA Women's Hockey Bracketology: March 4th, 2015

Selection Sunday is this weekend! Let's take one last look at how the Pairwise might shake out.

Jim Rogash/Getty Images

It's just about that time of year. The conference tournaments are coming to a close and selection Sunday is just four days away. The national tournament picture has become pretty clear, but there are still a few finishing touches to be worked out by way of the conference semifinals and finals.

Yesterday we posted our first annual Pairwise Predictor, essentially the same thing USCHO posts every year for men's hockey where you can plug in the results of the conference semifinals and finals and see the resulting Pairwise. Using this, we can play around with the results and conclude the following:

Clinched NCAA Tournament Berths:

Minnesota: #1-2
Boston College: #1-2
Harvard: #3-4
Wisconsin: #3-4

Still Alive For At-Large Berths:

Quinnipiac: #5-OUT
Clarkson: #5-OUT
Boston University: #5-OUT

Must Win Their Conference Tournament:

North Dakota
Bemidji State
Penn State

Let's take a look at the tournament as it would stand with the top seeds winning.

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, followed by preserving bracket integrity. There is no directive to avoid intraconference matchups.

Scenario #1: Let's run the simulator and see what happens if the higher seeds all win.

We'll seed only the top 4, and arrange to minimize flights while preserving bracket integrity the best we can.

Straight bracket integrity gives us the following:

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

...which would be our bracket. Flights are minimized here. We do have two intraconference matchups, but that's the way the cookie crumbles.

It appears that Minnesota is locked into playing the CHA champion unless the following happens:

1) Minnesota loses, and
2) Syracuse or RIT wins the CHA.

In that case, the CHA champion would play Boston College.

Scenario #2: The Committee's Nightmare

Is there a scenario, under the rules set by the NCAA, that would assign an NCAA tournament bracket with such bad bracket integrity that they might consider changing the tournament selection rules next season?

I think there actually might be.

The setup:

Boston College wins the WHEA
North Dakota wins the WCHA
Cornell wins the ECAC
Mercyhurst or Penn State wins the CHA

This gives you a top 8 of:

Straight bracket integrity gives us:

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

Kill it with fire. Four flights. Let's see what we can do here.

- North Dakota can only bus to Minnesota. So we have to stick them there.
- The four eastern teams have to pair with each other. So we'll give BC the worse of the two, Cornell.
- That leaves Quinnipiac to pair with Harvard.
- Finally, Mercyhurst, the worst team in the field, is matched up with Wisconsin, the lowest-ranked host available.

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

Ah, the good, old-fashioned 1v7, 2v6, 3v5, 4v8 bracket setup. Just like the founding fathers intended.

We'll see what happens on Selection Sunday, but there are plenty of possibilities still out there for just about every team still alive.