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NCAA Women's Hockey Bracketology: January 22, 2016

An early look at how the NCAA women's hockey tournament is shaping up

Ah, late season hockey.

Would you believe we're less than a month away from the last regular season game of the women's hockey season? It's true. February 20th against the Friars wraps things up for the Eagles going into the conference tournaments, and with the postseason in sight, it's time to take our first dive into how the NCAA tournament is shaping up.

As we were first to note yesterday, the ranking criteria has changed this season to remove "record against teams under consideration" from the criteria, to be replaced with a "quality win bonus" that is added to a team's RPI.

As of right now, BC Interruption is the only place with the women's hockey Pairwise Rankings, which can be found here.

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, with bracket integrity the secondary consideration.

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

WHEA: Boston College
WCHA: Wisconsin
ECAC: Quinnipiac
CHA: Mercyhurst

Now we'll fill in the rest of the top eight using the Pairwise Rankings, seeding only the top 4 teams:

1) Boston College – WHEA Champion
2) Wisconsin – WCHA Champion
3) Minnesota
4) Quinnipiac – ECAC Champion
– CHA Champion

Straight bracket integrity gives us the following:

Mercyhurst @ (1) Boston College
Princeton @ (2) Wisconsin
Northeastern @ (3) Minnesota
Clarkson @ (4) Quinnipiac

The problem here is that three out of four matchups are flights. Every team except Mercyhurst is in the east, and Mercyhurst is flying no matter who they play, so we need to put Mercyhurst with one of the western teams so that an eastern team can bus to BC, removing one of those flights.

Swapping Princeton and Mercyhurst, the bottom two teams in the rankings will do the trick:

Current Bracket:

Princeton @ (1) Boston College
Mercyhurst @ (2) Wisconsin
Northeastern @ (3) Minnesota
Clarkson @ (4) Quinnipiac

That leaves us with two flights, the minimum possible with this set of teams, so that would be our bracket.

If, however, Syracuse or RIT manage to win the CHA title (and the Orange are currently nipping at Mercyhurst's heels), then both of those teams would be a bus trip to Boston, and no bracket change would have been necessary.

Still lots of time to go until Selection Sunday on March 6th, but the contenders have started to make their move for a spot in the top 8.