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NCAA Women's Hockey Bracketology: February 25th, 2016

In which the NCAA tournament appears to be nearly set in Sharpie

It's time for playoff hockey!

The regular season has come and gone with Boston College somehow breaking all the records they set last season, including a perfect 34-0-0 regular season -- this time, with some hardware to go with it.

Usually with the conference tournaments comes excitement for potential movement in the national rankings, but that hasn't been the case at all this season. While not all of the rankings are set in stone, you can pretty much limit every team to 1-2 possible positions barring some really unlikely results. Take a look for yourself using our Tournament Predictor tool.

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 as the top seed in each conference tournament:

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

Well, that's no fun. It's the exact top 8 we had a a month ago in our first bracketology.

Straight bracket integrity gives us the following:

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

Three out of four matchups are flights. Every team in the bottom four is in the east except Mercyhurst, 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.

As we noted in our first bracketology, this would change if Syracuse or RIT manage to win the CHA title. Both of those teams would be a bus trip to Boston, and no bracket change would be necessary.

Perhaps more interesting than the current bracket is that the likely tournament bracket can be broken down with just a few generalizations.

  • Boston College has all but mathematically clinched the #1 overall seed, and will do so if they sweep the terrible Black Bears this weekend.
  • Minnesota and Wisconsin are separated by just 0.0001 points in RPI. Whichever team does better in the conference tournament will claim 2nd, and as long as both teams sweep their just-as-terrible-as-Maine quarterfinals opponents, they will both mathematically clinch a spot in 2nd or 3rd.
  • Quinnipiac and Clarkson are also close, and if one of these teams can win the ECAC, that team will earn home ice in the NCAA tournament. The loser will almost certainly remain in 5th.
  • Princeton and Northeastern are also very close, and 6th place will go to the team that has the best conference tournament. The loser will almost certainly remain in 7th.
  • Bemidji State is not quite mathematically eliminated from an NCAA tournament berth, but they're pretty close to it. It would take some surprising results for them to get in without winning the WCHA.
That gives us a likely field, barring some surprises, of:

1) BC
2) UW/UM
3) UM/UW
4) QU/CU
CHA Champion

The bracket, therefore, would almost certainly look like this:

Syracuse or RIT win the CHA:
Cuse/RIT  @ (1) BC
PU/NU @ (2) UW/UM
NU/PU @ (3) UM/UW
CU/QU @ (4) QU/CU

Other team wins the CHA:
PU/NU @ (1) BC
CHA Champion @ (2) UW/UM
NU/PU @ (3) UM/UW
CU/QU @ (4) QU/CU

Normally I would say that things will be cleared up after the quarterfinals... but unless there is anything surprising, you will almost certainly see one of those two brackets on Selection Sunday.