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NCAA Women's Hockey Bracketology: March 3rd, 2016

Our penultimate bracketology of the season

Selection Sunday is -- incredibly -- this weekend, and the bracket has really started to take shape. Despite a full weekend slate of games to go, there are only a few positions up for grabs among the at large teams, though the autobids loom large for the teams not currently in the top half of the field.

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
Clarkson 
Northeastern 
Princeton 
Mercyhurst
– CHA Champion

Awesome. Once again, it's the exact top 8 we had in our first bracketology and our second bracketology. What are the odds?

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.

Of the current at-large teams, only the top 4 have clinched NCAA tournament berths:

(1) Boston College has mathematically clinched the #1 overall seed.
(2) Wisconsin has clinched either the #2 or #3 seed.
(3) Minnesota has clinched either the #2 or #3 seed.
(4) Quinnipiac has clinched an NCAA tournament berth, and can only finish in 4th or 5th.

Of the remaining teams sitting on the bubble, where they will finish will depend on how many upsets there are in the conference championships.

(5) Clarkson has almost clinched, but will be eliminated if all four conferences have a champion outside of the top 7 in the Pairwise. Very unlikely. They can finish either 4th, 5th, or OUT.
(6) Northeastern can only finish in 6th or OUT. Northeastern can control its own destiny by winning Hockey East, claiming 6th or, unlikely but possible, 5th. They will also be in if only one (or zero) of UConn, BU, Duluth, North Dakota, Colgate, or St. Lawrence win conference championships. Two or more, and the Huskies are out.
(7) Princeton managed to get eliminated from the ECAC tournament in the quarterfinals, but they can't be caught by and teams below them in the Pairwise without those teams winning the conference championship. But, if any of the ECAC, WCHA, or WHEA have an upset champion, Princeton is out. Otherwise, they will be 7th.

Everyone else needs to win their conference tournament to be in.

We'll have one more bracketology before the selection show on Sunday evening with a prediction of the final bracket, with a bracket unveil immediately following the selection show.