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NCAA Women's Hockey Bracketology: February 13th, 2017

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In which the committee breaks out their checkbooks

I’m not entirely sure how this happened, but somehow there is just one week left in the regular season. Boston College and Providence match up with a home-and-home on Saturday and Sunday, and just about everyone else wraps up as well (with the exception of the CHA, who plays one week later than the rest).

That means that the conference tournaments are just around the corner. So let’s take a look at the updated Pairwise Rankings and do some bracketology.

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. The NCAA Division I Competition Oversight Committee shall have the authority to modify its working principles related to the championship site assignment on a case-by-case basis.

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: Clarkson
CHA: Robert Morris

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

1) Wisconsin — WCHA Champion
2) Minnesota-Duluth
3) Minnesota
4) St. Lawrence
Boston College
Clarkson – ECAC Champion
Cornell
Robert Morris – CHA Champion

Straight bracket integrity gives us the following:

Robert Morris @ (1) Wisconsin
Cornell @ (2) Minnesota-Duluth
Clarkson @ (3) Minnesota
Boston College @ (4) St. Lawrence

If you’re the committee, this is the worst bracket you’ve ever seen. The bracket results in three unavoidable flights, and one very long bus ride.

According to the letter of the selection criteria, this is the bracket we should see, if this were indeed how the season were to shake out. But if last year is any indication, the committee may take the opportunity to pinch pennies.

Clarkson and St. Lawrence are separated by just 11 miles, which means the teams will be able to stay in their own dorms (no hotel rooms!) and can shuttle over on a short bus ride and save a lot of gas money. Last season, the committee tried to justify sending Northeastern to Boston College and Princeton to Minnesota based on “team strength,” but on its face it appeared to be a money saving move.

This season, BC and Clarkson are even closer than Princeton and Northeastern were last year, so if the committee were to follow last season’s precedent, you could very well see a bracket of:

Robert Morris @ (1) Wisconsin
Cornell @ (2) Minnesota-Duluth
Boston College @ (3) Minnesota
Clarkson @ (4) St. Lawrence

This would make for a worse tournament, but the committee doesn’t have any directives to avoid intraconference matchups like they do in men’s hockey.

2nd through 6th (as well as 7th through 12th) are incredibly close, so there is likely to be a ton of movement before all is said and done — and that movement will probably start this weekend, as everyone in the top 8 plays a ranked team except Duluth, BC, and Robert Morris. This season’s Pairwise Rankings are indeed a roll of the dice!