Last night I sat down to update our Pairwise Predictor with the results from the CHA semifinals, and while I was at it I figured I’d try and get a good grasp on BC’s NCAA tournament scenarios. As some of you may be aware — either from the men’s or the women’s side of things — this can send you down one hell of a rabbit hole from whence you are lucky ever to return.
Usually at this time of year, with just the conference semifinals and finals left to play, you’d got a pretty good idea of how things are going to shake out, and even if you don’t, you know that “If X Then Y.” This year, the cluster of teams from 4th through — no joke — 11th in the Pairwise is so close, and so many of those teams are still alive, that most of these teams can be anywhere from solidly in the tournament and staying east to being not even close to the back end of the tournament field.
Take Boston University, for example. Here’s a scenario:
Minnesota def. Ohio State
Colgate def. Princeton
Boston University vs. Providence College
With this scenario, the result of just one game — a BU vs. Providence final in Hockey East — would put the Terriers as high as 5th with a win or as low as 11th (!!) with a loss. And it’s almost as crazy for the Friars! With that same scenario, a PC win lifts the Friars to 5th, and a loss drops them well out of the field in 9th. That is some seriously next-level volatility.
There are not enough zettabytes on the internet for us to go through every team’s possible finishes, but as this is a Boston College website, let’s dive into what the Eagles are looking at with each of their possible finishes — with things getting more and more complicated as you follow the white rabbit.
Scenario #1: Boston College Wins Hockey East
Eagles finish as high as 4th (home!), or as low as 5th
BC def. PC or NU
This is by far the easiest situation to model. If the Eagles win Hockey East, they’ve got a solid shot of getting home ice in the NCAA tournament. It comes down to just two other options outside of the league:
If Clarkson wins the ECAC — BC finishes 5th
If anyone other than Clarkson wins the ECAC — BC finishes 4th
The best part about this scenario? The Eagles are in. For certain. Obviously winning the league title gets you the autobid, but with only three autobids available outside Hockey East, 5th place would have been good enough to get into the NCAA tournament field regardless.
Scenario #2: Boston College Loses In The Hockey East Final
Eagles finish as high as 5th or as low as OUT
NU or PC def. BC
This gets a bit more complicated, but still not too bad. And even though BC can be out of the tournament with a loss in the final, it would be pretty difficult to pull off.
If Cornell or Colgate win the ECAC, Ohio State or Minnesota-Duluth wins the WCHA, *and* Providence wins Hockey East — BC is OUT
Rankings-wise, there’s no way BC can fall below 6th in the Pairwise, but with three taking up 6th, 7th, and 8th in the bracket, the Eagles would be the first team out. Not good! But admittedly, not very likely.
What is far more likely, though, is that BC ends up in that 5 or 6 slot, depending on other results, and gets to stay east, going to either #3 Northeastern or #4 Clarkson (Cornell could also get up to 4th, but in that situation, BC would be 6th and heading to NU). Boston College probably doesn’t really care if they finish 5th or 6th, as 6th probably keeps them closer to home anyway and lines them up with the WCHA loser in the semifinal, rather than the WCHA winner... but, still.
If Cornell or Clarkson win the ECAC — BC finishes 6th
If Colgate or Princeton win the ECAC — BC finishes 5th
BC is obviously gunning for a trophy, but all things considered, given how bad the year has gone, the Eagles are lucky to even have this wiggle room to get in as an at-large if they lose in the final.
Scenario #3: Boston College Loses In The Hockey East Semifinal
Eagles finish as high as 5th or as low as OUT
BU def. BC
Now things get *bananagrams*.
So, okay, yes, BC has the same “range” of finishes as if they’d beat BU, but the calculus is way different here. The Eagles are obviously far more likely to miss the tournament in this case. Let’s start with the higher-ranking stuff, because there’s a much more specific set of circumstances required for it to happen.
If PC def. BU and Clarkson def. Princeton and UMD def. Minnesota (semifinals) — BC finishes 5th.
So many things would have to happen here that it’s almost not even worth considering. The Eagles need a specific set of finalists in two different conferences, plus a massive upset in the WCHA semifinals, for BC to have an RPI that’s barely above Providence’s and keeps the Eagles 5th. But whatever.
So how about BC finishing 6th or 7th or OUT? What are those scenarios?
The answer is that there are just too many of them! There are so many teams that could leapfrog BC with a win and so many teams that BC would leapfrog back with a loss that it’s not even worth breaking everything out. Part of that difficulty comes from that fact that it’s not as simple as determining which teams’ RPI would be ahead or behind BC’s, because the Eagles have the rogue comparison to BU to worry about, where the Terriers win the Pairwise point despite being behind the Eagles in RPI, and whether BC has or doesn’t have that point creates a ton of volatility.
Hilariously, BU beating BC in the semifinal doesn’t even lock BU into winning that comparison. If the Terriers faced Providence in the final, then BC would flip that point back with a Providence win: even though BU gains a head to head point against BC in the semifinals, it doesn’t affect the two teams’ common opponents record... but BU losing to PC does just enough to drop the comparison into BC’s lap.
Was all of that gibberish to you? It should be! The Pairwise is insane, and it’s even more insane this year! At this point, the discussion gets so complicated and convoluted and determined by so many different extraneous outcomes that you need to stop yourself, grab yourself by the scruff of the neck, and pull yourself out of the rabbit hole.
This should clear up quite a bit after the semifinals, but there will still be plenty of volatility. With any luck, the Eagles can lock themselves into the tournament with a win against BU and just a little bit of help... and then Boston College can set their eyes on winning a trophy with no distractions.