Here’s a quick Bracketology 101 lesson for how the committee selects which schools make the NCAA tournament. Spoiler: It’s math.
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The tournament features 16 teams. Six qualify by winning one of the six conference tournaments and earning an automatic bid. The remaining 10 spots are filled by at-large bids made up of the 10 best teams who didn’t earn an automatic bid.
To decide the at-large bids, the committee uses a computer ranking system comprised of three different criteria that compares each of the 60 men’s Division I teams against one another. The more comparisons a team can claim over opponents, the higher it will be ranked.
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As for the three different criteria, two — record against common opponents and head-to-head record — are straightforward. A team earns a point for the better record and for each win in head-to-head play.
The third criteria, Ratings Percentage Index (hereafter referred to as RPI), also awards a single point but involves a little more math. RPI combines a team’s win-loss record (25 percent), its opponents’ winning percentage (21 percent) and its opponents’ opponents’ winning percentage (54 percent) into a ranking. Teams also can get quality win bonuses for beating teams in the top 20 and home/away wins are weighted differently. If two teams are tied in points when comparing one another, RPI may also act as a determining factor.
The committee may also evaluate each team’s eligibility and availability of student-athletes for the tournament.
Those are the basic ideas. There are other, more advanced factors that may come up later as March gets closer, but for now, keep those main Bracketology 101 ideas in mind. Also keep in mind that the USCHO.com and USA Today/USA Hockey national polls do not play a role in the committee deciding which teams make the NCAA tournament.
Determining the seeding of all 16 teams involves the committee using a three-step process taken verbatim from the NCAA tournament pre-championship manual:
1. Once the six automatic qualifiers and 10 at-large teams are selected, the next step is to develop four groups from the committee’s rankings of 1-16. The top four teams are No. 1 seeds and will be placed in the bracket so that if all four teams advance to the Men’s Frozen Four, the No. 1 seed will play the No. 4 seed and the No. 2 seed will play the No. 3 seed in the semifinals. The next four are targeted as No. 2 seeds. The next four are No. 3 seeds and the last four are No. 4 seeds.
2. Next step is to place the home teams. Host institutions that qualify will be placed at home.
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The following schools will host 2019 NCAA tournament regionals:
East Regional (Providence, RI) - Brown University
Northeast Regional (Manchester, NH) - University of New Hampshire
Midwest Regional (Allentown, PA) - Penn State University
West Regional (Fargo, ND) - University of North Dakota
3. Finally we fill in the bracket so that first-round conference matchups are avoided, unless it corrupts the integrity of the bracket. If five or more teams from one conference are selected to the championship, then the integrity of the bracket will be protected (i.e., maintaining the pairing process according to seed will take priority over avoidance of first-round conference matchups). To complete each regional, the committee assigns one team from each of the remaining seeded groups so there is a No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 seed at each regional site.
By using these steps and the Pairwise Rankings, which mimic the criteria the committee uses to select teams, you can try to predict the NCAA tournament field to the best of your ability. The Pairwise Rankings can be found at College Hockey News or USCHO.com.