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Nathan Wells | NCAA.com | March 8, 2019

Women's hockey: NCAA tournament Bracketology

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Selections for the 2019 women's ice hockey championship is only two days away. 

With one final weekend of conference tournaments underway, the eight teams remaining for a chance to win the 2019 NCAA Women’s Ice Hockey Championship will soon be known. If there’s any repeat of last year’s conference tournaments then the college hockey landscape should be ready for some movement. 

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2018 saw Hockey East seven seed Connecticut upset Boston College and four seed Northeastern win Hockey East. WCHA third seed Minnesota, needing an automatic bid to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament, went on to defeat both Ohio State and Wisconsin to take home the WCHA Final Faceoff.

Four schools have all but mathematically clinched berths while four automatic bids — one from each of the four conferences (College Hockey America, ECAC, Hockey East, WCHA) for the conference tournament champion — are up for grabs. So is the number one overall seed as it ends up contested between two WCHA schools.

How The Committee Decides:

For those who might be unfamiliar with how the selection committee chooses the eight participating teams, bracketology for the NCAA Tournament involves math and geography. Neither the USCHO.com nor USA Today/USA Hockey national polls play a role in deciding which teams make the NCAA Tournament.

Quarterfinal games are hosted on campus by the top four seeds, who are the only teams seeded by the committee, according to the selection criteria. To decide the at-large bids and seeds, the committee uses a computer ranking system comprised of three different criteria that compares each of the teams against one another. The more comparisons a team can claim over opponents, the higher it will be ranked.

Those games can also be between teams in the same conference. As the 2019 NCAA pre-championship manual states, “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.” In theory, the fifth-best team could play the second-best team if it makes geographical sense.

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The criteria used for determining comparisons are Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), record against common opponents, and head-to-head record. A team earns a point in the comparison for having a better RPI and record among common opponents, along with a point for each win in head-to-head play.

RPI is calculated by combining a team’s win-loss record (30 percent), its opponents’ winning percentage (24 percent) and its opponents’ opponents’ winning percentage (46 percent). Teams can also get quality win bonuses for beating teams in the top 12. If points awarded for a win lowers a team’s RPI, then those points don’t count.

Keeping this Bracketology 101 knowledge in mind, let’s get directly to the teams in the tournament and how the bracket sets up two days before Selection Sunday. 

The rationale for this bracket and what teams on the bubble can do to make sure their names are called Sunday can be found afterwards. 

The Teams (as of March 8, 2019):
1. Minnesota (WCHA)
2. Wisconsin
3. Northeastern (Hockey East)
4. Clarkson
Cornell (ECAC)
Boston College
Princeton
Robert Morris/Syracuse (CHA)

A couple notes right at the top. First, no automatic bids have been awarded yet. Since this bracket assumes the season has ended (it hasn’t) and no more games are being played (there are), the number one seed in each of the four conferences are awarded the automatic bid. Obviously that will change as the weekend progresses and schools claim conference titles.

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Second, the final spot consists of both Robert Morris and Syracuse. The reason for the split deals with the fact both teams can only get into the NCAA Tournament by winning the CHA Tournament championship Friday evening. Whichever team takes the CHA autobid will be in the eighth spot.

Teams By Conference:
ECAC: 3
Hockey East: 2
WCHA: 2
CHA: 1

Going with a straight 1-8, 2-7, 3-6, 4-5 bracket with the four seeds leaves Minnesota to host the CHA autobid, Wisconsin hosting Princeton, Northeastern hosting Boston College and two-time defending national champion Clarkson hosting Cornell.

Any of the four non-seeded teams can be sent to any seeded team to save a flight. There are exceptions such as normally the number one overall seed gets protected by being given the lowest automatic bid regardless. For this bracket, little needs to be changed. 

The Bracket:
No. 8 Robert Morris/Syracuse at No. 1 Minnesota
No. 5 Cornell at No. 4 Clarkson

No. 7 Princeton at No. 2 Wisconsin
No. 6 Boston College at No. 3 Northeastern

It’s easy to change a straight 1-8, 2-7, etc. bracket to fit geographical concerns. Remarkably, the best bracket geographically right now ends up being the straight 1-8, 2-7, etc. bracket, though. 

None of the non-seeded teams are within a drive of either Minnesota or Wisconsin, meaning two flights are required at a minimum. That makes it easy to send the CHA champion to Minneapolis and Princeton to Madison. Technically the Tigers could bus to Northeastern, but the Huskies have a closer option and one team needs to fly anyways.

With the top two seeds taken care of, the rest of the bracket fills out. Boston College and Northeastern are next to one another and Cornell is either the closest or second-closet team to Clarkson depending on how Syracuse does. Regardless, the Big Red are within driving distance of Potsdam. It’s a pair of inter-conference matchups, but that is acceptable given the current guidelines.

With the bracket set, that would mean the winner of Minnesota-Robert Morris/Syracuse and Clarkson-Cornell face one another in the Frozen Four. Same with Wisconsin-Princeton and Northeastern-Boston College regardless of which teams win.

Which teams remain?

14 teams are left. By conference:
CHA: Robert Morris, Syracuse
ECAC: Clarkson, Cornell, Colgate, Princeton
Hockey East: Boston College, Boston University, Northeastern, Providence
WCHA: Minnesota, Minnesota Duluth, Ohio State, Wisconsin

The teams outside the top eight with a chance to still make the NCAA Tournament are Colgate, Boston University, Providence, Minnesota Duluth and Ohio State.

Which teams are NCAA Tournament locks?

Minnesota, Wisconsin, Northeastern and Clarkson all appear to be mathematically in the NCAA Tournament regardless of this weekend’s results. The first three will be among the four seeded teams. The fourth seed and home ice in the quarterfinals remains up for grabs.

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Both the Gophers and Badgers can take the number one overall seed depending on the WCHA Final Faceoff. The teams are close enough where whichever team gets further in the conference tournament will be the number one overall seed. If the two both lose Saturday, Minnesota ends up as the number one overall seed. 

Northeastern should be the third overall seed. Clarkson’s path depends on how the Golden Knights fare in ECAC play. Anywhere between fourth and seventh is possible.

What teams need to win an automatic bid?

Besides the CHA winner, Colgate in the ECAC and Minnesota Duluth in the WCHA can only make the NCAA Tournament by winning an automatic bid. Either claiming an automatic bid would take away an at-large spot from a team on the bubble (currently Princeton and Boston College); moving the at-large bubble from seventh to sixth and/or fifth.

Who are the teams to watch this weekend?

Boston University, Boston College, Cornell, Ohio State, Princeton and Providence can each make the NCAA Tournament without winning an automatic bid, but all six would need help one way or another. Conference tournaments featuring the top 12 teams facing one another means teams can move up or down depending on how the weekend ends.

Besides being a rivalry matchup, BU-BC has lasting effects on several teams’ chances. Boston University needs to win to keep its hopes alive and cannot lose to Providence in the Hockey East championship. 

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Boston College is safer even if BU wins. However, there are several scenarios which knock out the Eagles, who would be better off if Boston University wins Hockey East. Princeton, Northeastern or Ohio State winning hurt BC. Boston College can earn the fourth seed and a a home matchup or miss the tournament. Both are possible.

Cornell sits in fifth currently yet is not safe. An ECAC semifinal loss to Princeton can quickly leave the Big Red on the outside if the Tigers go on to win the ECAC conference tournament or if either Minnesota Duluth or Colgate take away an at-large bid. 

Ohio State needs to defeat Wisconsin at a minimum and have Boston College win Hockey East to get an at-large bid. Almost any other scenario leaves the 2018 Frozen Four semi-finalist on the outside.

Princeton can help itself out with a win over Cornell, which after BU-BC is the conference semifinal game with the biggest stakes. Defeating the Big Red does not clinch an at-large bid, but opens more opportunities. If both Boston College and Wisconsin win, the Tigers should be in barring an at-large bid disappearing.

Providence can get up to fifth in some scenarios with the Hockey East conference tournament championship. It’s almost all or nothing for the Friars, whose path to an at-large bid requires PC to defeat Northeastern, Boston College to its win semifinal game and then no team at or below Providence (Colgate, UMD, Ohio State, Princeton) to win an automatic bid. While that can happen, it’s easier to defeat two top-8 teams in back-to-back days.

There are hundreds or thousands of different variations remaining and this doesn’t cover each one. Whichever scenario ends up being the final one, the games should be on pace to match the excitement.

You can watch the NCAA Selection Show at 9 pm ET on NCAA.com.

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