By Ray Biggs
Conference championship weekend is now in the books, and we know what the lion's share of our NCAA tournament field will be as the Pool A bids are completely set in stone. Now comes the fun part, and a few potential answers to the burning questions that will have decisive and final outcomes in just a few hours when the NCAA releases the tournament field at 10:00 AM Eastern Time. The questions we will answer right now is who we believe, in the best of our knowledge and understanding of the process, will be playing in this year's field, and how those teams will be matched up.
To get you up to speed on the weekend's events as we go forward here, the East region largely did what it was supposed to do. The West region, meanwhile, could be in for some surprises as the highest regionally ranked teams from the MIAC and WIAC each took a loss to land firmly on the at-large roulette wheel. Where does that wheel stop? It's time to find out what the most likely scenario may be if we're going by the book.
|The Pipers finished their business in the MIAC playoffs, did they also unseat Gustavus in the regional rankings?
Photo: Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com
As always, a few quick points regarding our methodology: what will be seen here is the tournament field, were it set today, per our best interpretation and implementation of the published tournament selection process. There will be no speculation, tangent theories or conjecture. Also, the committee does not decide anything based on this mock run through of the process. We think that needs to be re-iterated.
Our job is to walk through the NCAA tournament selection process, as it can be confusing enough in its own right -- especially to those who are new to it. If our conclusions come to be different than the actual tournament field, the reasons why will be dealt with in our annual Tournament Selections Explained article that will follow the announcements of the selections. For some it will give you closure or justification, and for others it probably will just make you sprout grey hairs, but we're not going to be the judge of that. We're just going to give you the information based on the interpretation of the rules laid out in advance. Anyway, our projections will not be based on anything other than the stated selection process.
For a more detailed of how the Women's NCAA Tournament is organized, feel free to take a look at our Women's Tournament Primer.
Read that a few times, and brace yourselves for what lies ahead.
- The 2018 Women's Division III Ice Hockey Championship will consist of nine teams.
- Six conference playoff champions will receive automatic qualifying bids (Pool A) to the tournament. Those conferences are the: NEWHL, MIAC, NCHA, NEHC, Colonial, & NESCAC.
- One team will receive a Pool B bid to the tournament. This bid is reserved for independent teams as well as those that participate in conferences without a Pool A bid, which are the UCHC and WIAC.
- Two teams that do not receive Pool A bids, or the Pool B bid, will receive at-large (Pool C) bids into the tournament. Every team that did not receive a Pool A or B bid is eligible for a Pool C bid.
- For the purpose of Pool C selection, as well as team comparisons for regional ranking purposes and tournament seeding, the NCAA committee will rely mainly on what it refers to as its Primary Criteria, which are as follows
- 1/3 Opponents' Opponents' Winning Percentage (OOWP)
There are also three Secondary Criterion the committees may look at if evaluation of the primary criteria does not result in a decision, and they are as follows:
- The NCAA regional committees will release three editions of regional rankings prior to tournament selection, with the release dates being February 13, 20 and 27. A fourth will be generated on March 4 for selecting and seeding the field and those rankings will also be released to the public. The tournament field will be announced at 10:00 am EST on Monday, March 5.
- Regional Rankings have been expanded this season and now include eight teams from the East Region, and six from the West.
- For the sake of RNK, the NCAA considers a team ranked only if it is ranked in either of the final two sets of regional rankings (February 27 and March 4). So those the rankings below will be considered in that metric going forward regardless of if they maintain their position or not.
NCAA Regional Rankings - February 27
|EAST REGION||WEST REGION|
|1. Norwich||1. Gustavus Adolphus|
|2. Plattsburgh State||2. UW-River Falls|
|3. Elmira||3. St. Thomas|
|4. Middlebury||4. Hamline|
|5. Connecticut College||5. UW-Eau Claire|
|6. Amherst||6. Adrian|
|7. Morrisville State|
Analysis: Note the date on these rankings. You may notice that they are last week's. The final rankings are not made public until after the release of the bracket, so these are what we have to go on for now. Reasonably, we don't see any newcomers joining the fray here, but what we do see are a few prospective moves between ranked teams. So with that, we have a few well-educated ideas that may go into practice later on.
- Our first swing thought focuses on the top teams out East. We have no reason to suspect movement among that grouping of four at the top, as they all ran through their conference tournaments without a hiccup. The top three there are extremely tight on paper, but we can't see the committee flipping them around considering the results.
- Connecticut College and Amherst both bowed out of the NESCAC tournament this weekend, but Amherst could leapfrog Connecticut College after beating the Camels. Remember that the Camels were in last week, so if they do elect to flip that ranking between the second and third highest at-large spots in the east, Connecticut College could be looking at an earlier than anticipated exit.
- The West Region is in a bit of disarray after the title games in the MIAC and WIAC, with top ranked Gustavus falling to Hamline, and UW-River Falls going down to UW-Eau Claire. The resumes between those two sets of conference opponents are absurdly tight on the primary criteria, as Hamline and Gustavus look nearly identical, and there's not much separating the two WIAC teams either. Hamline won the season series against the Gusties as of Saturday's MIAC title game, so it is possible that they may swing up to the number one position in the west after missing the field last week on our "What if Connecticut College gets the nod?" version of our projection. River Falls also has fallen behind 2-1-1 to Eau Claire, which likely puts those two neck and neck for a spot somewhere in the at-large pool. Keep those head-to-head results in your back pocket because it's all close enough to potentially mean something now.
- As a reminder, St. Thomas has barred itself from this year's tournament, but remains ranked as a component of record vs. ranked opponents. So everyone listed behind the Tommies is theoretically a spot higher.
- Pool A: As Bracketology assumes this would be the tournament field were the season to end today, we will use the teams leading the six Pool A eligible conferences as our automatic qualifiers. That's easy enough, with only one change coming out of the MIAC. Everybody else that was expected to win won, so if you're a bubble team, pay close attention.
- Pool B: One bid is reserved for independent teams and teams that participate in leagues that do not possess a Pool A bid. That means the UCHC and the WIAC.
We're going to have to modify our approach a bit this week. Elmira easily won the UCHC and has held the high ground in Pool B throughout the various iterations of our mock selection process. The other side of the Pool B coin is a bit more complicated. The WIAC's previous top Pool B contender, UW-River Falls, took a hit last week when Adrian replaced Augsburg in the regional rankings. That significantly altered their record against ranked opponents, but the Falcons overcame that to grab one of the two Pool C positions.
The Falcons were safe then, but took another lump this weekend when their closest in-conference rival, UW-Eau Claire, triumphed over the Falcons in double overtime. That gives the Blugolds a 2-1-1 record and an advantage in head to head against UWRF on an already contendership worthy tournament resume, and that's something that we feel is worth paying attention to. With no presently public regional rankings as of this writing that could give us any concrete guidance on the present perception of those resumes, we're going to bring the WIAC champions in to see how they fare.
|ELMIRA||RIVER FALLS||EAU CLAIRE
|RNK||.643 (4-2-1)||.400 (3-5-2)||.625 (4-2-2)|
|H2H||-||.375 (1-2-1) vs. Eau Claire||.625 (2-1-1) vs. River Falls|
|COP||.750 (1-0-1) vs. River Falls, 1.000 (1-0-0) vs. Eau Claire||.250 (0-1-1) vs. Elmira, .718 (11-4-1) vs. Eau Claire||1.000 (1-0) vs. Elmira, .7500 (9-2-3) vs. UW-River Falls|
Analysis: This bid was Elmira's last week, and with an overwhelming win percentage advantage setting the bar, we still have every reason to believe this bid is Elmira's. As the Falcons have been doing all along, the Blugolds also bow out to River Falls and head to pool C, but we still owed them a look after their victory this weekend. We think you haven't seen the last of those two as we progress to Pool C.
The Pool B Bid is Awarded To: Elmira
- Pool C:
We now must consider which teams will get at-large bids to the tournament. That requires looking at the highest ranked teams in the regional rankings that are not projected to win Pool A. That holds one exception, as we understand St. Thomas will not be competing in the NCAA postseason this year due to a self-imposed ban. This again makes UW-Eau Claire the third team from the West.
East: Connecticut College, Amherst, Hamilton
West: UW-River Falls, Gustavus Adolphus, UW-Eau Claire
As always, we'll construct a table that includes WIN, SOS and RNK to see if we can draw any immediate conclusions.
|Conn. College||.700||.555||.438 (3-4-1)|
|UW-River Falls||.732||.590||.400 (3-5-2)|
|UW-Eau Claire||.714||.574||.625 (4-2-2)|
Analysis: So let the fun begin, right? As we look to see if there are any outliers that stand out enough to get in right now of the above six teams, we probably should start with a team that was first in its region last week. That puts Gustavus Adolphus under the microscope, and they are competitive in every facet while setting the high ground in win percentage. With that well rounded resume, the Gusties should be going back to the NCAA tournament after a 20 win season.
So with the Gusties off the board and into our projected field, five teams remain. Hamilton was left in a somewhat powerless position going into this weekend, and are among the bottom feeders in this group of six in all aspects. So the Continentals will have to get off the tour here.
That gives us four more teams with a reasonable shot to make this happen: Amherst, Conn College, River Falls, and Eau Claire. We'd normally take the top remaining ranked team from each region to compare, but since the rankings are now unknown to us and up in the air, we have to decide who has enough leverage to go to the final two.
We're eyeing two teams in this position already. The teams who have the top two win percentages among that remaining pool, are now also at the mean or above in the other two primary criterion relative to their peers. By that evaluation in the above table, we have reason to believe that the WIAC teams will settle this, and the Pool B runner-up comparison we noted above has its stakes go even higher. With apologies to the NESCAC, a River Falls team that had both of those squads beat last week moves on, as does the team that beat the Falcons for the WIAC title. Those two teams simply make the most mathematical sense to us.
|RNK||.625 (4-2-2)||.400 (3-5-2)|
|H2H||.625 (2-1-1)||.375 (1-2-1)|
|COP||.750 (9-2-3)||.718 (11-4-1)|
Analysis: This one's for all the marbles, and it's as tight as tight can possibly get to start. The Falcons hold advantages in two of what we understand to be the three biggest primary criteria, but those margins are relatively minute. There is a precedent that exists within the operation of these committees where if the numbers are tight enough between two teams, the committee can choose to regard them as a wash. The win percentage almost certainly meets that description, as the 1.8 percent advantage the Falcons have amounts to the difference between a win and a tie at any point in the season, and on their win loss records (UWEC is 18-6-4, UWRF is 19-6-3), that's literally all it is.
The Falcons' strength of schedule gives them a bit of breathing room, but that advantage also is not that large. Moving down the list, the Blugolds turn the tide in the next two criteria, negating any advantage the Falcons had with a better record against ranked opponents, and their win in the season series also gives UWEC additional leverage on the evaluation table. In all honesty, these resumes' side by side aren't all that far apart, but we believe the Blugolds have swiped this bid away from the Falcons with their win in the WIAC championship and the resulting win of the overall season series.
We told you, while those head-to-head results don't always matter with every comparison, they do here. UW-Eau Claire comes from behind to crash our projected NCAA tournament, and Pool C completely belongs to the West.
The Pool C Bids are awarded to: UW-Eau Claire, Gustavus Adolphus
Setting The Field
- Thus, our full tournament field is:
|Pool C:||UW-Eau Claire|
|Pool C:||Gustavus Adolphus|
Seeding the Field
- Now the field must be seeded by region. Save for the subtraction of one team in the East, the order should not change there.
In the West, we are looking at some prospective changes. The criteria comparison we just saw above between the WIAC schools, is a very similar situation to what the MIAC schools in the field are also experiencing. We think that may decide the top Western seed. A two percent win percentage advantage for Gustavus over Hamline is about all the Gusties can lay claim to in an otherwise dead heat, and that's not much. Hamline's MIAC championship win tilted the season series in the Pipers' favor at 2-1, and with all other things being nearly equal, we think the Pipers are now the top Western seed. We took Gustavus as the first Pool C, so they would be ahead of Eau Claire still, and then Adrian brings up the rear in the West as the fourth.
Again, the head-to-head results are definitive when all else is relatively tight. So we can see a changing of the guard for that top seed out West. That's the big takeaway here above all as we attempt to do seeding.
Setting the Bracket
We begin by reminding you that as we place our teams, there are two considerations that have to be noted.
1. The NCAA 500-mile preliminary round travel limit must be adhered to if possible. Mapquest, Google Maps, the opinion of your friend who knows a guy, or your Rand McNally Atlas (Whether upright, or flipped over) are not official methods of calculating the mileage between institutions. Instead, the NCAA utilizes an institution-to-institution mileage calculator, which is available online. If it's beyond 500 miles, the NCAA has to pay for flights for the visiting team, and they try to avoid that at all costs in the pre-championship site rounds, even if it has sometimes come at the expense of maintaining seed integrity in the bracket. You can experiment with the NCAA mileage calculator here.
2. Per the NCAA Pre-Championship manual, we cannot pair teams from the same conference against one another in the first round (opening round).
With a 5-4 split between the East and West respectively, and Adrian and Elmira still stuck together due to the 500 mile rule, this bracket should put itself together relatively quickly. The bracket we had two weeks ago with the same regional split probably sets the framework fairly well with a new name or two thrown in the mix.
We believe Norwich to be the top overall seed, and we can best honor the integrity of the seeding within our logistical confines by pairing them up in a quarterfinal with Morrisville, who we believe to be the lowest Eastern seed out of the Colonial Hockey Conference.
The other two remaining Eastern teams, Middlebury and Plattsburgh, would pair up for a quarterfinal as it makes the most sense within the applicable guidelines above. Plattsburgh's expected higher ranking should permit the Cardinals to host that quarterfinal.
Adrian and Elmira are of course in the same boat again geographically. With Elmira as the higher regionally ranked team, the Bulldogs will head eastward to the Thunderdome in a matchup that is becoming as inevitable as death, taxation, and the changing of the seasons.
That gives us three teams left, and with the odd number, our opening round game will go to this quadrant of the bracket. With our projected top western seed awarded to Hamline, Gustavus and UW-Eau Claire would meet the day before at TRIA rink for the right to face the Pipers in the quarterfinals. Unfortunately for the Pipers, they would not get opposition from the lowest regional seed, Adrian, in this spot, but you can blame the NCAA travel restrictions and the need for an opening round game for forcing our hand. We have to adhere to that restriction whenever possible, and this is the spot where it needed to happen with our field structure.
The second and third seeds in the East, who we believe to be second and third overall based on resumes (Elmira and Plattsburgh), would be on the opposite side of the bracket from Norwich, and the Western triumvirate would duke it out for the right to face Norwich or Morrisville in the semifinals at a Campus Championship Site to be Determined.
And thus, we have ourselves a projected bracket we think adds up according to the rules laid out for us at each step.
3W UW-Eau Claire v. 2W Gustavus Adolphus @ Hamline
3W Eau Claire/2W Gustavus at 1W Hamline
4W Adrian at 3E Elmira
4E Middlebury at 2E Plattsburgh
5E Morrisville at 1E Norwich
And when we split apart the seeds as discussed before, we get this pairing of quarterfinals on each side.
3W Eau Claire/2W Gustavus at 1W Hamline
5E Morrisville at 1E Norwich
4W Adrian at 3E Elmira
4E Middlebury at 2E Plattsburgh
The winner of each of those two clusters above would meet for the national title.
That's how we think the cookie crumbles this morning, but there's no way to know that for sure. That's part of the fun of this exercise. With any luck, we'll see as many of you as possible on the road to the national championship.
Questions, comments, you'd like further explanation or you simply think we're nuts? No problem, we'd love to hear from you. Feel free to comment below, or you can always yell at us on twitter @d3hky.