(Before we get started discussing scenarios and whatnot, a big thanks goes out to both Jim Dahl’s CollegeHockeyRanked, and College Hockey News for doing all of the real number crunching while I sat around drinking beer and reveling in how well my NCAA basketball bracket was doing.)
(Also: Not sure how all this works or what the heck we’re talking about? Here’s a quick explainer on how the Pairwise rankings are used to pick the NCAA field)
The final weekend of the regular season started on Thursday with a pair of quarterfinal match-ups at the Big Ten Tournament in Detroit. Even though almost literally no one watched the games, they ended up being quite important in terms of figuring out who will be in the NCAA tournament field come Sunday.
Wins by Ohio State and Penn State on Thursday actually seem to have made things quite simple. The top 14 teams in the current Pairwise are extremely likely to stay inside the top 14. If #15 Air Force wins their semifinal game against Army, then loses the Atlantic Hockey championship game, or if #16 Boston College wins their semifinal against Boston University and then loses in the Hockey East championship, there is potentially a chance for them to still make the field, but it is incredibly unlikely. Jim Dahl puts BC’s odds of making it as an at-large at 2%, CHN, which factors KRACH rating into their simulations to factor in likelihood, has it as a 0.8% chance. For Air Force, the odds are less than 1%.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the field is set, because there are still possibilities for teams outside of that top 14 to win an autobid in their conference tournament.
Not counting the WCHA and, we’ll assume, Atlantic Hockey because we know they will use an autobid on a team that otherwise wouldn’t have made the tournament, that leaves three teams: Quinnipiac, Boston College, and Wisconsin that could potentially steal a bid and knock out a team in the top 14.
Ohio State and Penn State look like they would be the most vulnerable to ending up on the wrong side of the bubble if one of those three teams earned an automatic bid. But those teams are still alive in the Big Ten. In fact, 13 of the 14 teams that could potentially receive at-large bids still control their own destiny this weekend. Providence is the lone exception sitting at 12th, though they seem to be in great shape, making the field in 93% of Dahl’s unweighted brackets, and 97% of CHN’s weighted brackets.
That actually seems like a fairly narrow window of teams with still 17 games left to play this weekend. We should know a lot more by Friday evening, especially if Quinnipiac, BC, or Wisconsin lose on Friday. The right set of circumstances could even have the NCAA field completely set by Saturday, save the autobid winners of the WCHA and Atlantic Hockey.