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Picking the Women’s NCAA Tournament Field: February 16th Edition

NCAA HOCKEY: MAR 22 Div I Women’s Frozen Four - Cornell v Minnesota Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We’re down to the final week of the regular season in women’s college before we head into conference tournaments, and as far as anyone seems to know, we’re still just winging it in terms of a picking a field.

The good news is that even with the limited data points we have this season, things continue to get slightly more clear each weekend as teams start to play themselves out of getting the benefit of the doubt.

Here’s how I see the tournament field shaking out, with teams split into three groups.

Tier I: Yes

  1. Wisconsin
  2. Northeastern
  3. Ohio State
  4. Minnesota

The hockey world finally moved Ohio State ahead of Minnesota after the Buckeyes impressive sweep at Ridder Arena. Both games ended up as one-goal games, but didn’t feel like it with Ohio State heavily controlling the play for the large majority of the weekend.

If there is any debate here, it’s about how far down should Minnesota move now that they are 1-6-1 in their last eight games. Some people even went so far as to suggest that maybe they were on the bubble. It’s worth keeping in mind that those eight games are four games against Wisconsin and four against Ohio State. If winning consistently against those two teams is going to be our standard for making the tournament, it’s going to be a very small tourney field. Minnesota is a perfect 7-0-0 against teams outside of UW and OSU and hasn’t been super-threatened in any of those games.

If you look at the WCHA’s intra-conference KRACH ratings, there’s still a very sizable gap between Minnesota and anybody else:

Minnesota definitely looks like the smallest of the Big 4 in women’s college hockey this year, but I still think they belong in that group.

Tier II: Probably

5. Colgate

6. Clarkson

Here is the one spot where I disagree with the national polls in regards to Clarkson. I have the Golden Knights sixth, while the national poll slots them at ninth. Clarkson’s record is not good at 8-6-1. But 10 of their 15 games have been played against a Colgate game that I think we can all agree is pretty good, and Clarkson is 4-5-1 in those games. I just don’t see a big difference there between the two.

The good news is that Clarkson will finally play somebody else—they play St. Lawrence on Wednesday and then a big weekend against Quinnipiac—which may give us a little more clarity. If Clarkson avenges their one non-Colgate loss—an OT loss to Quinnipiac, which technically doesn’t even count as a full loss based on college hockey OT rules no one understands—I think there is a pretty strong case for them.

Also, for the record, I saw some people express hesitance about two ECAC getting into the tournament when only four of them are playing this year, but that doesn’t really bother me at all. Either you’re good enough and deserve to be in or not. Technically, the WCHA will get 42% of their conference into the tournament and could get over half if Minnesota Duluth can sneak in.

7. Boston College

Boston College probably had the most important win of the weekend when they came from behind to beat Providence 2-1 in overtime. Boston College was comfortably ahead of Providence in the polls—some of that likely due to past reputation—and ahead of them in Hockey East’s newfangled power rankings formula, but had been swept by Providence earlier in the season and if they had lost a third game to the Friars, there would have been a very compelling argument to select the Friars ahead of them for the tournament.

Instead, Cayla Barnes was the OT hero, and barring a major change at the end of the season, Boston College should be the second team in out of Hockey East.

I should also add that even though I have them seventh, in my mind, they’re a lot closer to being fifth than they are to being eighth. There is potential for them to move up, maybe even into the top four, should they keep playing well and some of the teams above them falter a bit.

Tier III The Bubble

8. Penn State

The Nittany Lions continue to crush College Hockey America with wins that don’t really move the needle much. I can’t see a way they get a bid without winning their league’s autobid.

9. Minnesota Duluth

The Bulldogs have yet to play in February due to a bye week—in which they tried to schedule an extra set of games and were denied by the WCHA—and then a forced bye due to Minnesota State going into Covid protocols. I don’t think wins over Bemidji State and Minnesota State would have significantly changed anyone’s feelings about them considerably, but a 12-4-0 record feels a lot better than an 8-4-0 record. Hopefully, they’ll be able to get in two games this weekend against Minnesota State.

Regardless, they’ve got a huge opportunity in two weeks at home against Wisconsin to make a move. If they can get a win, like they did at home against Ohio State, they might just need one win at the WCHA Final Faceoff rather than two.

10. Providence

Like I said above, they made things a little less complicated by losing last weekend. They likely need to win the Hockey East tourney to be considered.

11. Vermont

Vermont is a weird case, although like Providence, they made things a little easier by losing on Saturday. Vermont is 6-2-0 on the year, and that winning percentage is enough to put them third in the Hockey East Power Index. But they haven’t played Northeastern or Boston College at all this year. They also need to play at least five games between now and selection day to even qualify for an at-large bid. They’re probably not a tournament team, but I’d like to see them play a mid-week game against either Northeastern or Boston College and then a weekend series against the other to at least give them a fair shot at it.