This year’s NCAA tournament selection show was of particular interest to those that follow women’s college hockey closely. Not because there was any drama about who would actually be in the field, despite what ESPN’s selection shows insist on saying in the name of creating fake drama(Though how nice was it, for the first time, that the women’s selection announcement was given a full, televised show rather than a short announcement on NCAA.com). Thankfully, after last year’s debacle, we’re back to the Pairwise now and hopefully forever.
But not only was this year’s tournament the first to have 11 teams, there were some key changes to the process of putting together a bracket as well. Most notably, the directive for the committee to reduce travel costs as much as possible was eliminated, creating the possibility for more bracket integrity, similar to the men’s NCAA Tournament. Despite that change, the committee was left with a little wiggle room to consider things like atmosphere and attendance when placingin the bracket(though the top five seeds were locked in regardless), which provided plenty of fodder for the amateur bracketologists out there.
So how did the committee do this year? Actually really good.
There were a couple different ways the committee could have gone. Perfect bracket integrity(8 vs. 9, 7 vs. 10, 6 vs. 11) was made impossible because #7 Quinnipiac and #10 Clarkson come from the conference and intra-conference match-ups have to be avoided before the quarterfinal round(and there was no exception to that rule if five teams from the same conference, like the ECAC this year, make the tournament as there is in men’s hockey). The only real way to fix that was to have #6 Wisconsin play #10 Clarkson, and #7 Quinnipiac play #11 Syracuse.
That left the committee with match-ups of: 8UMD/9HU, 7QU/11SYR, 6UW/10CLK and having to pair them in pods with #1 Ohio State, #2 Minnesota, and #3 Northeastern
Traditionally, you’d start with the #1 seed getting the winner of an 8/9 match-up if you were strictly adhering to bracket integrity. However, the forced switch to avoid the intra-conference match-ups made some of those R16 match-ups stronger than others. With a pure bracket, the combined total of the seeds of two teams playing each other should be 17. Anything lower than that should be considered a tougher match-up, higher is a weaker match-up.
By that logic, the weakest first round match-up is #7 Quinnipiac vs. #11 Syracuse, a combined seed total of 18. I think it only makes sense that the #1 overall should get the weakest of the first round match-ups.
Next up would be #8 Minnesota Duluth vs. #9 Harvard, which comes in right in the middle with a combined seed total of 17. It’s the second-weakest of the first round match-ups, so it makes sense that they would meet the #2 seed. As it happens, they likely help attendance and atmosphere by keeping Minnesota Duluth in the state of Minnesota as well, but at least there is a logical argument for putting them there as well.
That leaves #6 Wisconsin vs. #10 Clarkson, the hardest of the first round match-ups with a combined seed total of 16, and of course, they’re left with the third overall seed, Northeastern.
There were a couple of other directions the committee could have gone, but in terms of bracket integrity and fairness, this was as perfect of a job as they could do. Do I maybe suspect that they really wanted to keep UMD in Minnesota and lucked into things working out the way they did? Maybe. But we ended up with the best possible bracket out of it, so who cares.