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Now that we’re one week away from NCAA selections, I’ll go team-by-team across the top eight, and examine the best and worst each team can do in the Pairwise Rankings, which mimic the NCAA selection criteria. As mentioned last week, aside from NCAA autobids given to conference tournament winners, the top eight is set. I’ll conclude with some discussion about bracket formation.

This’ll be my last word on the subject until Saturday night, after the conference semifinals have been completed. 

Wisconsin – the Badgers are currently No. 1, and they control their own destiny to maintain that position. They will hold on to the top seed, provided they match or exceed Mercyhurst’s conference tournament record. They can do no worse than No. 2.

Mercyhurst – the Lakers were the No. 1 team for a while, but last week’s tie against Niagara knocked them out of their perch. I said a while ago that Mercyhurst might maintain the No. 1 seed with another tie, but that scenario failed to materialize because none of Mercyhurst’s CHA opponents reached the .500 RPI threshold, while four WCHA teams did – and that is where Wisconsin has its edge now. To regain the No. 1 spot, Mercyhurst has to win the CHA and hope Wisconsin slips up in the WCHA tourney.

Dartmouth – The Big Green don’t have much to gain or lose in seeding terms. They can’t catch Wisconsin or Mercyhurst. They can fall to No. 4 with any ECACHL tourney loss, while UNH wins Hockey East.

New Hampshire – UNH can jump up to No. 3 with a Hockey East tournament win and any Big Green loss (a Dartmouth semifinal loss and a UNH final appearance won’t be enough). The only way the Wildcats lose home ice is if St. Lawrence wins the ECACHL and UNH fails to win Hockey East (SLU wins the common opponent comparison in that scenario). UNH cannot be passed by Harvard.

St. Lawrence – The Saints can gain home ice with an ECACHL tourney win and a UNH Hockey East loss. St. Lawrence would lose the No. 5 spot to Harvard if the Crimson win the ECACHL tournament. If Harvard beats SLU and loses to Dartmouth in the final, then I’m projecting that SLU would still beat out Harvard by the narrowest of RPI margins. The Saints could fail to make NCAAs if they slip behind Harvard, and in addition, Colgate, Ohio State or Minnesota, and UConn or Providence all win conference tournament autobids.

Harvard – The Crimson can pass SLU for the No. 5 spot with an ECACHL tournament win. Harvard is No. 6 otherwise, as described above. That said, the Crimson will want a better finish than UMD or Boston College, to avoid being swapped for the purpose of avoiding intraconference matchups. The Crimson could fail to make the tournament with a sixth-place finish, while Colgate, Ohio State or Minnesota, and UConn or Providence all win conference tournament autobids.

Boston College – The Eagles have the edge over UMD right now for No. 7. The only way they can lose that is if UMD wins the WCHA and BC does not win Hockey East. They cannot officially past Harvard in the Pairwise Rankings, but the NCAA committee could find it palatable to swap the teams to avoid an intraconference matchup between Harvard and Dartmouth, since BC does have the edge over Harvard in Last 16 games and head-to-head play. BC, at No. 7, could fail to make the tournament if two of three conference tournaments are won by a team outside the top 8 (Colgate, Ohio State or Minnesota, UConn or Providence).

Minnesota-Duluth – The Bulldogs are precariously at the No. 8 spot. They can move up to No. 7 if they win their conference title and BC does not. They cannot fall any lower than No. 8. They would fail to make the tournament if they finish No. 7 and one of three conference tournaments is won by a team outside the top 8 Colgate, Ohio State or Minnesota, UConn or Providence).

Right now, the best bracket in terms of integrity is:

Minnesota-Duluth at (1) Wisconsin

St. Lawrence at New Hampshire

Harvard at Dartmouth

Boston College at (2) Mercyhurst

The committee can then swap teams to avoid intraconference matchups. But how can the committee do that without sacrificing bracket integrity? The events of this past week — Wisconsin passing Mercyhurst and UMD slipping behind BC — make this trickier. There’s little to reason to think the committee would have any trouble swapping BC and UMD, since both teams are so close, and Mercyhurst and Wisconsin are close as well. In that scenario, the bracket is as follows:

Boston College at (1) Wisconsin

St. Lawrence at New Hampshire

Harvard at Dartmouth

Minnesota-Duluth at (2) Mercyhurst

The tougher question is, would the committee make another swap to avoid the Harvard-Dartmouth matchup? With the Bulldogs’ most recent loss, sending UMD to Dartmouth becomes a tougher sell, since Harvard is so far ahead of UMD in every category except record in Last 16 games. That’s also a tough sell in terms of travel — a BC at Dartmouth or Harvard at Dartmouth matchup would be ideal in that sense. A swap between Harvard and Boston College is an easier sell right now, considering the teams’ head-to-head and Last 16 performance, but then that does not solve the UMD vs. Wisconsin situation. Would the committee drop Harvard all the way down to face Wisconsin? That could be considered fair on the grounds that a BC-Harvard swap is reasonable, and that there is not a huge difference between sending Harvard to Mercyhurst or Wisconsin. If Harvard loses its ECACHL semifinal, and BC reaches the Hockey East final – as the teams’ seeds would predict — I do not think the committee would mind this sacrifice of bracket integrity. This bracket, the best in terms of avoiding intraconference matchups, is:

Harvard at (1) Wisconsin

St. Lawrence at New Hampshire

Boston College at Dartmouth

Minnesota-Duluth at (2) Mercyhurst

That’s the projection for now, but there is still plenty of hockey left to be played. UConn, Providence, Minnesota, Ohio State, and Colgate all still have a shot at the NCAA tournament, and most of the top eight teams still have a lot to gain by making a final good impression on the NCAA selection committee.

Note: Any inconsistency between this week and last week’s analysis of BC relative to UMD is caused by an error in the calculation of USCHO’s RPI, which has since been resolved.

EDIT: Another point of clarification on BC vs. UMD. Although UMD is ahead of BC in the PWR right now, BC still controls its own destiny in beating UMD, which is why I still consider BC to be No. 7. The reason for this is the Record vs. Last 16 category, in which UMD presently holds the edge, and needs to win to take the whole comparison. The only way UMD wins the last 16 category next week is if UMD wins the WCHA — and ends up with a 12-2-2 mark, otherwise UMD will be 11-3-2. BC will be 13-3 if it wins Hockey East, 12-4 otherwise. One further technical note: BC is actually ahead of UMD in RPI right now, because in the official RPI, all of BC’s games against Vermont will be dropped from the calculation.