Monday, March 9, 2009

NCAA Hockey Tournament Primer

We may be getting ahead of ourselves a bit by going through the nuances of the NCAA Mens D-I Hockey Tournament, but Donny Puck received requests from readers to explain how the selection works. Nobody but the selection committee can explain the factors which go into the selection, but we'll do our best to try to set the record straight.

First of all, nobody covers college hockey better than I check the site daily and encourage the readers to do the same.

Some quick facts about the tournament:
  • The field is 16 teams
  • Each team is placed into one of four brackets; there are no first-round byes
  • Similar to the NCAA Basketball Tournament, the format is single-elimination
  • There are six automatic bids, awarded to the six conference tournament champions
  • The remaining 10 bids are awarded at-large after consideration by the selection committee
  • The seedings are determined by the selection committee
  • The regionals - and Frozen Four - are hosted by D-I schools
  • The preference is to have the host teams play in their own regional, provided they qualify for the tournament

So now that the basics are covered, the subjectivities should also be considered. The six conferences subject to automatic bids are:

  • WCHA
  • CCHA
  • Hockey East
  • ECAC
  • CHA
  • Atlantic Hockey

Of those six conferences, the first four listed are widely considered "major" conferences, meaning that the quality of competition is greater within those leagues. Taking nothing away from the CHA or Atlantic Hockey, but the NCAA Champion has never come from either of those leagues (North Dakota Fighting Sioux fans may insert Holy Cross jokes here).

Also, the CHA currently has four teams. Its regular season champion, Bemidji State, has expressed interest in leaving CHA for entrance into the WCHA. Some have balked at a four-team league gaining an automatic bid in a rather small tournament. The MSU-Mankato Mavericks had an argument along these lines last year when they narrowly missed the tournament despite finishing fourth in an arguably tougher league. Nonetheless, the selection process is what it is, and all six conferences will receive automatic bids.

Currently, the regular season champions for those leagues are as follows:

  • WCHA - North Dakota
  • CCHA - Notre Dame
  • Hockey East - Boston University
  • ECAC - Yale
  • CHA - Bemidji State
  • Atlantic Hockey - Air Force and RIT tied for the regular season title

The conference tournaments will determine who gets the automatic bids. As mentioned earlier, the seedings of these champions are determined by the selection committee.

Where it gets more subjective is for the remaining 10 bids. The PairWise rankings, the statistical basis of which are explained here. I will not bore readers with a regurgitation of the linked piece from, but the intent of the PairWise is to mirror the NCAA Tournament. The rankings have proven to be an accurate predictor of the tourney in recent years.

As a general rule of thumb, the top four teams will be ceded first in the four regional brackets, and the top 14 teams in the PairWise are usually considered locks for the tournament (the final two spots are generally for the champions of Atlantic Hockey and the CHA).

Here is a look at where the various conference regular season champions rank in the most current PairWise.

  • WCHA - North Dakota (7th-tie)
  • CCHA - Notre Dame (2nd)
  • Hockey East - Boston University (1st)
  • ECAC - Yale (9th)
  • CHA - Bemidji State (Not Ranked)
  • Atlantic Hockey - Air Force (17th-tie); RIT (Not Ranked)

With the conference tournaments concluding over the next two weeks, there will be a lot of movement within the PairWise rankings. However, it is entirely possible that a team losing in its conference tournament, or not even qualifying for the tournament, will still be able to secure a spot in the tournament based on its performance in the regular season. For example, Denver lost in the WCHA first round playoffs after the 2003-04 season and went on to win the NCAA title.

Later in the week, we'll have a prediction of the WCHA first round playoffs and will examine intriguing battles outside the conference. We will continue to monitor PairWise movement as well. With the Gophers currently sitting in 13th place, my initial belief is that they need to win twice this weekend against St. Cloud to secure a bid in the field (especially since the Gophers are hosting the Midwest Regional).

1 comment:

  1. DonnyPuck,

    What do you think of Souhan's article that basically is calling for TheDon's head?