With Trinity’s 4-2 upset of top seed Middlebury in the NESCAC championship, and Oswego’s come-from-behind 5-3 win over Plattsburgh for the SUNYAC crown, all six automatic qualifiers for this season’s NCAA Division III men’s hockey championship have been decided. In a series of conference calls Sunday evening — which in some years have been marathon sessions — the NCAA selection committee will award three at-large bids and seed the teams for the play-in and quarterfinal rounds.
Already in the tournament are Sunday’s tournament winners, plus NCHA champion St. Norbert, MIAC winner St. John’s, ECAC Northeast champion Wentworth, and the winner of the ECAC East, Norwich.
My projection of the at-large bids is that once again this year there will be a 6-3 East/West split, with a Wednesday, March 12, play-in game in the West region.
The selection committee has five criteria on which to rank at-large teams: according to the NCAA championship manual for men’s Division III, “The committee will select three at-large teams based on conference and regional competition using the following primary selection criteria:
1. In region winning percentage,
2. In region head to head results
3. In region results against common opponents;
4. Strength of schedule as determined by in region opponent?s winning percentage, and
5. Results against teams already in the tournament.”
The handbook then adds, “Note: The committee will review all five criteria in the order listed above. A team may have an excellent winning percentage; however, the strength of schedule and results against teams in the tournament must also be examined.” That suggests some wiggle room.
However, if the selection committee follows the NCAA championship manual to the letter, the decisions should be straightforward.
One at-large bid, Pool B, is awarded to a team in a league not getting an automatic qualifier: the ECAC West and MCHA. The committee will consider Elmira and RIT, two teams closely matched in the criteria — both have 17-4-2 records within region, and the teams went 1-1-1 head-to-head during the season. RIT wins the comparison in results against common opponents, 14-3-0 to 13-3-1, while Elmira has the advantage in strength of schedule as measured by opponents’ winning percentage, .5919 — the best in the country — to RIT’s .5667, sixth in the nation.
With those four criteria a tie, the deciding factor could be record against teams already in the tournament. Elmira has a record of 1-3-0 against teams receiving automatic bids: a season split against Oswego and a pair of losses to St. Norbert. Meanwhile, RIT has an 0-2-1 record, with two losses to the Oswego and a tie with Wentworth. Winning percentage-wise, Elmira is .250, RIT .167.
Projection: Pool B goes to Elmira.
The remaining two at-large bids go to teams in leagues receiving automatic qualifiers that did not win their conference championships.
Middlebury is the highest-ranked team in a pairwise comparison of the five criteria, and beats Wisconsin-Superior in two of the five categories: an .8200 winning percentage to Superior’s .7586, and a 2-2-0 record against teams in the tournament, compared to 1-4-1. Superior has a slightly better strength of schedule.
Wisconsin-Superior beats out the next highest-ranked team, Plattsburgh, in criteria comparisons, though the two teams have identical 1-4-1 records against teams already in the tournament.
Projection: Pool C goes to Middlebury and Wisconsin-Superior.
The committee will also then seed the three Western and six Eastern teams, taking into account geography as follows: “[The committee] will rank the teams selected within each geographical region. The highest-ranked teams in each region will be given consideration as first- and second-round sites. … The committee will pair the teams regionally based on geographical location of all participants and final seeding. Flights will be kept to a minimum.”
The NCAA must pay to fly teams that need to travel more than 400 miles, but no teams will have to fly given the projected pairings below:
Play-in game, March 12:
3W) St. John’s at 2W) Wisconsin-Superior
Quarterfinal, March 15:
St. John’s/Wisconsin-Superior at 1W) St. Norbert
Two scenarios are included; the first based solely on the selection criteria, and the second considering travel.
Quarterfinals, March 15 — Scenario 1
6E) Wentworth at 1E) Norwich
5E) Trinity at 2E) Oswego
4E) Elmira at 3E) Middlebury
These seedings could be juggled, but each team traveling would fall below the 400-mile limit. In this set of seedings, only Trinity and Oswego would have faced each other previously this season.
Trinity and Middlebury are closer geographically, as are Oswego and Elmira, so some movement in seeding might be made for travel, such as:
Quarterfinals, March 15 — Scenario 2
6E) Wentworth at 1E) Norwich
5E) Trinity at 2E) Middlebury
4E) Elmira at 3E) Oswego
This would put Trinity back at Middlebury, where the Bantams won the NESCAC title, and would pit Elmira and Oswego against each other for the third time this season. But it would also make travel for visiting fans much easier.
My hunch is that the committee will try to keep travel to a minimum and Scenario 2 will prevail.
With a 6-3 split, the finals will no doubt be in the East this year, because only one team, the West quarterfinal winner, will have to fly. Look for top seed Norwich to have the best chance of hosting.
Check back later with USCHO, as we’ll report on the committee’s picks and make a postmortem analysis of its decisions.