Is it realistic that the WCHA could have only three NCAA tournament bids this year? That despite the fact that the conference itself has the best overall RPI of the six conferences and has two of the top three teams in the PairWise Rankings?
As scary as it may seem, the answer to that question is yes!
Right now, only three teams from the WCHA – Minnesota, St. Cloud State and North Dakota – are in the top 14 in the PWR. Michigan Tech, which still has games to play in the WCHA Final Five, and Denver, which is eliminated from the league tournament, are both on the bubble tied for 14th with Dartmouth. Based on RPI, though, which is the tie-breaker, Dartmouth would take the final at-large bid.
Additionally, if you factor in bonus points, things get even worse. Maine, which has three quality wins that earn bonus points (two at North Dakota, one at Minnesota) would leapfrog a handful of teams to 12th (based on a .003 bonus) or possibly even 11th (based on a .005 bonus) pushing both Tech and Denver out of the picture.
None of this takes into consideration the fact that there are still potential league tournament upsets that could reduce the number of at-large bids available. If Lake Superior won the CCHA or Quinnipiac won the ECACHL titles, that would move the PWR bubble to 13 or even 12. Granted the WCHA has two teams still alive in Michigan Tech and Wisconsin, both of which can play themselves into the tournament and thus guarantee an additional bid for the conference.
Take a look at a conference breakdown, factoring in .003 bonus points, should the season end today:
Hockey East: 5 teams
CCHA: 4 teams
WCHA: 3 teams
ECACHL: 2 teams
Atlantic Hockey and CHA: 1 team each
What all of this proves is simply that, just like anyone who follows men’s basketball knows,Ã‚Â the current formula for picking the NCAA tournament field is far from perfect. A conference as tough as the WCHA has the ability to beat itself up like we saw this weekend with both Michigan Tech and Wisconsin eliminating Colorado College and Denver, respectively, from the WCHA tournament and likley the NCAA picture.
If you don’t believe me, I strongly suggest checking out the PairWise Predictor tool that USCHO.com has now made live. It allows you to plug in multiple scenarios for which teams will win next weekend and, based on that, produces an updated version of the PWR. Outside of either Wisconsin or Michigan Tech winning the WCHA Final Five, there are very few scenarios that yield more than three NCAA berths for the WCHA.