Analysis of the D-I women’s selections

The National Collegiate Women’s Ice Hockey committee made two controversial decisions on Sunday. One involved selecting Dartmouth over Clarkson as the last team in the tournament. The other was to abandon the practice of avoiding intraconference play in the NCAA quarterfinal round in order to save money on travel costs. I will discuss each below.

Dartmouth over Clarkson

This was the toughest decision an NCAA committee has ever had to make involving the last team into the field. Recall the NCAA criteria:

RPI (a combination of win pct. and strength of schedule), record against teams with an RPI > .500 (teams under consideration), record against common opponents, and head-to-head play.

Here is how the team’s stacked up in the PWR calculations of these criteria:

RPI: Clarkson .5600, Dartmouth .5594

TUC: Clarkson 5-7-2, Dartmouth 3-7-2

H2H: Clarkson 0-1-1, Dartmouth 1-0-1

COP: Clarkson 18-7-3, Dartmouth 16-7-3

Clearly the committee felt that Dartmouth’s clear head-to-head advantage was decisive, while Clarkson’s three advantages were not large enough for the committee to respect them.

Some fans surely feel any form of discretion in the hands of the committee is a negative — comments like “opening up a can of worms” or “returning us to the era of smoke-filled rooms” come to mind.

I would describe the women’s hockey selections today as “subjective interpretations of objective criteria.” Unlike say, men’s college basketball, the criteria in women’s hockey are very well-defined in the tournament handbook.

That said, there is nothing in the handbook saying that the criteria should be balanced in the manner used by the USCHO Pairwise Rankings — that is, awarding a point for a head-to-head win and a point for any other criterion won, and using RPI as a tiebreaker.

Weighting the criteria is not purely objective, but the committee does not deserve to be discounted as purely subjective either. Having looked at the pairings, it is reasonable to believe that the committee made its choices based on the criteria in the handbook, and thus it did the job it was asked to do.

While this selection is surely disappointing for Clarkson, I see little reason to believe that the committee has sacrificed the integrity of the selection process. Nothing from this selection leads me to believe that teams should be any less confident that they will advance to NCAAs if they do enough to differentiate themselves from their competitors, and that’s what matters most. The fact that there is even an argument to be had between Clarkson and Dartmouth shows that Clarkson could have done plenty more to differentiate itself.

Intraconference Matchups

Many fans will be stunned by the committee’s decision to have two intraconference matchups. When you look at the history of the NCAA in championships that are not profitable, the 2005-07 tournament is what’s really abnormal, and not the current selections. In that context, fans should be grateful for the previous three years, not bitter about the current setup. That the NCAA is cutting costs in the current economic environment should come as no surprise.

Fans should recognize the NCAA governance to be followed by the committee. All that’s written in stone is that the teams ranked No. 1 through No. 4 do not play each other. Beyond that, this is what the handbook says:

Pairings in the quarterfinal round shall be based primarily on the teams’ geographical proximity to one another, regardless of their region, in order to avoid air travel in quarterfinal round games whenever possible. Teams’ relative strength, according to the committee’s selection criteria, shall be considered when establishing pairings if such pairings do not result in air travel that otherwise could be avoided. The NCAA Division I Championships/Competition Cabinet shall have the authority to modify its working principles related to the championship site assignment on a case-by-case basis.

There is nothing in the handbook about avoiding intraconference matchups, but the committee had established the precedent from 2005-07. Thus, I have always written that brackets should be judged in terms of how they balance bracket integrity (i.e. how they preserve the PWR seedings), travels costs, and avoiding intraconference matchups. How the committee has balanced these three objectives has varied greatly from year to year, and I have never been able to predict this balance right.

Clearly the current bracket is the worst yet in terms of avoiding intraconference matchups. It is the best yet, however, in terms of minimizing travel costs. Only one flight, Mercyhurst to UMD, will be necessary for the quarterfinal round.

The reduction of interconference matchups is disappointing. There are too few interconference matchups in women’s hockey to begin with. If any one conference has three of the four best team in the country, the current system makes it unlikely that all three teams will advance to the Frozen Four. National tournaments that become retreads of conference tournaments are a concern.

Another benefit for the NCAA in this decision involves quarterfinal attendance. Wisconsin and Dartmouth have the largest women’s hockey fan bases in their respective regions. The tournament’s bottom line certainly benefits from placing their teams in locations where fans can easily travel to see them play.

Some long-time fans may be disappointed with the lack of novelty of the matchups, but if the respective fan bases can turn out in force and create a better atmosphere for the quarterfinal events, this may be a silver lining.

26 COMMENTS

    • It is North Dakota’s to lose at this point. Given the top four team’s remaining schedules that is. But the great thing about the WCHA is that any team can win on any given weekend.

      • Pretty much. If the top four teams all won out (not possible, as both DU and UMD play UNO), the points would go like so:

        UND 44
        DU 43
        UMD 42
        UNO 42

        Given the fact that the bottom three get to beat up on each other, it is UND’s to lose. I would think that the Mavs arguably have the most to gain in points given that they play two of the teams above them.

    • It is North Dakota’s to lose at this point. Given the top four team’s remaining schedules that is. But the great thing about the WCHA is that any team can win on any given weekend.

      • Pretty much. If the top four teams all won out (not possible, as both DU and UMD play UNO), the points would go like so:

        UND 44
        DU 43
        UMD 42
        UNO 42

        Given the fact that the bottom three get to beat up on each other, it is UND’s to lose. I would think that the Mavs arguably have the most to gain in points given that they play two of the teams above them.

  1. “Scott Gudmandson is one of the best goalies in the country and I see him bouncing back after a rough weekend in Omaha. The guy is unbeatable at the Kohl Center”.

    I suppose that is technically true since he got a No Decision November 19 when he was pulled after giving up 3 goals on 13 shots against UMD. I have to side with T on this one. Splitskies.

    • I like the split here as well, only because it’s in Wisconsin. The gophers taking 3 or 4 points would not surprise me at all. Wisconsin has continuously shown their inability to beat good teams. However, it is kind of a stretch to call the gophers a good team at times.

      • Yeah the Wisconsin goalie sure was good. The case all season against Minnesota is…..Which team will show up, the one that won at N.D. on a friday night and destroyed Denver last Saturday…… Or the one who gets swept at Mankato and shut out at home ab AA? Watch out for Minnesota.

  2. “Scott Gudmandson is one of the best goalies in the country and I see him bouncing back after a rough weekend in Omaha. The guy is unbeatable at the Kohl Center”.

    I suppose that is technically true since he got a No Decision November 19 when he was pulled after giving up 3 goals on 13 shots against UMD. I have to side with T on this one. Splitskies.

    • I like the split here as well, only because it’s in Wisconsin. The gophers taking 3 or 4 points would not surprise me at all. Wisconsin has continuously shown their inability to beat good teams. However, it is kind of a stretch to call the gophers a good team at times.

      • Yeah the Wisconsin goalie sure was good. The case all season against Minnesota is…..Which team will show up, the one that won at N.D. on a friday night and destroyed Denver last Saturday…… Or the one who gets swept at Mankato and shut out at home ab AA? Watch out for Minnesota.

  3. What a crazy night of hockey! When I said any team can win on any given weekend, I didn’t think it would all happen on one night. Would have liked to been a fly on the wall in Denvers locker room after that game.

  4. What a crazy night of hockey! When I said any team can win on any given weekend, I didn’t think it would all happen on one night. Would have liked to been a fly on the wall in Denvers locker room after that game.

  5. man what a shake-up in the WCHA, time for a prediction!
    1. UND (by far easiest schedule left)
    2. UNO – unexpected! but i think they will at least split with DU and spank a struggling UMD team.
    3. DU – well, they will do better than UMD vs. UNO and beat a horrible on the road SCSU.
    4. UMD – blue flamed, look for them to get knocked out the Final Five by CC/MSU-M/or UA-A
    5. UM – also easy schedule (bemidji- Tech)
    6. CC- upset here, I see them going to Wisconsin for the last series of the year and take home ice from the Kohl Center.
    7. UW- as above, they will lose @ SCSU (might snag one point or two, but wont be enough when they get swept at home against CC)
    8. SCSU, well not much to say about this underachieved team, they take 4 points against wisconson, but not enough to salvage the season
    9. MSU-M – sorry UAA, but the mavs play well at home, and quite frankly UAA is not the brightest crayon in the box on the road.
    10. UAA, after a better than normal season, if they do get DU(which is a toss up between the 2-4 teams) they will lose in 2 in the first round. If they get UMD, I could potentially see an upset going in to the final five.
    11. BSU, didn’t do as well as their UNO partner, but could potentially take one of 3 games in the first round.
    12. Tech, nuff said

  6. man what a shake-up in the WCHA, time for a prediction!
    1. UND (by far easiest schedule left)
    2. UNO – unexpected! but i think they will at least split with DU and spank a struggling UMD team.
    3. DU – well, they will do better than UMD vs. UNO and beat a horrible on the road SCSU.
    4. UMD – blue flamed, look for them to get knocked out the Final Five by CC/MSU-M/or UA-A
    5. UM – also easy schedule (bemidji- Tech)
    6. CC- upset here, I see them going to Wisconsin for the last series of the year and take home ice from the Kohl Center.
    7. UW- as above, they will lose @ SCSU (might snag one point or two, but wont be enough when they get swept at home against CC)
    8. SCSU, well not much to say about this underachieved team, they take 4 points against wisconson, but not enough to salvage the season
    9. MSU-M – sorry UAA, but the mavs play well at home, and quite frankly UAA is not the brightest crayon in the box on the road.
    10. UAA, after a better than normal season, if they do get DU(which is a toss up between the 2-4 teams) they will lose in 2 in the first round. If they get UMD, I could potentially see an upset going in to the final five.
    11. BSU, didn’t do as well as their UNO partner, but could potentially take one of 3 games in the first round.
    12. Tech, nuff said

  7. Let’s be real, you guys are terrible at predicting. Theresa, you need a new profession. Hockey is tough to predict, and college hockey is the toughest nonetheless. I wish there was a website to wager on college games

  8. Let’s be real, you guys are terrible at predicting. Theresa, you need a new profession. Hockey is tough to predict, and college hockey is the toughest nonetheless. I wish there was a website to wager on college games

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