A number of factors are involved, but it comes down to the Crimson’s record against Top 30 teams as defined by the pairwise rankings (PWR).
Harvard played one of the nation’s toughest non-conference schedules, with games against No. 4 Maine, No. 6 Boston College and a pair versus No. 10 Boston University. It also faced No. 2 Cornell twice in conference. The Crimson finished a dismal 0-5-1 against these Top 10 teams. All six games were very close, but that’s not taken into consideration under the NCAA’s formula for deciding at-large bids.
But only 11 of Harvard’s 29 games this season were against Top 30 teams, and of those 11 games, six were against Top 10 opponents.
The Crimson would have improved its chances for an NCAA at-large bid if it had played more teams in the lower half of the top 30. Harvard faced only three teams [Dartmouth, Northern Michigan and Yale] ranked No. 11-No. 30 in the PWR. In those games, the Crimson went 4-1-0.
How Can Harvard Make the NCAA Tournament?
Unless Harvard wins the ECAC tournament (and earns one of six automatic bids), which will likely involving beating Cornell, the Crimson will need to finish at least No. 14 or higher in the PWR to receive an at-large bid from the NCAA.
Harvard is currently No. 16 in the PWR. Providence, Denver and Ohio State currently hold PWR spots 13-15, respectively. The Crimson must jump over two of those three teams to give itself a chance at an at-large bid. Harvard cannot move past Ohio State in the PWR, so it will need to catch both Providence and Denver.
Providence faces a very tough B.U. team in the first round of the Hockey East playoffs. If the Terriers can knock-off the Friars in the best-of-three quarterfinal, the Crimson stand a good chance of catching Providence in the PWR. Denver also has a tough schedule remaining. The Pioneers travel to No. 1 Colorado College for a pair of games to end the regular season, followed by a best-of-three first round CCHA playoff series against a higher seed.
If Harvard can sweep its quarterfinal best-of-three series and then win its ECAC semifinal game to advance to the finals, the Crimson should be in a good position to make the NCAA tournament, even it eventually loses in the ECAC finals to Cornell.
What Are the Pairwise Rankings?
The pairwise rankings are a statistical tool created by USCHO.com to approximate the process which is used to select the field of 16 teams for the NCAA men’s hockey tournament.
Although the pairwise rankings do not exactly duplicate the NCAA selection process, they have accurately predicted the field for the last four seasons.
There are two differences between the PWR and the NCAA selection process. The NCAA does not total the comparisons into a nice simple ranking. It simply compares each team directly.
The second difference is more important and new this year. The NCAA added a criteria for a “good win” over the summer, news that only became public last week. A “good win” is defined as a non-conference victory against a team finishing in the Top 15 of the ratings percentage index (RPI).
For every “good win,” a team will receive an RPI bonus. If the win is on the road, the bonus will be higher. Although the criteria remains objective, the NCAA has added a bit of mystery to the final selection by refusing to release the exact bonus formula.