How Cornell can make the NCAA tournament


You may want to read the Background on how PWR matters for tournament selection and How the “can make it at-large teams” can make it sections of NCAA tournament possibilities (with less math), if you haven’t already.

How Cornell can make it

Idle Cornell is currently sitting at #16 in the PWR, but has the possibility of landing anywhere between #13-#19. Because the Atlantic Hockey conference tournament winner will come from outside the top 16, only teams that finish in the top 15 stand any chance of an at-large bid.

So, Cornell is looking for some combination of climbing to the 13-15 range and having 3 to 5 of the conference tournaments won by teams ranked ahead of them.

Climbing in RPI ranking

Because Cornell is idle, their two levers to move their RPI ranking are to have their opponents’ (and opponents’ opponents’) win percentage rise to increase their own RPI, and to have teams that are just ahead of them (and still playing) stumble and drop below them in RPI.

Looking at Cornell’s weighted games played against teams that are still playing, Cornell has the largest potential RPI boost from Quinnipiac, Dartmouth, Harvard, and St. Lawrence winning. Of course, those teams all play each other, so it’s best to go with Quinnipiac as the champ and Harvard as runner up to get the most upward bounce. Providence winning its conference is also common in Cornell’s successful scenarios. Cornell’s weighted games played vs teams that are still playing are the following:
Quinnipiac 5
Dartmouth 2.4
Harvard 2.2
St. Lawrence 1.6
Providence 1
Ohio State 1

The other way Cornell can pass teams in PWR is to have teams immediately ahead of them have their own RPI fall enough to be passed. All of #13 Minnesota-Duluth, #14 Northeastern, and #15 Michigan Tech are active, so each losing can clear the way for Cornell to rise.

Conference tournaments won by high ranked teams

In addition to winning more PWR comparisons, Cornell needs conference tournaments won by teams ranked ahead of them. We learned above that Quinnipiac and Providence wins are key to raising Cornell’s RPI, so those two winning their conference tournaments are the cornerstone of most successful scenarios for Cornell. That leaves the following additional possibilities for the necessary 3-5 high-ranked conference tournament champions:
Big Ten – Michigan
NCHC – North Dakota, St Cloud St, Denver
WCHA – Michigan Tech

Remember, how many of those Cornell needs to happen depends on how many teams Cornell can pass in PWR.


Needing both to increase their PWR ranking (through a combination of raising their own RPI and others’ falling) and to have top teams win most conference tournaments makes this a pretty long short for Cornell, with the Big Red advancing in only about 1% of possible scenarios. Those scenarios generally include:

  • Increasing Cornell’s RPI (e.g. wins by Quinnipiac, Harvard, and Providence)
  • and/or decreasing RPI of teams directly ahead of Cornell (e.g. Minnesota-Duluth, Michigan Tech, and/or Northeastern losing)
  • and having enough top teams win their conference tournaments that Cornell’s final PWR rank is included at-large (e.g. Quinnipiac, Providence, and Michigan as winners)

Example of Cornell making it from #15

Example of Cornell making it from #13

Edit – original version stated that Northeastern was idle, updated to reflect that they’re still playing.

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