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April 20, 2010

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Making Sense: A Capricious Tourney View

by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Will Lynchburg have enough on its resume to launch the Hornets into the NCAA tourney?

Things have piled up coming back from vacation – the perils of leaving the small schools in the hands of scholarship-ophiles – so I’m going concentrate this week's column on the Pool B (independent) and Pool C (at-large bids) in the MD3 and WD3 and the at-large picks in the MCLA divisions.

I began it in last week’s column, but I’m a little torn about starting this kind of stuff this early because there are still so many moving parts.

For example, Connecticut College has proven it is the class of the NESCAC by defeating Tufts. Still, it's really hard to think a team that has such limited postseason tournament experience can grind out three games in a league that has already seen it once.

For a second example, the Hamilton women are clearly the No. 1 team in the country right now in the polls, but would anyone other than the Dutchwomen coaches, players and parents take them with complete confidence over Union in a regular season contest (which will be played on May 1), nevermind mind in the Liberty League tournament? I’d say the Continentals are definitely favored, but not prohibitively.

There are more examples in the MCLA to make the point, but I think you’ve got it by now. So I’m going to do some spitballing and see what shakes out in the end.

Men’s Division III
You always have to be careful with the NCAA divisions because they are more formulaic in regards to their criteria than the MCLA (which operates off an unspecified set of criteria). If we can keep the criteria in mind while not being enslaved to it, we can come up with a likely list at this point.

Pool C Watch
1. Stevenson (14-1) – The only possible loss imaginable is to Salisbury again, and that certainly won’t keep them out. You figure the Mustangs are in with a pretty solid seed.
2. Dickinson (13-1) – If the Red Devils beat McDaniel in the season finale, they can still take a loss in the Centennial semifinals (it’s only a four-team tourney) and still earn a bid.
3. Tufts (10-1) – Endicott, Middlebury and Bowdoin all remain, and all in Medford. You’d have to assume the Jumbos will go at least 2-1 in that stretch. Even with a stumble in the NESCAC semis, that’s 13-3, which should easily get them in.
4. Geneseo (8-2) – The two biggest arrows in the Blue Knights’ quiver right now are Union (9-2) and Naz (10-2). They look pretty good , but if those two teams end up winning the Liberty and Empire 8, respectively, that should put Genny comfortably through.
5. Nazareth (10-2) – Out of respect to its perfect record, Fisher gets the E8 auto-bid, so the Flyers grab the last spot. I wouldn’t argue if someone said Naz’s schedule is harder than Geneseo’s, but the head-to-head settles that equation.

Looking In
A Third NESCAC – This has been a slam dunk in the recent past, and it could still happen, but it will only be solidified on May 9 with an upset tournament win by one of the No. 3-thru-8 seeds in the conference tourney. Using history as a guide, this will bump the E8 or SUNYAC runner-up and install both Conn. College and Tufts in Pool C. At this point it would be presumptuous to assume either the Jumbos or the Camels won’t walk away with the hardware.
A Second ODAC – The best chance comes if Roanoke gets kicked to Pool C like last year, but with losses to Stevenson and Dickinson head-to-head and the near certainty of a NESCAC second team, that would mean the Maroons would have to beat out Genny or Naz with similar in-region records. If Lynchburg beats W&L this weekend, the Hornets will also have a crack if they finish 13-5.
The Liberty League – I could be convinced that RPI, St. Lawrence, Skidmore and Union could all win the conference tourney. Likewise, I could be convinced that SLU could find itself on the outside if Clarkson gets hot in the last two games. The loss by RPI to Middlebury on Tuesday hurts the Engineers chances at getting an at-large, leaving Union with an outside shot with a little help at this point.

Pool B Watch
1. Denison (8-2) – It’s natural to look for a reason to bounce the Big Red out of the top spot in Pool B after their bizarre losses, but they’ve still beat their biggest competition for the berth. They stay at the top.
2. Ohio Wesleyan (8-3) – The Bishops’ only remaining stumbling block is Wittenberg on May 5. Even if it somehow loses to Whittier, a win against the Tigers will be enough to snag OWU the third spot.
3. Colorado College (8-2) – These are heady days for the Tigers. Barring their sticks not showing up in Arkansas, CC will finish 10-2 along with the SCAC championship and, more importantly, the first-ever tourney berth. The Wittenberg win punched the ticket.

Looking In
Wittenberg – Honestly, that’s really it, and they’ll need to win the last three, including at Ohio Wesleyan. Whittier and Greensboro are off the grid and none of the other NCACs have a shot. Morrisville State doesn’t have the strength, so here we are.

Women’s Division III
I would argue this is one of the more straight-forward women's selections in quite a while. At least at this point, anyway. There will be some movement before everything is in the books on May 9, but not enough to sway me off these picks.

Pool C Watch
1. Colby (10-2) – I could see Gettysburg getting the jump on the White Mules if Colby had a let-down, but that’s about it. Colby is playing for a potential regional right now.
2. Tufts (9-2) – The Jumbos could finish at 11-4 and still make the tourney. Not that I’d recommend that, but right now Tufts would have to crumble to be left out.
3. Union (7-5) – Jessica Critchlow is participating in a stare-down with the committee. She has the best schedule in the country and is daring the NCAA to keep her out. Even if they finished with an 11-7 record, the Dutchwomen deserve at least the last bid (although Union could have done without the loss to Cortland on Tuesday). I’ll take Union’s 11-7 record this year over Middlebury’s 10-6 mark last year.
4. Gettysburg (13-2) – Franklin & Marshall on Wednesday. Everything could change (in a positive way) then, or pretty much remain the same.
5. Mary Washington (11-4) – When you’re second behind a powerhouse, you tend to be left in a blind spot. The Eagles have proven their worth and fill out all the criteria.
6. Bowdoin (8-4) – If you want to say Ithaca should be in this spot I probably won’t fight you too much. Just let me know the last time an E8 team beat out a NESCAC for a tourney berth. (If you want the cheat sheet, it was 2007 when, with all due respect to the Division III ghost of Sue Behme, a 13-3 Nazareth team astoundingly beat out a 12-5 Colby team that advanced to the NESCAC finals).

Looking In
Ithaca – I realize this is kind of slap in the face of the Bombers since they are going to have the No. 1 seed in the Empire 8 tourney. The prediction business can be ugly at times. Even with all of the evidence staring me in the face, I’m not convinced Ithaca will beat Stevens again. Perhaps the bigger question is whether Stevens would have a shot at the Pool C. I think they would, likely taking the last spot with its head-to-head win over Bowdoin.
A Fourth NESCAC – Certainly not unheard of – the conference sent four last year and has done it other times in the past, as well – but it’s tough to envision it this year. Williams will be tough to keep out if they finish 13-5, however it would just cement a third spot and not lock down a fourth.

Pool B Watch
1. TCNJ (12-1) – After the close shave to Drew and the loss to Rowan, it’s clear that TCNJ is susceptible to bouts of boredom. That’s on Sharon Pfluger. She’s the best coach in women’s lacrosse, but every season has its challenges. That’s hers.
2. Catholic (8-6) – I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again. Megan McDonogh is the coach of the year.
3. Rowan (8-5) – Such a dilemma. Should I give Rowan too little or too much credit for the TCNJ win? The Profs are obviously a no-brainer addition, but I think I’ve got them right here.
4. Drew (7-7) – The Rangers are now in the clear now that they’ve hit .500. Book ‘em for the tourney.
5. Adrian (10-2) – I predicted in December that it would be Adrian beating out Claremont for the Western Indies bid to the tourney (along with nailing nearly all of the predictions). I still cling to the choice, but Claremont is no slouch.

Looking In
Claremont – It comes down to May 5. That game should be televised.

MCLA Division I
At-Large Watch
1. Brigham Young (10-2) – Even with an 0-3 flameout to end the season, it’s tough to not predicting the Cougars in the tourney.
2. Arizona State (10-3) – The Sun Devils are deservedly going to Denver, but like BYU, there are some lingering questions about ASU’s title qualifications.
3. Michigan State (8-3) – Even with the impending loss to Michigan this weekend and in the CCLA championships, if Sparty can wrap it up at 9-4, they’re in.
4. Oregon (8-4) – The seed may not be what they hoped for – it could be running in the double-digits – but the Ducks should be in regardless of a second loss to Simon Fraser.
5. UC Santa Barbara (9-4) – The Gauchos won all of the games they needed to – the Florida and Loyola Marymount games in particular – to feel pretty secure about Denver. The biggest worry for UCSB at this point is Cal Poly or Florida State getting thrown into the at-large pool. Both are unlikely, but one or both should make the Gauchos sweat.
6. Loyola Marymount (11-4) – If any of the conference tourney favorite gets bounced into the at-large field, it’s the Lions who will be skimmed off the top. Not a fun spot to be in. LMU would do well to make the SLC title game.

Looking In
Florida – They’ve got the wins over two next-tier tourney contenders – Virginia Tech and Northeastern – but the losses to UCSB and Illinois are cripplers. They’ll need the win over FSU to be in the hunt.
Colorado – The Buffs are a bit of a cause célèbre in the MCLA world after the stunning win over Michigan, but at two games below .500 and some dubious losses balancing out the high-powered wins, there are questions. If the committee lets a sub-.500 team into the tournament it would be a devastating precedent that would set the association back a decade. If CU gets to even, it should be considered (however certainly not a lock).
New Hampshire – If the Wildcats finish at 10-2 in the regular season and make the PCLL finals, the NCAA criteria would project UNH going over Colorado. Simple math. What will the MCLA committee deem?

MCLA Division II
At-Large Watch
1. Dayton (8-1) – Even with a quick exit in the CCLA tourney, I think the runner-up discount gets the Flyers in at a slightly lesser seed. A runner-up finish and you’re looking at a Top 5 seed.
2. St. John’s – Don’t get trapped in the weekly rankings; the Johnnies could easily be a Top 4 seed when everything plays out. SJU is a lock.
3. Westminster (9-3) – The Griffins have already defeated Utah Valley – the only obstacle to the RMLC title – so I’m taking the path less traveled to put them in the at-large pool. I wouldn’t be surprised if they grabbed the AQ, but you can put UVU here if the script flips. I think it’s the right choice, however. Regardless, Westminster is going to Denver. The remaining schedule just determines the seed.
4. Davenport (10-2) – Admittedly, the Panthers have lost both of the key games they needed – Dayton and Grand Valley – and I think that will be reflected in the seeding, but they’re in.
5. Kennesaw State (12-3) – When looking through the NCAA prism, the Owls have the perfect blend of strength of schedule and key wins to make the difference. You’ve got to assume it will apply here.
6. Western Oregon (11-4) – Whereas I believe the first five are locks, we’re now moving into the bubble zone. I feel good about the Wolves, but they’ll need to get to the PNCLL championship game to pay this off. An earlier loss and they are asking to be ignored. It’s WOU strength of schedule that proves critical.
7. Santa Cruz (9-4) – See below.

Looking In
Grove City College – I see the last pick as being a philosophical referendum for the selection committee. Do they pick Grove City, the team from the “power conference” with the constricted schedule both in its size and travel length – the Wolverines farthest jaunt was a five-hour bus ride to Cincinnati for a couple of “neutral site” games against two decent SELC teams – or do they chose the team with a less flashy record but against deeper competition and primarily on the road? It’s a false choice because it's impossible to equivocate the two, but we can futher triangulate the committee with this pick. I think they’ll trend toward Santa Cruz at this point, although that's a hunch. It's a complete coin flip.
Elon – The Phoenix have a thin schedule, not unlike Grove City, but they don’t have the wins they need. Bottom line: if Grove City isn’t in, Elon certainly isn’t.

Fluidity is the name of the game these days, but there will be more accrued information in the future that will narrow the field. There are a lot of surprises in store for us over the next fortnight and I, for one, am excited about it. Hopefully your team makes it.


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