May 6, 2013

MD1 Bracket Breakdown: Field an Affirmation of Lacrosse's New Era

by Patrick Stevens | LaxMagazine.com | Bracket Announcement (PDF)

Brackets: MD1 | WD1 | MD2 | WD2 | MD3 | WD3
Analysis: MD1 | WD1 | MD2 | WD2 | MD3 | WD3

Even just a month ago, Maryland-Cornell looked like a possible national semifinal or championship matchup. Now the Terps and Big Red will play in the first round.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

Consider Sunday's NCAA tournament bracket unveiling the latest affirmation of lacrosse's changes.

Three of the top four seeds are Notre Dame, Ohio State and Denver — unsurprising choices based on the numbers but not what a fan from a decade ago would expect.

But where are Johns Hopkins, Princeton and Virginia? Finished with their seasons by the first weekend in May. In fact, it will be the first NCAA tournament ever without either Hopkins or Virginia.

Those decisions, too, were not shocking. Virginia's fate was sealed with a losing record. Hopkins and Princeton simply didn't muster deep enough resumes.

Instead, change continues to come. Over the last three years, 30 schools have reached the NCAA tournament. Bryant and Detroit will make their first appearances this year. Albany, Penn State and Towson are ending droughts of at least five years. And now, more than ever before, the turnover in the field is to be expected.

The Top Seed

Syracuse

The Orange surged to the top spot in the field largely because of their back-to-back victories over Notre Dame in the closing days of the regular season. On paper, the Fighting Irish had the best resume, but it would have required an incredible level of obliviousness to place Notre Dame ahead of a team with good numbers and the benefit of a pair of head-to-head wins by six goals.

And so Syracuse is the No. 1 seed, an honor that probably doesn't mean a whole lot in the long-term. This is the first NCAA tournament without a team with two or fewer losses, and Syracuse has suffered stumbles against Villanova and Hobart. Half of the Orange's 16 games were decided by a goal, so this isn't a dominant outfit by any stretch.

Last Team In

Loyola

The Greyhounds survived an anxious weekend, turning a relatively bland resume with one increasingly valuable victory (at Ohio State) into a chance to defend its national title.

"Loyola did everything right," committee chairman Jim Siedliski said. "There's nothing remarkable about them, and in the same regard there's nothing bad about them."

Loyola went 1-3 against the top 10 in the RPI and 10-1 (with a loss to Duke) against everyone else. That turned out to be enough to extend the Greyhounds' season to the relief of coach Charley Toomey.

"We were ready to go anywhere you'll send us," said Toomey, whose team lost to Duke in March while midfielder Josh Hawkins was serving a seven-game suspension. "Yes, we're better with Josh Hawkins, but watching Duke, they're putting goals on the board in bunches and lighting it up. We have a tremendous challenge."

First Team Out

Bucknell

Towson's upset of Penn State effectively knocked somebody out of the bracket. And that somebody was the Bison. While Bucknell had a decent RPI (11), the average RPI of its top-10 opponents was 26th and it suffered an eye-popping loss to Mount St. Mary's (RPI: 44) early in the season.

In the end, no one in the at-large field suffered a loss to a team ranked worse than 26th in the RPI. While it wasn't the only differentiator, it was clearly part of the reason Bucknell didn't make its second NCAA appearance in the last three years.

Snubbed

No one

The committee stuck to its criteria rather effectively, which means no one excluded from the field has any reason to feel blindsided by the outcome.

That includes Johns Hopkins (9-5), which saw its 41-year NCAA tournament streak come to an end thanks to a maddeningly inconsistent season.

"We have no one to look at other than ourselves," coach Dave Pietramala said. "We're going to handle this in a classy fashion. I don't blame the criteria. We've been the beneficiaries [in the past]. We did not earn our way in. The committee stated that and I don't think we can argue."

Best First-Round Game

Maryland-Cornell

Even just a month ago, this would have looked like a possible semifinal — or maybe even a Memorial Day showdown. Instead, the Big Red took a big hit with their Ivy League tournament loss and got shipped to College Park for the opening round.

The Terrapins' offense finally showed some life Saturday in an 18-6 thrashing of Colgate. They'll need it to continue after drawing a Cornell bunch that's scored less than 10 goals only once all season.

Needless to say, it will be fascinating how Maryland handles Big Red attackman Rob Pannell in the first meeting between the schools since 2000.

Seeded Too High

Duke

Realistically, no one was horribly overseeded, and the committee can easily defend its decisions based on the criteria.

Duke's inclusion as the No. 7 seed was a bit surprising considering the Blue Devils wrapped up the regular season with an RPI of 12. But they also had a stellar strength of schedule, and there's little question Duke will be difficult to slow down if they can dominate faceoffs.

The numbers suggest the Blue Devils could have been sent on the road to open the tournament. Anyone paying attention realizes John Danowski's team is a credible national title threat even with some warts on the defensive end.

Seeded Too Low

North Carolina

The ACC champion Tar Heels have a case to be at least a No. 4 seed, given their RPI (4), their strong set of victories and a more-than-capable set of opponents.

At the same time, if the biggest quibble to make with this year's committee is that the No. 5 seed had a good case to be slotted a line higher, the committee probably did its job pretty well.

Albany will head to Denver for what should be a high-scoring game on Saturday night.
© Lee Weissman

Upset Alert

Albany over Denver?

It's foolish to expect Bill Tierney to lose an NCAA tournament opener (he's 17-4 in them in his career) and the Great Danes have to travel a couple time zones and play at altitude. Nonetheless, this Saturday night spotlight game should be a blast.

Like Syracuse, the Pioneers have a season-long habit of finding themselves in close games — seven decided by a goal, with a couple two-goal contests tossed in as well. It will take a remarkable defensive day to slow down Albany's trio of Thompsons, and there's a real possibility this winds up as a 15-14 type of game.

This could easily wind up as a coinflip, which makes it one of the first round's most intriguing games.

Best Potential Matchup

Syracuse vs. Denver or North Carolina

A semifinal featuring two of the top 10 offenses in the country? Sounds like fun. The Orange will be favored to return to Memorial Day weekend for the first time since their 2009 title, and while their offense isn't vintage Syracuse, it still has its moments.

Meanwhile, both Denver and North Carolina can be explosive when needed, and a possible reprise of their wild NCAA tournament game from last year would be a treat in the quarterfinals. But getting one of those two teams and Syracuse together on the sport's greatest stage would be good for the game.

Three Players to Watch

Matt Kavanagh, Notre Dame, Fr., A

Welcome to the postseason, kid. The freshman has 25 goals and 13 assists for the second-seeded Fighting Irish, leading the team in both categories. The question every postseason is whether Notre Dame can score enough when it matters most; the Irish mustered a combined 18 goals in their tournament losses the last four years. Perhaps they won't sputter with the superb young talent in the May fray for the first time.

Brendan Fowler, Duke, Jr., FO

The indefatigable Fowler ranks third in the nation in faceoff percentage (.654), and it was his second-half dominance that almost allowed Duke to rally from a nine-goal deficit to win at North Carolina in the ACC semifinals. The Blue Devils can score, but their defense isn't as stout as in years past; Fowler negates that issue to some extent even on his average days.

Pick A Thompson, Albany

Lyle Thompson (43 goals, 56 assists) leads in the country in points per game with 6.6. Ty Thompson has scored 48 goals for the Great Danes. Miles Thompson is at 37 goals and 23 assists. Together, they're the most entertaining set of attackmen in the country.

Don't Be Surprised If...

There's a first-time champion for the third time in four years.

Three of the top four seeds have never won a national title, and neither has eighth-seeded Penn State. Syracuse isn't the traditionally imposing No. 1 seed the tournament has always enjoyed, though the likes of Ohio State and Denver have never experienced a national title game, either.

In truth, this is as wide open as the regular season suggested it would be. The absence of a dominant team or two, far more than anything else, has created the opportunity for a team that simply strings its two or three best games together at the right time to win a title.

One thing's for certain: The list of teams in the field with virtually no shot at winning four games in a row is shorter than the list of outfits that can. That hasn't been the case much, if ever, before.


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