May 1, 2013

New-Look Bracketology: The WD1 26-Team Field

by Clare Lochary | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter


The 2012 NCAA Division I women's lacrosse tournament had 16 teams representing eight conferences. Things will look different in 2013. The size of the field has increased to 26.

"It's where our sport should be," Penn State coach Missy Doherty said this week. "Our field was so limited that you really left out some quality teams. To reward the players for how hard they've worked is really great. It was really the next step for women's lacrosse."

Let's go over some of the major changes.

Teams

2012: 16

2013: 26
Due to NCAA bylaws that require at least 50 percent of a tournament field consist of at-large bids, and an increase in the number of teams that sponsor a conference tournament (check out automatic bids below), the NCAA increased the number of Division I women's teams in the tournament to 26. It's the largest increase in field size since 2001, when it went from eight teams to 16.

Rounds

2012: Four
First round, quarterfinals, semifinals and the championship.

2013: Five
First round, second round, quarterfinals, semifinals and the championship.

Games

2012: 15
Eight first-round games, four quarterfinals, two semifinals and the championship.

2013: 25
Ten first-round games, eight second-round games, four quarterfinals, two semifinals and one championship. This year's tournament will have more games in its first two rounds (18) than in the entire 2012 tournament.

Play-in Games

2012: 3
Under the old system, six conferences (Patriot League, MPSF, Atlantic 10, MAAC, CAA, and Northeast) with lower RPIs had to face off in play-in games for a tournament bid. In 2012, Navy (Patriot) defeated Oregon (MPSF), UMass (A10) defeated Canisius (MAAC) and Towson (CAA) defeated Monmouth (NEC), respectively.

2013: 0
The NCAA eliminated the play-in games from the format. All conferences that sponsor lacrosse now get automatic bids, although the smaller, less competitive conferences will almost certainly be unseeded.

Automatic Bids

2012: Five
The ALC, the ACC, the America East, the Ivy League and the Big East got automatic bids under the old system.

2013: 13
In addition to the five who had AQs last year, eight more leagues have conference tournaments and will send teams to the NCAA tournament. They are the Patriot League, the MAAC, the Big South, the Atlantic Sun, the MPSF, the CAA, the Northeast and the Atlantic 10. High Point and Jacksonville, champions of the Big South and the Atlantic Sun conferences respectively, are getting their schools' first bids to the NCAA tournament.

At-large bids

2012: Eight
There were eight true at-large bids under the old system. Five power conferences got their AQs, and then three more bids went to the winners of the play-in games, leaving eight spots left for competitive teams that did not win their conference. Last year, the at-large bids went to Penn State, North Carolina, Dartmouth, Syracuse, Duke, Virginia, Notre Dame and Northwestern.

2013: 13
Most often, at-large bids go to also-rans from power conferences that don't win their respective AQs.

"Last year, Hopkins had such a great season, and they weren't able to make it. Teams like that, who are right there on the cusp, they'll make it in and hopefully have the opportunity to compete in the NCAA tournament," Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said of her ALC opponents. "It'll only create more parity in our sport."

Teams can also get at-large bids with strong out-of-conference wins. For example, Delaware didn't even make the CAA tournament. But if Denver and Loyola win their respective conferences, the Blue Hens' wins over the Pioneers and the Greyhounds could put them in the NCAA tournament conversation.

First-round Byes

2012: 0

2013: 6
The top six seeds get a bye in the first round. Three teams will play at the host sites of the top six seeds, and four teams will play at the host sites of the seventh and eighth seeds. At the sites of the top six, the winner of the first-round game between the unseeded opponents will advance to play the host team. At the sites of the seventh and eighth seeds, the winners of the two first-round games advance to play each other.

Thus, thanks to the bye system and the fact that only the No. 7 and No. 8 teams will play first-round games on their own campuses, eight of the 10 first-round games will essentially be at neutral sites.

Geography gives this setup some interesting wrinkles. There are neutral sites, and then there are neutral sites. Say the No. 8 seed is Georgetown, which draws a first-round match-up against NEC champ Monmouth, and the second game at that site is Patriot League champ Navy (35 miles from the Hilltop) versus the MPSF winner (still TBD, but far away regardless). The Midshipmen would have a semi-hometown advantage. A scenario similar to this one is more likely than not, since the NCAA takes travel costs into consideration when setting the field.

"The selection committee will choose the host sites in the tournament based on evaluation of the primary criteria which includes RPI, head to head competition, results vs. common opponents, significant wins and losses, and the evaluation of the 10 highest-rated teams on an institution's schedule," said Ann-Maria Guglieri, senior associate director of athletics at Colgate and chair of the NCAA Division I women's lacrosse committee. "Travel does come into consideration. However, the selection committee does its best to preserve the integrity of the bracket."

Forecasting the 26

Syracuse, even without star Michelle Tumolo (knee), is in line for a high seed in the expanded 26-team NCAA tournament. The standing of the rest of the Big East conference is not as certain.

It tough to say who's in and who's out, with seven conference tournaments still to be played. But six teams have already won their respective conference titles. They are:

1. UMass (Atlantic 10)
2. Maryland (ACC)
3. Jacksonville (Atlantic Sun)
4. High Point (Big South)
5. Monmouth (Northeast)
6. Navy (Patriot League)

If we assume that for the remaining conference tournaments, the top seed wins, the next in are:

7. Florida (ALC)
8. Stony Brook (America East)
9. Syracuse (Big East)
10. Towson (CAA)
11. Penn (Ivy League)
12. Canisius (MAAC)
13. Denver (MPSF)

There are only two other schools who have locked up bids without winning their respective conference tournaments:

14. North Carolina (wins over Towson, Northwestern, Penn, High Point, and Jacksonville)
15. Northwestern (wins over UMass, Navy and Syracuse)

That leaves 11 at-large bids that are truly up for grabs. Some teams are closer than others. There are a two bubble schools that probably only need to win one more game, if any, to get into the tournament:

16. Penn State
Beat Vanderbilt in the first round of the ALC tournament, and even if they don't get that AQ, the Nittany Lions are probably fine thanks to that signature win over Florida. Lose to the Commodores and it's a different story.

17. Georgetown
Beat Loyola again, this time in the first round of the Big East tournament, and the Hoyas are the undisputed No. 2 in a power conference, even if they don't beat Syracuse for the league championship. (If UConn upsets Syracuse in the Big East tournament, the win gives a boost to both Georgetown and Loyola.)

So we're down to nine remaining at-large bids. Based on the NCAA selection criteria — RPI, head to head competition, results vs. common opponents, significant wins and losses, and the evaluation of the 10 highest-rated teams on an institution's schedule — here are some likely candidates:

18. UConn
A Big East team with huge potential that suffered a late swoon. The Huskies are in the Big East tournament, though, and a first-round win over Syracuse might be enough to lock up a bid. They also have wins over Boston College and Notre Dame, two fellow bubble teams.

19. Boston College
Wins over Virginia and Duke in the regular season make the Eagles the third-best team in the nation's best top-to-bottom conference. Plus they defeated Canisius, the No. 1 seed in the MAAC. If the Golden Griffs don't win their conference tournament, it would be bad for BC.

20. Duke
Regular season wins over Virginia and Georgetown may boost the Blue Devils into the tournament. I bet Duke really, really wants a do-over on either of its one-goal losses to North Carolina or Boston College.

21. Virginia
The Cavaliers are 9-9, so they do have a .500 record, which is a basic NCAA tournament requirement. It's not stellar, but it's enough. The Cavaliers' ACC strength of schedule is powerful, though, and they've played tough non-conference opponents (Penn State and Syracuse) too. Even though its best wins are Loyola and Duke (in the ACC tournament), Virginia's probably in.

22. Loyola
Like Virginia, the 10-7 Greyhounds have an odd record peppered with unlikely losses and no real signature wins. They'll need to win at least one game in the Big East tournament to feel comfortable on Selection Sunday, but if a few things to fall their way, Loyola can still get a bid.

23. Notre Dame
The Irish fell hard after a 10-0 start to the season. Their best win is a 13-12 victory over Georgetown. The Irish did not make the Big East tournament, but if the Hoyas go deep it might be enough to lift the Irish into solid contention.

24. James Madison
The Dukes are on a four-game winning streak and have a win over Loyola to their credit. They have a good chance at the CAA title and could squeak into the tournament as conference runners-up too.

25. Princeton
This weekend's win over Penn State was a nice one for the Tigers, who also have a decent shot at the Ivy League title if they can get a rematch with Penn. (Penn defeated Princeton, 10-9, in overtime in the regular season.)

26. Cornell
Cornell's omission from the 2012 NCAA tournament was the subject of much consternation, and rightly so. This year, after a hot start, including early wins over Canisius and Penn State, they dropped a bunch of close games to the likes of North Carolina, Penn and Princeton. Still, their strength of schedule, the chance to beat Penn in the first round of the Ivy League tournament and, of course, the expanded bracket gives the Big Red some hope that they could find themselves on the right side of the bubble this year.

Long Shots

These teams are still alive in conference play, but must win their league crown to qualify for the NCAA tournament. These teams lack signature wins and/or have an overall losing record.

Johns Hopkins (ALC)
Vanderbilt (ALC)
Ohio State (ALC)
Albany (America East)
New Hampshire (America East)
Vermont (America East)
Drexel (CAA)
Hofstra (CAA)
Fairfield (MAAC)
Marist (MAAC)
Siena (MAAC)
Cal (MPSF)
Stanford (MPSF)
USC (MPSF)

Seeding

Only Maryland, Florida, North Carolina, Northwestern and Syracuse are locks for seeds, and are probably locks for first-round byes as well, although first-round tournament losses could compromise the latter for the Gators, Wildcats and Orange.

Everyone else will have to wait to see how the weekend plays out to determine when and where they will be playing.


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