May 5, 2014

WD1 Bracket Breakdown: Virginia Earns Last Bye

By Megan Schneider | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Virginia earned the final bye to round out the top six seeds. (Cecil Copeland) 

WD1 Bracket: Interactive | PDF

May Madness has arrived. With the new tournament format that was effective for the first time last year, more teams have the opportunity to keep their seasons alive. But sometimes, you may not always know who will earn the at-large bids after the conference tournaments have completed.

"It's always a surprise with the selection show!" said Loyola coach Jen Adams. "It's just impossible to guess going into it, and if you do like any of us did, you're always completely wrong and today is just another example of that."

This year, the powerhouse is the ACC with six of the top eight seeds – No. 1 Maryland, No. 2 Syracuse, No. 3 North Carolina, No. 6 Virginia, No. 7 Boston College and No. 8 Notre Dame.

For many coaches like Adams, the common denominator in the NCAA Tournament is to simply "survive and advance." Any postseason opportunity is precious and not one to waste.

But were there any surprises? Will smaller, not as nationally recognized teams make a run for it? Will Maryland remain on top and win it all in its last season as a member of the ACC, or will an unexpected champion be crowned? Let's take a look.

The Top Seed

Maryland

With the impressive season the Terps have had, it would have been a shock to not see them take the No. 1 seed. They only had one loss to then-No. 1 North Carolina. But their second-ranked RPI and sixth-ranked SOS back them up as they boast the most quality wins out of all the teams who advanced.

"It's funny," said Maryland coach Cathy Reese on their seed. "It doesn't mean anything in the grand scheme of things. For us, it's just a real credit to the work that we've done over the course of the year, but at the end of the day it doesn't mean a whole lot moving forward."

Maryland captured its sixth straight ACC title when they defeated Syracuse 13-7 in the championship game. The last time the Terps won the NCAA Tournament was 2010 under Reese and they will surely be looking to win it one more time in their last year as a member of the ACC. This year also marks their 30th appearance in the tournament – the most for any school.

"For six of the eight teams to be in the ACC is just a credit to the conference and the strength of it," Reese said. "The ACC tournament was a bit of an emotional time for me because the conference – that's all I've ever known, having played at Maryland and coached here forever."

With the bye the first round, the Terps will face the winner of Canisius-Penn. Reese said she hasn't seen Canisius play yet, but they played Penn earlier in the season in a non-challenging game, winning by a margin of 10. By the time they play on Sunday, they will have had two weeks off and will need to keep their game focus "short and sweet."

"We're at that point in the season where you've got to win to advance," Reese said. "We just need to make sure that we're focusing on the details. We had a great ACC tournament. We've been playing some of the best lacrosse that we've seen all year. We want to continue to go and use that as our base moving forward."

As far as how the bracket turned out, Reese just had to laugh and reminisce on her playing career.

"I was telling my kids back in the day when I played, we had a bye into the final four," she said. "There were six teams that made the NCAA Tournament. Here, we're looking at a bracket of 26. It's huge for the expansion of our sport."

She even tried to predict the bracket, sitting down to analyze teams' records and end-of-season play, because she enjoys to do that, but this year was much harder for her to do so because "everyone's beating up on everybody."

After Sunday, it will be down to eight teams. For Reese, everything will likely happen so fast that she is going "to practice what we preach" and take it one game at a time.

Last Team In

Georgetown

The Hoyas have a 10-8 overall record going into tournament play, and with their most recent loss to Louisville in the Big East championship game, they were unsure of their chances and thought their season may have ended right then and there. As announced during the selection show, it was noted that Georgetown was one of the last teams to sneak on by.

Following the loss to Louisville, coach Ricky Fried recognized there were only a few spots left that could be debated. Their turnaround at the end of the season, as well as their strength of schedule and wins over Duke and Princeton, allowed the Hoyas to keep their season alive.

"You hate to leave it in the committee's hands because it really stinks for us – and the committee frankly because they have some really hard decisions to make," said Fried on Saturday.

However, after Selection Sunday, Fried was more optimistic.

"We have a new life, a second life, kind of a second wind if you will," he said on Monday morning, whose team is excited to be one of the 26 teams.

First Team Out

Marist

Marist (14-4) was seemingly comfortable going into their conference tournament at the No. 1 seed. But with Canisius plowing through at the No. 3 seed, defeating No. 2 Fairfield and then pulling an upset against Marist in the championship game, Marist's chances to advance to the NCAA Tournament disappeared. Canisius will be one of the smaller schools to keep an eye on.

Snubbed

No one

The newer 26-team bracket ensures that a significant number of teams get their shot in the postseason. No additional smaller teams snuck in, contrary to what one may have expected; only those who won their conference tournaments made it.

Although Albany may have hoped for an opportunity with their close game against Syracuse in April, the Great Danes didn't have enough statistical value working in their favor when taking into consideration their end-of-season play and subsequent 7-1 loss in the America East final.

Best First-Round Game

Georgetown vs. Hopkins

Georgetown has earned a rematch against Hopkins, a squad that was riding the wave of its historical opening to the season. The Blue Jays edged the Hoyas just by one goal in overtime, giving them their tenth consecutive win.

Yet, both teams have improved since then. Georgetown did what they needed to with their strong end-of-season play with a seven-game win streak, while Hopkins earned quality wins against Northwestern, Ohio State and Penn State.

"I'm sure they're a lot different now like we are," said Fried. "It's been a month and a half so I'm going to take a long look at film and see where they are. Taylor [D'Amore] is somebody that you don't necessarily stop but more so contain. She's kind of the engine that makes their team run and their offense run. So it's really more containing her and taking away her vision as much as possible."

Georgetown will need to focus their defensive efforts on Tewaaraton nominee D'Amore who has been hot all season long with the most points per game in the country. The Hoyas will try to make her "more one dimensional," or in other words, make sure she's not the double threat as a strong offensive player who can both score and feed.

Dene' DiMartino, who scored six points for the Blue Jays in their last meeting, is another key player Georgetown needs to keep an eye on, forcing her out of the open lanes to goal.

Hopkins coach Janine Tucker said her squad is truly "battle-tested" and is ready to take on the Hoyas. But their history speaks for itself.

"When you look at our history, it's always a good game between Hopkins and Georgetown," Tucker said.

Hopkins will need to stop Georgetown's key strengths of clearing, riding and draw controls.

"It's going to be a battle, straight up," said Tucker. "We're familiar with them. We match up really well. So we're going turn our girls loose and see what shakes out."

Seeded Too High

No. 6 Virginia

Three of their losses came from unranked teams – Loyola, Princeton and Duke. With Loyola's play against Syracuse losing only by two in overtime, one may be bold enough to say that Loyola should be considered a better squad. However, Virginia's third-ranked SOS as an ACC team and win over Duke in the ACC tournament likely earned them a bye.

"UVA plays a very tough schedule in the ACC and outside of that as well," said Adams. "You never know what's in the mind of the selectors and it's just such a lengthy process. It's certainly a job that I don't even know if I could do. I'm quite happy to sit back and let them handle it. The ACC is certainly the powerhouse."

When discussing the top eight seeds with Tucker, she seemed to be caught off guard by how everything shaped up.

"I was surprised with some of the teams that were seeded and that got byes and I was surprised at the different matchups with who is in what bracket, but again it is what is, and it's out of my control," said Tucker. "Honestly at this point, the committee made their decision based on whether it was travel or RPI or significant wins or losses but sometimes you can't really explain it. We weren't in the room. But one thing we do know is we're in."

Is she hinting at Virginia? Or maybe Northwestern? Hopkins defeated Northwestern 12-11 in double overtime on April 13, but the Wildcats earned the No. 5 seed ahead of Virginia.

Seeded Too Low

No. 7 Boston College

Although Boston College lost to ACC rivals Maryland and North Carolina in the regular season, both were one-goal games. They may have lost to Virginia as well by two, but Virginia lost to Maryland twice – by five goals the first time and six goals the second – and to North Carolina by four goals.

Both the RPI and SOS rank in top 10 for the Eagles. Plus, Boston College boasts an overall better record of 13-5, while Virginia's sits at 10-8. So arguably, the Eagles could've been bumped above Virginia.

Team To Watch

Loyola

With their recent competition against Syracuse, losing by only two goals, the Greyhounds deserve a nod during tournament play.

"We've shown that we can play with the best teams in the nation with Syracuse taking the [No.] 2 seed and us playing them into overtime," said Adams. "It's hard and very devastating to lose that game when we had a good little lead going into the last few minutes of the game."

That game has fired them up, she continued, and with Marlee Paton as an "invaluable" asset, Loyola is confidant as they prepare for Massachusetts. Their team depth is greater this year than ever before with threats like Annie Thomas on offense and Maddy Lesher on defense. It's all about playing "consistent Loyola lacrosse and 60 minutes of it."

"Once you get to playoff time, it's any given day and any given team can take the win and survive and advance."

Upset Alert

Louisville over Ohio State

Louisville and Ohio State will meet again in the first round of the NCAA Tournament after a regular season matchup that resulted in the Buckeyes winning 12-11. But that was back in March. It now May, two months since that game, and both squads have improved, especially Louisville.

Louisville is riding the excitement of its first Big East tournament title with a victory over Georgetown, which also secured its first NCAA tournament appearance. Although the Cardinals may be new to the dance, they will be gunning for the win this time to continue their 11-game win streak. In 2013, they posted a 12-11 decision over Ohio State, so it has always been a back-and-forth battle.

As a tough ALC team in a conference that is said to pride itself with the next best teams behind the ACC, Ohio State will likely be the favorite going into Friday's contest.

...But don't count out the new kids on the block.

Best Potential Matchups

North Carolina vs. Georgetown/Johns Hopkins (Second Round)

Regardless of who wins the Georgetown-Hopkins matchup, North Carolina has a challenging game ahead of them.

The Tar Heels may have defeated Georgetown back in March, but looking at their head-to-head competition, one of North Carolina's four losses came from the hands of Duke. But behold, the Hoyas edged Duke 11-10 also in March.

Similarly, comparing North Carolina and Hopkins, Northwestern was the first team to beat the then-No. 1 Tar Heels, whereas the Blue Jays defeated Northwestern in double overtime in April.

"UNC is an awesome team, but at this point in the season, when you're in the NCAA tournament, it's anyone's ball game," said Tucker. "You have to take care of business and stick to our philosophies and style. It can really go any way any day against any team."

Syracuse vs. Stony Brook (Second Round)

If Stony Brook beats Towson, Syracuse will face the Seawolves and their coach definitely believes in the notion that a smaller team can make a name for itself.

"Albany lost by two to Syracuse earlier in the season and we've played Albany a couple times," Stony Brook coach Joe Spallina said. "Listen, it comes down to being better for 60 minutes. You don't have to be better for six months – just 60 minutes. It's a situation our kids have been in. We're not going into the NCAAs to roll over and play dead for anybody. We're going in to try to win games."

Stony Brook topped Albany twice this season, 8-4 in the regular season and 7-1 in the America East championship game.

Syracuse recently went into overtime against Loyola, winning by a slim margin of two, and also downed Albany by two. But these two smaller schools are teams that many wouldn't expect to play so well against the second-best team in the country. Stony Brook could potentially have a shot as well to give the Orange a run for their money.

To get there though, Spallina knows what's coming for them in the first round against Towson. The Seawolves played them last year – also in the first round – so their odds against the Tigers may be good under the dome, especially with their strong defense behind the nation's best goalie Frankie Caridi.

As far as the bracket shaped up, this is what Spallina had to say:

"It's interesting how the NCAA decided to put the America East champ and the CAA champ to play Syracuse because obviously they're one of the ACC finalists."

And the surprises continue to abound for Division I coaches during various discussions of the bracket. We will just have to wait and see how everything plays out. Will there be more surprises? Only time will tell.

But Don't Be Surprised If...

We see an unexpected upset over one or more of the top eight seeded teams. Take Northwestern for example. The Wildcats lost to unranked Ohio State and Hopkins. Then look at the Virginia squad, who lost to Loyola, Princeton and Duke, and also Notre Dame who lost to Stanford and Ohio State. Many of the unranked teams will be gunning for the top seeds after seeing the results of the selection show.


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