April 26, 2011

Tuesdays with Corey: NCAA Division I Bracketology, First Edition

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com

Freshman sensation Nicky Galasso and North Carolina might not be the NCAA tournament shoo-ins you think, especially not if any of the conference tournament favorites get upset and flood the at-large pool.

© Peyton Williams

Who's in? Who's out? Who still has a chance? With Selection Sunday less than two weeks away, the NCAA Division I men's lacrosse tournament bracket has taken some kind of shape. But it's still not clearly defined by any means. There are still key games and conference tournaments to be played, and if there are upsets in those, the bracket could look significantly different in two weeks.

Below is how it looks to me right now, assuming the favorites in the six conferences with automatic NCAA qualifying berths (America East, CAA, ECAC, Ivy League, MAAC and Patriot League) win their postseason tournaments. After those are decided, there are 10 at-large berths up for grabs. Eight teams are seeded. The remaining eight will be placed geographically. Higher seeds host a first-round game, then one set of quarterfinals will be held on Long Island at Hofstra, and the other at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. Then the big dance in Baltimore.

There are some easy seeds to slot, but many are difficult to declare as 100-percent correct. Judgment calls are needed, and so is looking at factors like strength of schedule, RPI, head-to-head results and quality wins or losses. These are my opinions based on the NCAA selection criteria. (Note: Strength of schedule and RPI, two of the criteria, are from LaxPower.com, which uses the NCAA formula. The NCAA had not released its rankings as of Monday night.)

The Seeds

1. Notre Dame (10-0, at-large)
Strength of schedule: 12; RPI: 2; Wins of note: Denver, Duke, Villanova, Penn State, Drexel

The Fighting Irish are still undefeated so they take the top seed for now. Wins over Syracuse and North Carolina to close the season would guarantee them the top seed.

Remaining games: Saturday at Syracuse, May 6 at North Carolina

2. Syracuse (12-1, at-large)
SOS: 3; RPI: 1; Wins of note: Johns Hopkins, Denver, Duke, Villanova, Virginia, Army

If the Orange beat Notre Dame Saturday, it would take over the top spot. A loss, however, would drop them behind Cornell, which beat the Orange head-to-head. I generally don't like to put the losing team of a head-to-head matchup (Syracuse) ahead of the winner (Cornell) when you could split hairs about who should be ranked higher. But Syracuse's strength of schedule and number quality wins are too much for me to drop them below a two seed, even with the loss to Cornell. Some would still have the Orange at No. 1.

Remaining games: Saturday vs. Notre Dame, May 7 vs. St. John's

3. Cornell (10-2, Ivy League automatic qualifier)
SOS: 9; RPI: 3; Wins of note: Syracuse, Penn, Yale, Stony Brook, Harvard

The Syracuse win was big no doubt, but the rest of their quality wins are against the second-tier of national contenders. Also can't forget the Big Red lost to Army and Virginia.

Remaining games: Saturday vs. Princeton, then Ivy League tournament

4. Johns Hopkins (10-2, at-large)
SOS: 16; RPI: 6; Wins of note: Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Delaware

The eye test? The Blue Jays pass it; i.e. building a 10-0 halftime lead on Navy Saturday night. Hopkins looks to be in a good position, but they have some intriguing games left with Loyola and Army, two teams trying to help their own tournament hopes.

Remaining games: Saturday vs. Loyola, May 6 at Army

5. Maryland (10-3, at-large)
SOS: 15; RPI: 11; Wins of note: Duke, Virginia, North Carolina

Had Maryland not won the ACC tournament, they wouldn't be in this position. But the tournament allowed them the chance to play North Carolina and Duke again, and defeat them both.

Remaining game: May 7 vs. Colgate

6. Duke (11-5, at-large)
SOS: 13; RPI: 5; Wins of note: Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia (twice), Loyola

Duke edges Denver for the six seed even though the Pioneers beat the Blue Devils at a neutral site on Long Island. This is for reasons similar to why Syracuse is ahead of Cornell. Duke's overall resume is stronger than Denver's.

Remaining game: Saturday at Jacksonville.

7. Denver (10-2, ECAC automatic qualifier)
SOS: 27; RPI: 8: Wins of note: Duke, Loyola

Denver has the big win over Duke, but the Pioneers next most noteworthy victory is over Loyola. That's not as an impressive of a list as some other seeds. But then again, their two losses are to Notre Dame and Syracuse, the top two seeds. If Denver wins the ECAC tournament, it will host an NCAA first-round game.

Remaining games: Saturday vs. Fairfield, May 5 (ECAC tournament semifinals)

8. Bucknell (12-2, Patriot League automatic qualifier)
SOS: 33; RPI; 9; Wins of note: Villanova, Army, Penn State, Colgate

Three teams – Bucknell, Villanova or Hofstra – could make cases for the final seed here. The Bison get the edge because of a head-to-head win over Villanova (which doesn't have a ton of impressive wins) and Hofstra's relative lack of impressive wins given the Pride's weak schedule. If Bucknell wins the Patriot League title it should carry more weight than Villanova's two losses to Syracuse to Notre Dame, even though those two games gave Villanova a better strength of schedule than Bucknell.

Remaining games: Friday vs. Lehigh (Patriot League tournament semifinals)

The Rest

Villanova (9-3, at-large)
SOS: 11; RPI: 4; Wins of note: Penn, Penn State, Delaware

The Big East will have a third team in the postseason. It's just a matter of if Villanova ends up being the third seeded team from the conference as well.

Remaining games: Tuesday vs. Rutgers, Saturday vs. Providence; May 7 at Georgetown

Hofstra (12-1, CAA automatic qualifier)
SOS: 37; RPI: 10; Wins of note: Colgate, Harvard, Drexel, UMass

A weak strength of schedule really hurts Hofstra, but you can't ignore the Pride's 12-1 record and recent 13-3 thumping of UMass at a neutral site Saturday.

Remaining games: Saturday vs. Penn State, May 4 (CAA tournament semifinals)

Virginia (8-5, at-large)
SOS: 1, RPI: 7; Wins of note: Cornell, North Carolina, Stony Brook, Drexel

Despite its struggles, Virginia still appears safe to make the tournament. A loss to Penn on Saturday, however, could give them a much tougher first-round game.

Remaining game: Saturday vs. Penn

North Carolina (9-5, at-large)
SOS: 5; RPI: 13; Wins of note: Maryland, Penn

North Carolina's tournament hopes may not be as stable as one would think. Should Penn upset Virginia and one of the conference postseason tournament favorites be upset, the Tar Heels could be squarely on the bubble.

Remaining game: May 6 vs. Notre Dame

Penn (8-4, at-large)
SOS: 10; RPI: 12; Wins of note: Duke, Bucknell, Yale, Harvard

Had it not been for a 12-6 loss to North Carolina, Penn would have a resume that rivals any of the top eight, and it could be argued the Quakers have a great resume right now. Their only other losses were to Cornell and Villanova in overtime, and they lost to Brown by a goal.

Remaining games: Saturday at Virginia, May 6 (Ivy League tournament semifinals)

Stony Brook (8-3, America East automatic qualifier)
SOS: 25; RPI: 14: Win of note: Delaware

The Seawolves lost to the two toughest teams on their schedule, Cornell and Virginia, and beat a bunch of weaker teams they were supposed to. If they don't win the America East AQ, Stony Brook will be on the outside looking in.

Remaining games: Saturday at Vermont; May 4 (America East tournament semifinals)

Last Two In

Yale (10-2, at-large)
SOS: 44; RPI: 19; Wins of note: Georgetown, Princeton

Yale's notable wins aren't that notable, and it holds this last at-large spot by default. Its season as whole and success in the Ivy League is slightly more impressive than the seasons of some other bubble teams like Army, Loyola, Colgate, Penn State or Delaware.

Remaining games: Saturday at Harvard, May 6 (Ivy League tournament semifinals)

Detroit Mercy (5-8, MAAC automatic qualifier)
SOS: 57; RPI: 51

Detroit Mercy, which beat Siena and Canisius in conference, is in the driver's seat for the top seed in the MAAC tournament. But this is a one-bid league for sure, and the winner of the tournament will either play the No. 1 or No. 2 seed in NCAAs.

Remaining games: Saturday at Marist, May 6 (MAAC tournament semifinals)

First Two Out

Army (9-4)
SOS: 41; RPI: 23; Win of note: Cornell

Army, even with the win against Cornell and looking great in some other games this season, just doesn't have enough other good wins to make the tournament as an at-large team. The Black Knights have also lost to Bucknell, Colgate and UMass. They need a good Patriot League tournament run.

Remaining games: Friday vs. Colgate (Patriot League semifinals)

Loyola (8-3)
SOS: 18, RPI: 15; Win of note: Georgetown

The Greyhounds will likely have to win the ECAC tournament in Denver to get a berth.

Remaining games: Saturday at Johns Hopkins, May 5 (ECAC tournament semifinals).

Next Two Out

Penn State (7-5)
SOS: 20; RPI: 17; Wins of note: Drexel, UMass, Delaware

The Nittany Lions have hung around the top 20 media and coaches polls all year, but they won the games expected and lost the games expected. They close the regular season at Hofstra. A win there could put them on a nicer part of the bubble.

Remaining games: Saturday at Hofstra, May 4 (CAA semifinals)

Colgate (9-4)
SOS: 38; RPI: 18; Win of note: Army

The Raiders can also help their cause in the Patriot League tournament. A win would be needed get in.

Remaining games: Friday vs. Army (Patriot League semifinals)

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