Bracket Breakdown: NCAA Division I Men
There's no escaping Hofstra, which Johns Hopkins dropped from its schedule this year. The presumptive "last team in" will visit Homewood Field in a first-round matchup.
After a tumultuous week featuring several upsets in Division I men's lacrosse, the NCAA tournament selections surfaced Sunday with surprises based not so much on who was in and who was out, but rather who landed where. Here's a more comprehensive analysis of the field.
Last Team In
For the second straight year, Hofstra is the last team in; certainly nothing to hang your hat on.
After the Pride lost to Delaware in the CAA semifinals, coach Seth Tierney said he would pray that his team got into the NCAA tournament. Turns out they didn't need help from a higher calling. Their resume was just enough. Hofstra held head-to-head wins over Colgate and Harvard, two bubble teams in consideration for the final spot. They were also 4-2 against RPI top-20 teams, the best record of any of the bubble teams. Those attributes overrode the Pride's poor strength of schedule.
So the Pride is in the tournament, but is being treated as it should be -- like the last team in. They are the at-large team facing the highest-ranked opponent in third-seeded Johns Hopkins, which coincidentally dropped Hofstra from its schedule this season, a decision that helped contribute to the Pride's weak SOS.
First Team Out
Colgate coach Jim Nagle said Saturday afternoon, after the Raiders beat Maryland, 10-8, in College Park, "If they don't let us in, it's a crime." Consider the tournament selection committee guilty. Colgate's bugaboo ended up being that they had only one win against RPI top-20 teams (Maryland). Two wins against Army didn't look particularly great once the season was over, with the underwhelming season Army had. The Black Knights finished with an RRI of 27. Colgate's two bad losses — to Vermont and Binghamton — also didn't help. What probably hurt the most, however, was a head-to-head loss to Hofstra.
Maryland being unseeded really is a direct result of the committee deciding to seed Denver, and to seed Denver at No. 6. Several tournament projections, admittedly including my own, had the four ACC teams holding seeds five through eight with Denver the next best team. But the committee thought Denver -- with a 13-2 record, and its two losses both to RPI top-five teams (Syracuse, Notre Dame) -- deserved to be seeded above all but one of the ACC teams. That was Duke, ironically, the only ACC team Denver played and beat all season. Maryland's ACC tournament championship evidently didn't carry as much weight as it needed for the Terps, nor for Colgate, which was left out of the tournament despite beating the ACC champ to end the season Saturday.
Best First-Round Matchup
No. 8 North Carolina vs. Maryland (1 p.m. Sunday, ESPN)
It's the third round of this ACC battle. North Carolina won the first matchup 11-6 on March 26 in College Park. Maryland won the second, 7-6, on April 22 in the semifinals of the ACC tournament at Duke. This one is at North Carolina's Fetzer Field. The only ACC site these two won't play at this season is Virginia, a nice thought for Virginia coach Dom Starsia, who chimed in on this matchup Sunday night after the bracket announcement. "Maryland-North Carolina? I don't think anybody had that one on their early docket," Starsia said. "I'm very surprised to see that one. That's going to be a knock-down, drag-out battle in Chapel Hill."
Denver will host the first-ever NCAA Division I men's lacrosse tournament game west of the Mississippi, but did the Pioneers really deserve a No. 6 seed above three ACC competitors?
© Trevor Brown
No. 4 Notre Dame vs. Penn (2:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPNU)
Some, like ESPN analyst Paul Carcaterra, who made his feelings known during Sunday's selection show, are down on Penn -- and those observers have the right to feel that way. The Quakers beat Duke Feb. 26, and that win carried a lot of weight in building Penn's tournament resume. But that was way early in the season, before John Danowski reconfigured the Duke lineup into what made it successful the rest of the season. Penn faced a rigorous schedule, but it's last win against any of the 2011 participating tournament teams was versus Bucknell on March 1. Throw in Penn's 11-2 loss to Virginia April 30 and a loss to Harvard Friday in the semis of the Ivy League tournament, and you have a team appearing headed in the completely wrong direction.
Alas, the perfect team to pull an upset. Both these teams have lost two in a row. Notre Dame's confidence must be shaken a bit, ending the season with two losses to Syracuse and North Carolina. This could mean the Irish will be focused and hungry to move on to the quarterfinals. Or it could mean they are vulnerable and can be beaten again.
Also watch: No. 7 Virginia vs. Bucknell (thought I wouldn't consider this a huge upset if Bucknell wins), No. 5 Duke vs. Delaware
Easiest Title Route
This may be surprising given all the attention the North Carolina-Maryland first round game is getting and the fact of the winner of that will be a tough potential quarterfinal opponent for Syracuse. But if we're talking "easiest title route," that means a route and not just one stop. In other words, more than one round. The Orange has by far the easiest first round game of any team, against Siena. And the next two highest seeds in Syracuse's half of the bracket – Notre Dame and Duke – both have already lost to the Orange this season, relatively handily. Only thing after that is championship game.
Five Burning Questions
1. Will Johns Hopkins regret dropping Hofstra from its
regular season schedule?
Johns Hopkins dropped Hofstra from the schedule this season after several recent close games, including Pride wins in 2008 and 2010. But the Blue Jays can't run and hide now — nor will they. The Pride is coming to play at Homewood Field under direction of the NCAA tournament committee. What more motivation does Hofstra need? They didn't want to play us; now they have to. The Pride is a dangerous team despite the circumstances with an offense led by Jay Card, Jamie Lincoln and Stephen Bentz (119 combined points among the trio), a 66-percent faceoff winner in John Antoniades and now steady and veteran junior goaltender Andrew Gvozden. Keep an eye out for the pregame handshake between Dave Pietramala and Hofstra coach Seth Tierney, Pietramala's former assistant at Hopkins.
Hofstra also has some extra incentive. It can return to campus on Long Island to play the next weekend, despite being unseeded. Hofstra is the site of the quarterfinal rounds in the top half of the bracket, where the first-round game with Hopkins is located.
2. Will Denver live up to its seed?
If there are any skeptics of the bracket, they will point to Denver's No. 6 seed as perhaps being higher than it should be. The Pioneers went 13-2 and beat Duke, but that was their only win against an RPI top-10 team. Maryland, the ACC champ unseeded in this tournament, was 3-3 against the RPI top-10. Denver's two losses were to Syracuse and Notre Dame (by a goal), so it's hard to argue completely against their No. 6 seed, but there is at least an argument that one or more of the ACC teams should have been seeded higher than Denver. Nevertheless, the Pioneers will host Villanova in the first NCAA tournament game west of the Mississippi River. It's a landmark game for college lacrosse. But let's not forget that for all the deserved recognition Denver has received this season, it is still looking for its first tournament win.
3. Who wins the potential rematches?
There is one definite rematch (North Carolina-Maryland for the third time), and some enticing rematch possibilities:
-Cornell-Virginia in the quarterfinals. Virginia won the first, 11-9, March 12 at the Baltimore Ravens stadium.
-Notre Dame-Duke in the quarterfinals. Notre Dame won the first, Feb. 20 at the Jacksonville Jaguars stadium.
-Syracuse-Duke/Notre Dame in semifinals. Syracuse beat them both, and won over Duke at the New Meadowlands. The Orange beat Notre Dame in the Carrier Dome.
-Syracuse-Cornell in the championship game. Cornell won 11-6, April 12 at the Carrier Dome. Syracuse played most of the game without close defenseman John Lade (ankle). He would have covered Tewaaraton favorite Rob Pannell for the duration. Pannell finished with three goals and three assists. Could Lade have limited him to fewer?
4. Does Duke's No. 5 seed mean good karma?
Well, well, well. The Blue Devils are once again the fifth seed in the tournament. Remember they won it all last Memorial Day with that number next to their name on the bracket sheet. It's quite a remarkable similarity they are seeded fifth in this tournament, given the challenges this team faced of replacing so many seniors from the year before.
But there's new blue blood on the field for Duke now: freshmen attackers Jordan Wolf and Christian Walsh, and freshman faceoff guy Brendan Fowler, a former Long Island wrestler. They're mixed in with some seasoned players in Zach Howell, Tom Montelli, C.J. Costabile. It's the 2011 Duke team now. Sorry, Ned Crotty and Max Quinzani.
5. Will Syracuse win its third title in four
If so, this Syracuse senior class, which is already the winningest is program history (59 wins, seven losses), will be able to say losing to Army last year in the first round was just an aberration.
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