May 3, 2013

Weekender: Podesta Prepping for MCLA Selections

by Jac Coyne | | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Teams like St. John's are easy for the selection committee to select and seed, but there will be plenty of challenging decisions ahead for MCLA selection committee chairman Gary Podesta and his acolytes on Sunday.
© Cecil Copeland

Gary Podesta will have his hands full this Sunday when he has conference calls with members of the two MCLA selection committees to formulate this year's dueling sets of 16-team brackets. Podesta, who is in his first season as the selection committee chairman after taking over for Ken Lovic, won't be going into the calls cold — he's conducted several confabs leading up to this point — but it still won't make it any easier.

Podesta's title would lead one to believe that he holds the deciding vote or has the final say in criteria matters, but he's actually more of a facilitator. He refers to himself as a "moderator." During the calls, he'll bring up different concepts, provide necessary team data and, on occasion, steer a wayward conversation back toward its ultimate goal.

"It's a whole lot more work than I thought," confessed Podesta.

The work began nearly three months ago when Podesta set out to lend more credibility to the weekly polls that have always been a tool in the MCLA selection and seeding process. He upped the number of pollsters to three from each conference per division (although not every conference utilized all three) and sent out countless reminders to coaches in hopes of having the most representative poll as possible.

Getting 30 coaches who often have other commitments outside of lacrosse to submit ballots by Monday at noon can be like herding cats and creating a poll that accurately reflects such a geographically diverse organization as the MCLA is not easy. But Podesta's persistence has paid off.

"At least based on what the selection committees have said, they do take a look at it and it has more credibility," Podesta said of the polls.

Another challenge for Podesta has been switching back and forth between the two divisional committees. While their overall mandate is the same — get the worthiest teams to Greenville — they don't follow the same playbook in arriving there.

"There is a big difference between how the committees wanted to handle their business," he said.

There's also a sub-dynamic. Division II has brought back many of the members from last year's selection process, allowing them to hit the ground running in terms of formulating which teams have met the necessary criteria. In D-I, there has been a hefty turnover, with former Duluth head coach Rob Graff and Florida State head man Bill Harkins being the only returning members. As such, there was a feeling-out process in many of the early meetings as new ideas were introduced to make the selections.

"There are some big personalities," said Podesta with a chuckle. "And then there are some guys who kind of throw in some gems here and there."

Selecting the tournament brackets, which will be released on Monday, according to Podesta, will undoubtedly involve some tough decisions in both selection and seeding, especially since Podesta said that each committee will try to avoid both conference and repeat games in the first round. With as often as the top teams in both divisions play each other, as well as the fact that the D-I bracket could feature nine teams from just three leagues, it will be virtually impossible to satisfy both of those requirements.

But that's part of the process, and something that Podesta's hard work all season should make go smoothly on Sunday.

"I'll be interested to see how they do it when it comes down to the end," Podesta said.

It's Still About the Wins

There will be plenty of criteria and discussion on the final MCLA conference call, but both committees reconfirmed the primacy of winning games against quality competition.

"When we're trying to isolate these teams that are in contention for the at-large, do we go with the complete breadth of who they have played, and that would take into account ranked losses? Almost to a person they all said 'It is all about wins,'" Podesta said of his conversations with the committee. "It's great that you scheduled hard and you are playing these games, but if you are not winning those games, then you're not going to be in the mix."

Teams playing this weekend should also understand that the committees will be taking into account the arc of their season. It's important to finish strong.

"It's not what you did at the beginning, it's how you finish," Podesta said. "If you falter at the end, it could be a death sentence for you, especially in Division I."

Avoiding the Bad Seeds

Heading into this weekend's events, there is basically a sub-tournament working in conjunction with the overall MCLA playoffs. Through strength of schedule, and just about every other criterion, the Top 6 teams in the bracket appear to be already set, and they involve the three top teams from both the RMLC and the SLC. As such, the results of those conference tournaments will have a bearing on Greenville, but only in the micro sense.

Colorado State, Colorado, Chapman, Arizona State, Brigham Young and UC Santa Barbara all enter their respective league playoffs with relatively little to gain — they are all pretty much boxed into the first six slots — but there will be some reshuffling before Sunday comes to a close. That may initially appear to be inconsequential, but there is a subtle importance.

There's no getting around the fact that Colorado State is the team no one wants to face, and the reality is even if the Rams lost in the RMLC tourney, they are still going to be in the big chair when the seedings are announced. And while none of the five other teams would openly admit to it, they want to see CSU as far down the road as possible. As such, in all of the jockeying that will be going on this weekend, the Nos. 4 and 5 seeds — the most likely spots to see Alex Smith's meatgrinder in the semifinals — are not where the remaining squads want to see their roulette ball rest.

Obviously, there's no way that any of the teams could possibly predict where they'll end up, and certainly not in such a situation where there is very little room for movement. And, of course, each will do all it can to win every games in front of it. But when the dust settles on Sunday evening, there will be a couple of teams with national title aspirations looking enviously at the teams just below it and, perhaps more surprisingly, just above it.

Calculating the Bottom Shelf

We can already comfortably fill in the back portion of the bracket. The GRLC qualifier, which could come from a host of candidates, along with Texas and Georgia, are going to comprise the last three seeds in some order.

Everyone can agree that whichever program comes out of the GRLC — Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Purdue, Missouri or Illinois State — is going to be driving the caboose in the 2013 MCLA train. Every one of those Midwest teams is simultaneously trying to figure out how to snag the automatic qualifier as well as finding a friendly TSA agent who will delay Colorado State's stick bags for 48 hours.

The difference between the Longhorns and Bulldogs is more delicate. Georgia (15-4) and Texas (13-3) have comparable overall records, each has gone winless against the Top 10 competition it has run up against and each has, from an eyeball test, a similar strength of schedule. Further, neither conference can definitively put itself above the other in terms of overall power, although it could be argued that the SELC has a slight edge, but that is mostly due to the sheer number of teams it sponsors.

What's the tiebreaker? The committee has the luxury of having the coach of the only team that has faced both teams on its conference call. Florida State head man Bill Harkins watched Texas beat his Seminoles on Feb. 16, 14-3, at a neutral site and then view Georgia make the trip to Gainesville and post an 11-6 victory against his squad two weeks later. That is first-hand information that will come in handy during seeding time.

Will Harkins be the final arbiter of where these two teams end up? Of course not. The committee will take into account all of the information at their disposal, and perhaps use Harkins' guidance as one of its many guideposts. And, to be honest, UT and UGA will likely be dueling to see who plays Colorado and who plays Chapman – both quick tickets to the consolation round.

With all that said, I'll take Georgia at No. 14 and Texas at No. 15.

Who Grabs Dayton's Spot?

It was just two short weeks ago when projecting the Division II field caused much angst for me, but from that time to now, the junior circuit has come far more into focus. We're to a point where there appears to be just one uncertain spot left. It could have been a lot easier if Dayton, one of stalwarts of D-II, had not put all of its eggs into an absurdly small scheduling basket, as the open seed has been reserved for the Flyers for much of the season.

The last slot is a low seed, somewhere between Nos. 13-16, and it has one viable candidate as far as I'm concerned. SCAD's 8-7 record doesn't look pretty, but the Bees have the juice to make the trip to Greenville.

SCAD has played nine games against ranked teams this spring, including seven — Liberty (2), Coast Guard, Grand Valley State, Palm Beach Atlantic, Sam Houston State and Elon — who are likely already tourney bound. Yes, the Bees are only 1-6 against those probables, but they do have what their closest competitors (Florida Gulf Coast, Cal State Fullerton) don't have, and that's a Top 10 win (Palm Beach Atlantic). Even if Grand Valley State wins the CCLA and matriculates into the Top 10, SCAD still beat FGCU head-to-head.

Division II got thinned out this year with Dayton's nosedive as well as the departure of Grand Canyon and Davenport – three former postseason locks – and it doesn't have the depth it had just a year ago. But SCAD still belongs among the division's Top 16 (assuming the SLC and PCLL play out to form).

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