April 30, 2012

The Monday Midfielder: Bracketology, Second Edition

by Matt Forman | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Notre Dame sits on top of Matt Forman's NCAA tournament projection after another wild weekend of games. The Irish can solidify the No. 1 overall seed with a Big East tournament championship this week.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com 

The final weekend of the regular season put a fitting stamp on 2012. More than anything, there have been two primary — and related — takeaways:

- No team is safe. (We're looking at you, Villanova.)

- One-goal games are the norm, or at least should be expected. There were seven such games this weekend, and that actually seems low for the season average.

"We're a good team. I don't think we're great yet," Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said following Saturday's one-goal, 10-9 overtime defeat of Loyola. "I think we're like a lot of other teams. Sometimes we can't get out of our own way."

What does it mean? Almost certainly May Madness. And if you haven't noticed, it's right around the corner. Tomorrow is May 1.

There was some moving and shaking in the Bracketology world after the weekend's games. The names of the national seeds have remained the same, though their order has been shuffled. But more importantly, the bubble has gotten extremely tight.

Congratulations are in order for Lehigh, which earned the first guaranteed berth to the NCAA tournament by winning the Patriot League tournament — it's also the school's first trip to the postseason. The remaining six conference qualifiers — America East, Big East, CAA, ECAC, Ivy League, MAAC — will be decided within the week.

Here's how the Monday Midfielder sees it shaking out, using some combination of projection with how things currently stand...

(Note: Strength of schedule and RPI are courtesy of LaxPower, which uses the NCAA formulas, as of Monday morning.)

The Seeds

1. Notre Dame (11-1, Big East automatic qualifier)

Last week: No. 3
Strength of schedule: 11
RPI: 1
Wins of note: Duke, Villanova, Denver, Ohio State, Drexel
Remaining games: Big East Tournament; Thursday vs. St. John's (semifinals)

The Fighting Irish beat Syracuse for the first time in program history Saturday, 8-6, at sold-out Arlotta Stadium, posting a perfect 6-0 Big East regular-season record. If Notre Dame wins the conference tournament next week — no easy task, as the others will be fighting for their postseason lives — coach Kevin Corrigan's squad has the inside track for the No. 1 overall seed. Head-to-head wins earlier in the season over Denver and Ohio State strengthened last weekend. Plus, the Committee has historically rewarded the team with the No. 1 RPI with the top national spot.

In summary, two tweets from defensive coordinator Gerry Byrne:

— What is griND? if dont know now know. Heading back to Philthy for Big East Tourney on Weds morn, Game on Thursday on @ESPNULacrosse

— This trophy is nice for Big East Regular Season Title, but we have 6 more games to win for the ring http://pic.twitter.com/5BNyrqxn

2. Duke (13-4, at-large)

Last week: No. 1
Strength of schedule: 3
RPI: 4
Wins of note: Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina (twice)
Remaining games: None

Duke's 15-9 defeat at the hands of Denver didn't hurt its overall positioning too much, as it still has arguably the nation's strongest resume — the Blue Devils are the only team with both a top-5 strength of schedule and RPI. Duke will host a first-round game, and might still have a case for the No. 1 overall seed, depending on what happens in conference tournaments.

3. Loyola (12-1, ECAC automatic qualifier)

Last week: No. 2
Strength of schedule: 27
RPI: 3
Wins of note: Duke, Fairfield, Ohio State, Denver
Remaining games: ECAC Tournament; Wednesday vs. Denver (semifinals)

Loyola lost its 13th straight against Charles Street corridor rival Johns Hopkins, 10-9 in overtime, ending its bid for a perfect season. But, with four teams ranking in the RPI top-16, the ECAC's overall status keeps improving, and Loyola is 6-0 in conference play. If the Greyhounds beat Denver and the winner of Fairfield-Ohio State, they immediately re-enter the conversation for the national No. 1 seed.

4. UMass (13-0, CAA automatic qualifier)

Last week: No. 4
Strength of schedule: 26
RPI: 2
Wins of note: Penn State, Bucknell, Ohio State, Drexel
Remaining games: CAA Tournament; Wednesday vs. Towson (semifinals)

Will Manny's eight-point effort powered Massachusetts to a 17-6 win over Delaware, as the Minutemen remained undefeated and stopped a string of two straight CAA titles for the Blue Hens.

Would the Committee to rank UMass outside of the nation's top four seeds if it wins the conference championship? Despite having no RPI top-10 wins, the Minutemen have a slightly stronger strength of schedule and RPI than Loyola. In 2009, unbeaten Notre Dame was seeded seventh. Will that precedent hold?

5. North Carolina (10-5, at-large)

Last week: No. 5
Strength of schedule: 5
RPI: 8
Wins of note: Virginia, Maryland, Johns Hopkins, Penn State, Princeton
Remaining games: Saturday vs. Michigan

Not a bad weekend to sit back and watch, huh? North Carolina was idle while conference foes Duke and Virginia traveled to Denver for the Mile High Classic; the Blue Devils lost to Denver, the Cavaliers got past Penn but were tied after three quarters. Plus Johns Hopkins, Penn State and Princeton all won this weekend, bolstering Carolina's resume.

Head-to-head victories over Hopkins, Maryland and Virginia (with whom they split two meetings) will give the Tar Heels a lot of leverage at the seeding table.

6. Johns Hopkins (10-3, at-large)

Last week: No. 8
Strength of schedule: 12
RPI: 5
Wins of note: Loyola, Virginia, Princeton
Remaining games: Saturday vs. Army

As Pietramala said after the Blue Jays beat cross-town rival Loyola 10-9 in overtime: One week Hopkins is going to win the national title, the next week the sky is falling at Homewood. Things look pretty good now, after the Blue Jays got past the Greyhounds. It gave Hopkins a pair of top-10 RPI victories, and solidified its spot as a first-round host — though it'll have to take care of business against Army.

7. Virginia (11-3, at-large)

Last week: No. 7
Strength of schedule: 10
RPI: 7
Wins of note: North Carolina, Maryland, Cornell, Ohio State
Remaining games: None

Steele Stanwick's six-goal splurge sent Virginia to a 10-8 victory over Penn in the Mile High Classic. It didn't do much for the Cavaliers' resume, but it might be exactly what the doctor ordered: Last year, the late-season defeat of the Quakers sent Virginia on a path to the national championship — as the No. 7 national seed.

8. Maryland (9-4, at-large)

Last week: No. 6
Strength of schedule: 17
RPI: 10
Wins of note: Duke, Johns Hopkins, Villanova
Remaining games: Saturday at Colgate

Fairly or not, Maryland bumps down two spots in the national seeding after notching weekend wins over Mt. St. Mary's and Bellarmine, which hurt the Terrapins strength of schedule and RPI. Maryland might be at risk of not hosting a first-round game, even if it beats Colgate on Saturday — remember, the Raiders topped Terps 10-8 last year.

The Rest

Dante Fantoni and Lehigh knocked off Colgate in the Patriot League championship game on Sunday to lock up the first berth to the NCAA tournament.
© Greg Wall 

Lehigh (14-2, Patriot League automatic qualifier)

Strength of schedule: 29
RPI: 6
Wins of note: North Carolina, Penn State, Colgate, Bucknell
Remaining games: None

The Mountain Hawks became the first team to qualify for the NCAA tournament with a thrilling 16-14 defeat of Colgate in the Patriot League championship. Lehigh is known for its hard-nosed, fast-sliding defense, but has scored 45 goals combined in its last three games.

Could Lehigh host a first-round game? It's certainly possible, especially if Colgate tops Maryland on Saturday. The Mountain Hawks' resume compares favorably to that of Denver in 2011.

Colgate (13-2, at-large)

Strength of schedule: 28
RPI: 9
Wins of note: Lehigh, Fairfield, Bucknell
Remaining games: Saturday vs. Maryland

Colgate's resume isn't all that different from Lehigh, and the teams split their head-to-head meetings this year, with the Raiders taking the regular-season meeting 11-10 in overtime. Colgate's body of work should be enough to land a tournament berth, as long as nothing crazy happens in the Big East or CAA tournaments. Or, a win against Maryland would give the Raiders a second top-10 victory and all but guarantee an at-large.

Penn State (9-5, at-large)

Strength of schedule: 2
RPI: 11
Wins of note: Notre Dame, Ohio State, Villanova, Drexel
Remaining games: CAA Tournament; Wednesday vs. Drexel (semifinals)

Penn State won its fifth straight game, 9-8, on Shane Sturgis' overtime game-winner. The victory eliminated Hofstra from CAA Tournament contention, and all but secured the Nittany Lions' NCAA berth — especially if they take care of Drexel in the conference semifinals. After last weekend, a third CAA bid seems just out of reach. Penn State's defeat of No. 1 RPI Notre Dame is huge for its postseason positioning.

Princeton (10-3, Ivy League automatic qualifier)

Strength of schedule: 18
RPI: 12
Wins of note: Villanova, Cornell
Remaining games: Ivy League Tournament; Friday vs. Brown (semifinals)

The Ivy League is looking less and less like a two-bid league, and Princeton is looking more and more like its lone representative after cruising past Cornell 14-9. The Tigers snapped Cornell's decade-long league championship streak, and in the process ensured the conference tournament would be held in the friendly confines of Class of 1952 Stadium. A rematch with the Big Red could come Sunday.

Denver (8-5, at-large)

Strength of schedule: 14
RPI: 13
Wins of note: Penn State, Duke
Remaining games: ECAC Tournament; Wednesday vs. Loyola (semifinals)

Denver might just ride the strength of its 15-9 win over Duke to an NCAA tournament berth. And frankly, who would feel comfortable facing the Pioneers in the first round? Four of Denver's five losses were one-goal games — three of which came in overtime — and the other was to Loyola. Coach Bill Tierney's team has a chance to avenge that loss to the Greyhounds, and put an exclamation point on its postseason positioning, on Wednesday's rematch.

Fairfield (11-3, at-large)

Strength of schedule: 28
RPI: 15
Wins of note: Denver
Remaining games: ECAC Tournament; Wednesday vs. Ohio State (semifinals)

Well, credit Fairfield for making the bubble extra interesting. The way we see it, there are three ECAC teams — Fairfield, Denver and Ohio State — competing for the final two at-large spots. The Stags slipped against Ohio State on Saturday, and now the teams will meet four days later in the conference tournament. Right now, Fairfield has only one quality win.

Stony Brook (5-9, America East automatic qualifier)

Strength of schedule: 38
RPI: 39
Wins of note: Delaware, UMBC
Remaining games: America East Tournament; Wednesday vs. Hartford (semifinals)

No America East team can finish better than .500 (UMBC had a chance but lost to Binghamton), but someone will get the conference's automatic qualifier. Stony Brook has the inside track for now, after beating Albany 12-11 to take its third consecutive conference crown.

Siena (10-4, MAAC automatic qualifier)

Strength of schedule: 55
RPI: 32
Wins of note: Stony Brook
Remaining games: MAAC Tournament; Friday vs. Marist (semifinals)

Siena topped Manhattan 12-4 on Saturday, keeping its unblemished conference record. The Saints beat Stony Brook, but two of their four losses — Albany and Binghamton — were to America East teams. If Siena wins the conference tournament, it will have the pleasure of playing either the No. 1 or 2 national seed.

First Two Out

Cornell has one top-20 win and likely has to win the Ivy League tournament to make the big show.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com 

Villanova (8-6)

Strength of schedule: 4
RPI: 17
Wins of note: Lehigh, Bucknell, Drexel
Remaining games: Big East Tournament; Thursday vs. Syracuse (semifinals)

It was a tough weekend for the Wildcats, and their bubble might have burst. A 15-11 defeat to Providence, combined with Syracuse's loss to Notre Dame, hurt Villanova's strength of schedule and RPI, plus took away one of its top-20 wins. Now, it might take a Big East Tournament title to make the Big Dance.

Cornell (9-3)

Strength of schedule: 16
RPI: 14
Wins of note: Denver
Remaining games: Ivy League Tournament; Friday vs. Yale (semifinals)

Lacrosse Magazine's preseason fourth-ranked team is in a tough spot, and the season hasn't gone according to plans — namely playing all but two games without Rob Pannell. Barring an unexpected shakeup, Cornell will need to win the Ivy League Championship to make the NCAA tournament. The Big Red have lost back-to-back games, most recently to Princeton, and they have one top-20 win.

Next Two Out

Ohio State (8-6)

Strength of schedule: 24
RPI: 16
Wins of note: Denver, Fairfield
Remaining games: ECAC Tournament; Wednesday vs. Fairfield (semifinals)

The Buckeyes were on the fringe of consideration last week, but an 8-3 victory over Fairfield strengthened their postseason positioning. And guess what? They face Fairfield again on Wednesday. The winner of that game will improve its chances of an at-large, or possibly the conference championship. At 5-1, Ohio State finished second in the ECAC regular season standings, with its only loss coming to Loyola.

Syracuse (7-7)

Strength of schedule: 6
RPI: 21
Wins of note: Princeton
Remaining games: Big East Tournament; Thursday vs. Villanova (semifinals)

Until the Orange are officially out, they're still under consideration. There's too much talent to eliminate them from the bubble discussion. And I'll say it again: Would anyone be surprised if Syracuse won the Big East Tournament?

Still In the Hunt (listed alphabetically):

Albany, Bucknell, Canisius, Detroit Mercy, Drexel, Hartford, Marist, Robert Morris, St. John's, Towson, UMBC, Yale

The Matchups

So how would the bracket look? This is much harder to predict because the Committee has carte blanche in determining the NCAA tournament pairings, weighing conference affiliations and travel considerations.

No. 1 Notre Dame vs. Siena
No. 2 Duke vs. Stony Brook
No. 3 Loyola vs. Fairfield
No. 4 UMass vs. Princeton
No. 5 North Carolina vs. Denver
No. 6 Johns Hopkins vs. Penn State
No. 7 Virginia vs. Colgate
No. 8 Maryland vs. Lehigh

*****

Good day, and good lacrosse.


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