April 1, 2014
Cornell midfielder Connor Buczek could take the mantle from Tom Schreiber as best midfielder in the Ivy League. (Greg Wall)
Cornell midfielder Connor Buczek could take the mantle from Tom Schreiber as best midfielder in the Ivy League. (Greg Wall)

Tuesdays with Corey: Breaking Down 18-Team NCAA Tournament Bracket

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | McLaughlin Archive

Depending on how the rest of the season shakes out, Albany could play a first-round game against one of the top two seeds in the NCAA tournament. (Rich Barnes)

It is April 1, which means there is still a full month of games, including conference tournaments, to be played before Selection Sunday on May 4. But it's important to note and explain what we're working with this season for the first time: an 18-team NCAA Division I men's lacrosse tournament, complete with two play-in games — we'll call them First Four here — and the potential for all of the ACC's Super Six teams to make the tournament. Both items throw a wrench into the bracket as it had been known previously.

There's a lot to digest when breaking it all down, and thankfully NCAA tournament selection chair Jim Siedliski, associate commissioner in charge of Olympic sports for the American Athletic Conference (formerly Big East), was kind enough to oblige Lacrosse Magazine on Monday with the information.

"There's a lot of new, strange things," Siedliski said. "The one thing that we, as a committee, have been very good at is being able to adapt. The last three years we've been consistent with selection criteria and the body-of-work. Regardless of where the goal posts are being moved, I think we'll get the right 18 teams at the end of the day."

'First Four' — The Play-In Games

The expanded NCAA tournament will feature 10 conference automatic qualifier (AQ) winners and eight at-large teams. Of the 10 AQ teams, four will play in two play-in games that will feature the four lowest-ranked conference automatic qualifying teams as deemed by the selection committee, which will reflect all of the selection criteria, not just RPI.

The games will be held Wednesday, May 7, with the winners advancing to play the tournament's top two overall seeds at their home sites during the traditional first-round of the NCAA tournament Saturday, May 10 or Sunday, May 11 at times to be determined.

"We're going to do the same due diligence in discerning who those four are as who the eight at-larges will be," Siedliski said. "Some will be a little more obvious than others, but I'm already doing my homework. I have my own unofficial sheet right now. I'm looking forward to a couple more weeks of results, because right now it ain't easy."

For example, in the new format, Albany could be a First Four team should it win the America East, which means the Great Danes, one of the more dangerous teams nationally with the high-powered Thompson-led offense, could then play one of the tournament's top two overall seeds with a win. What a first-round matchup that would be.

"Those are some of the things that we, as a committee, really drilled down on and discussed with NCAA staff," Siedliski said, talking about expansion from a 16- to 18-team field. "Because when you get to 16 teams there have to be eight at-larges and eight AQs in order to be 50 percent proportionality, that's just how it has to be. You do some mocks right now, which won't be even remotely close to what the truth is going to be, and look at it and go, 'Holy cow.' Hopefully, results in time will give some clarity to the process."

Play-In Game Seeding?

Once the First Four teams are determined, will they be seeded? Will a theoretical No. 1 play No. 4 and No. 2 vs. No. 3? Not necessarily, Siedliski said, although it could work out that way. There is no predetermined setup for what the pairings will be and where they will play.

The committee has always sought to limit teams from making flights in the former 16-team bracket, and will do the same with the expanded 18-team version and play-in games. But that guideline also will come into play for projecting if the play-in winners will have to bus or fly to one of the top two seeds. If the bracket can be arranged where all of the play-in teams are guaranteed bus trips should they advance, that is the ideal. So, in essence, the committee will look at setting up the best of several play-in game arrangement scenarios: Team A vs. Team B, Team A vs. Team C, or Team A vs. Team D, for example, and what would happen if either team advances to face the top overall seed in the tournament or the second.

"We're going to try to limit [flights] because we know there's going to be a boatload of flights anyhow in the 1-16 bracket," Siedliski said. "It could be perceived 1 vs. 2 [play-in teams] and 3 vs. 4 and maybe the 1 vs. 2 winner actually goes to the No. 1 seed and the 3 vs. 4 goes to the No. 2. There are so many moving parts. We have been really solid at trying to maintain bracket integrity. If we can do it, we're going to do it. But if our hands are tied relative to geography and the number of flights, then all bets are going to be off."

The First Four winners are not guaranteed to play a Sunday game, which would provide a three-day break after their opening game instead of a quick two-day turnaround between games, although the former could happen. What day of the tournament's opening weekend the First Four winners play could be more determined by geography, again limiting flights, what days the top two seeds put in bids to host and scheduling work done in concert with ESPN. Syracuse has graduation in the Carrier Dome on the tournament's first Saturday, so should the Orange garner a top-two seed like last year, it shouldn't be much of an issue there at least.

The General Criteria

For the entire tournament, the selection committee will weigh a number of criteria, some of which can be found in this nitty-gritty page from last year.

What counts

-- RPI, of which an unofficial variety can be found at LaxPower.com.

-- Top 10 opponents average RPI, or RPI Strength of Schedule on LaxPower. It is based on a team's 10 highest-ranking opponents in RPI from the season.

-- Record vs. the top 5 RPI, top 10, top 15 and top 20, as well as record versus teams 21 and below. Good wins and bad losses.

-- Average opponents' RPI in wins and average opponents' RPI in losses, which speaks to the quality of wins and the quality of losses.

-- Overall win-loss record

-- Head-to-head results

-- An important note: A team must have a .500 or better record against Division I opponents to be considered for selection, which could come into play this year with the ACC, like it did with Virginia last season.

What doesn't count

-- When a game is played. A February result will have the same impact as an April one. "When a game is played is irrelevant," Siedliski said.

-- Unavailable players at the time of a game. If a key player is suspended for a game or multiple games, his absence will not factor into weighing a particular result.

-- Margin of victory

The Committee

Who will craft the bracket? The same five people as last year: Siedliski, Hartford associate athletics director Ellen Crandall, Eastern Michigan athletic director Heather Lyke (formerly associate AD at Ohio State), Fairfield athletic director Gene Doris and VMI coach Brian Anken.

When Siedliski was first named to the committee he was still with the Big East, where he helped create that conference's first men's and women's lacrosse leagues, but after conference realignment shifts of recent years, he's now in a similar administrative position with the new American Athletic Conference, which grew from the former Big East. The lacrosse committee chair is a neutral one for him.

An Early Bracketology Look

All this said, here's a (very) early look at the NCAA tournament race. Conference winners are projected based on current conference standings, which will change. But this at least gives a flavor of what the tournament committee will look at.

FIRST ROUND AQ QUALIFIERS (6)

Conference Team Record RPI Strength of Schedule Record vs. RPI 1-5 vs. 6-10 vs. 11-15 vs. 16-20 Top 20 Wins Outside Top 20 Losses
ACC Maryland 8-1 5 15 1-0 2-1 0-0 0-0 Duke, Virginia, Syracuse  
Ivy
Cornell
9-0
1
30
1-0
2-0
1-0
0-0
Virginia, Penn, Yale, Colgate
 
Patriot
Loyola
9-1
3
23
0-0
1-1
1-0
1-0
Duke, Colgate, Towson
 
Big East
Denver
8-2
9
13
0-0
0-2
0-0
1-0
Notre Dame
 
CAA
UMass
7-2
11
17
0-0
0-0
0-1
0-1
   
ECAC Fairfield 7-2 13 43 1-0
0-0
1-0
0-0
Yale, UMass
Providence

FIRST FOUR AQ QUALIFIERS (4)

America East
Albany
4-4
18
16
0-1
0-0
1-0
0-1
UMass
Drexel, Canisius
NEC
Bryant
8-2
20
38
0-1
0-0
0-1
1-0
Albany
 
MAAC
Siena
6-3
30
52
0-1
0-0
0-0
0-0
  St. John's, Robert Morris
Atlantic Sun
Mercer
5-3
49
67
0-0
0-0
0-0
0-0
  Michigan, Detroit, UMBC

AT-LARGE TEAMS (8)

ACC
North Carolina
8-2
10
14
1-0
0-1
1-0
2-0
Maryland, Johns Hopkins, Princeton
 
ACC
Duke
9-2
6
8
1-2
3-0
0-0
0-0
North Carolina, Denver, Syracuse Penn
 
ACC Virginia 8-3 8 12 2-2
0-0
1-0
0-1
Syracuse, Loyola, Johns Hopkins
 
ACC
Syracuse
5-2
2
1
0-1
0-2
1-0
1-1
Notre Dame, Johns Hopkins, Albany
 
ACC
Notre Dame
4-2
16
4
0-1
2-1
0-0
0-0
Virginia, North Carolina
Penn State
Ivy
Penn
4-3
7
2
1-1
1-1
0-0
0-1
Denver, Yale
 
Ivy
Yale
4-3
4
3
0-1
0-1
0-1
2-0
Princeton, Bryant
 
Independent Johns Hopkins 5-3 12 7 0-1
0-1
0-0
1-0
Princeton
 

FIRST FOUR OUT

CAA
Hofstra
6-3
14
21
0-0
0-0
1-0
1-1
Fairfield, Towson
Marquette, St. John's
Patriot
Colgate
7-3
15
40
0-2
0-0
0-0
1-0
Bryant
 
Ivy
Princeton
4-4
19
6
0-1
1-1
1-1
0-0
Hofstra
Brown
Big East
St. John's
6-3
21
29
0-2
0-0
1-0
0-0
Hofstra
Drexel
OTHER BUBBLE TEAMS TO WATCH
Towson, Drexel, Harvard, Villanova, Penn State, Army, Ohio State

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 











As the calendar flips to April, unbeaten Cornell has the No. 1 RPI in the nation. (Greg Wall)

Projected Bracket

Long Island

(1) Cornell vs. Bryant/Siena winner
(8) Syracuse vs. Yale

Delaware

(4) Duke vs. Fairfield
(5) North Carolina vs. Johns Hopkins

Long Island

(3) Maryland vs. UMass
(6) Denver vs. Notre Dame

Delaware

(2) Loyola vs. Albany/Mercer winner
(7) Virginia vs. Penn

Wild Cards to Watch

The ACC Super Conference

Could one of the ACC teams be left out of the NCAA tournament? It's all conjecture at this point, but yes, it is possible. Especially if one of them finishes with a sub-.500 record, they won't qualify for the NCAA tournament.

Asked about the possibility, Siedliski said, "What if Team X loses the next four games and they end up in the 5 vs. 6 game [in the ACC tournament] and they lose that? I doubt that team is going to have the body-of-work comparable to other people if their winning percentage is so diminished, but then again, your strength of schedule is going to be through the roof. There's so many things. When you get a conference like this, when you take arguably the top-two teams from the Big East last year and put them into the ACC, everybody knew something like this was going to happen."

Surprise Conference Winners

As usual, a conference tournament upset can wreak havoc on bracket projections. Don't forget that Ohio State was the preseason favorite to win the ECAC and hasn't even begun the bulk of its conference schedule yet, which comes in the last three weeks of April highlighted by a April 26 regular-season game versus Fairfield before the four-team ECAC tournament.

End Lines

There's enough information to digest here, so no stars of the week or looking ahead this week, other than a few words following up on Saturday's hang-up play involving attackman Joey Sankey during the North Carolina-Johns Hopkins game at Homewood Field. The officials proceeded as directed, according to the NCAA's rules interpretation video heading into this season. Click here and start watching at the 18:04 mark (It may take a few moments to load). It instructs officials to not reward the defense for being caught out of position, and that off-ball offense should help determine if a timer-on should be applied. That jived with what Sankey said immediately following Saturday's game about his tought process during the play. The topic will surely be discussed this summer when the NCAA men's rules committee convenes in what is a rules change year.


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