Coyne v. Censer: Is It Too Soon to Gloat?
|The four losses for Mike Daly and Tufts so far is a little out of character, giving the NESCAC another power team that could be left out of the NCAA tournament if things don't break right in the conference tournament. Or the Jumbos could be one of several teams from America's Conference that once again go dancing in May.|
Compared to years past, this one is looking very pedestrian for the conference everyone loves to hate. The NESCAC, partly of its own making and partly by a smaller at-large pool, does not have the look of a league that is ready to snap up two Pool C berths as it has been accustomed, and certainly not a group worthy of three extra tickets to the dance like last year.
At this point, there is only one team in the conference that we can safely assume will earn an invitation to the NCAA tournament regardless of the results from the conference tournament. Oddly enough, it's Middlebury, which failed to qualify for the NESCACs for the first time ever last year. The Panthers earned the top seed in the conference championship, which is pretty much as good as gold as far as the NCAAs are concerned.
The rest of the conference? Well, each has its own special drawbacks.
Tufts, obviously, is the next team on the totem pole in terms of talent, despite its No. 3 seed. The Jumbos occupation of the third spot is mostly due to them ceding the first two games of the season in an act of contrition for offseason missteps. Will the committee care? The NCAA has set a mild precedent for independently arbitrating dealings between institutions and their student-athletes (see: Duke), but you can bet the selection committee won't want to start determining what games are asterisked and what are legit. The Jumbos already have four losses, and a fifth puts them in very uneasy territory, although a trip to the conference finals should be enough to see Tufts into the NCAAs.
Conn. College, the second seed in this year's conference tournament, appears to be the next team in line, ranked sixth in the latest regional rankings. The Camels, however, handed over some of its cred to Plattsburgh in an early-season loss and didn't do themselves any favors with a random road loss to Hamilton. Wesleyan has very little room for error with a weaker non-conference schedule and didn't pick up the close wins it needed. Bowdoin has some solid wins, but too many quirky losses, including a pair to league teams that didn't even make the postseason.
It's unfamiliar territory for a conference that has emerged from its non-NCAA-eligible slumber over the past decade to become the darlings of the selection committee, much to the chagrin of second place teams in such former power conferences as the Empire 8 and ODAC. Now it appears that the NESCAC is running third behind the Centennial and ODAC, and will be lucky to get a second team into the dance.
But is it too soon to gloat? In the past several years, the NESCAC has managed to squeeze in a couple of teams that didn't initially pass the smell test. There was an 11-6 Bowdoin team in '08 and a last year's 10-6 Conn. College squad. With just five Pool C bids (there were seven last year), an unexpected NESCAC entrant could be a devastating end to the season for Top 15 program.
Joel, you must be giddy with all of your pent up schadenfreude for America's Conference. Are they already dancing on the streets of Chestertown and Lexington now that Gulliver has apparently sailed away, or is there an ominous foreboding that the NESCAC could once again break Division III's heart?
CENSER: Yeah, you know, Jac, I am happy. Look, when the NESCAC is good, it's good for all of Division III. Fact.
But I have been frustrated with how many at-large bids have been getting packaged North the last few years. This isn't to say the teams making the NCAA tournament don't deserve it. It's just seemed that every NESCAC team realized that if they play well enough in conference, they'll make the dance. There's no incentive — when every conference game is an RPI booster — to justify traveling outside the New England sightlines. New York has turned into an exotic trip for most of these teams. The selection committee was subtly encouraging NESCAC isolationism.
I get it. That Feb. 15 start. Teams located in Maine. Those brutal schedules where playing two games in one weekend isn't a misprint. But if Tufts has proven anything, it's that playing a national schedule is both possible and beneficial. Beyond just beefing up a tournament resume, if a team wants to dance in May, knowing it can win a tough game while traveling some distance is pretty vital.
So watching these teams sweat bullets, in an L.L. Bean hoodie no less, because they don't have the out of conference bonafides and need to win the NESCAC tournament, is a pretty easy life. And hopefully it incentivizes some more Southern travel.
Having said all that, if anyone from Gettysburg to Lexington is actually celebrating, I'd advise them to stop — immediately. It's been one of the great travesties of the league that Tufts' recent dominance has meant less intrigue during these dog-eat-dog tournaments. But I'm old enough to have seen some random squad get hot and get crowned. Think Williams in 2008. So expect the unexpected.
Tufts is probably the favorite, as outfits that can fill up the net generally have a leg up in May. Middlebury can control tempo with its faceoff man, has solid goaltending and enough athletes to throw between the stripes to grind a few games out. Wesleyan has its pesky zone. Conn. College has some weapons and should provide some resistance. If Mac Jackson starts winning draws and coldblooded southpaw Jack Strain starts ripping from the outside — watch for Bates to play darkhorse.
Now I've convinced myself. When the dust settles, the NESCAC will have two teams in the dance.
Onto the games, where Censer parlayed the 10-game speed round into a one game bulge, 34-26 to 33-27.
No. 12 Washington and Lee (12-3) at Hampden-Sydney (11-4) - Saturday, 1 p.m.
COYNE: The Generals provide the perfect example of how close the top teams in the country are this year, and how every game can turn on any given play. W&L started the year with a double overtime win against Salisbury, a one-goal triumph over Denison and two-goal victory against F&M. Against the premium teams since then, the Generals lost in overtime to Lynchburg and by a late goal to Roanoke. Any of those games could have swung either way at numerous points in the game.
That knowledge should help W&L on its trip to Farmville, but the Tigers — losers of three one-goal games this spring — know all too well about the delicate difference between wins and losses. Sydney is also coming off a confidence-building road win over Lynchburg, and have clawed themselves back into the national discussion. W&L is the better team, but that doesn't always make the difference. I think it will here, however. W&L, 10-9.
CENSER: The ODAC seems to be a battle of "what have you done for me lately." Washington & Lee was the toast of March before giving way to the grindathon at Lynchburg. Then a red hot, revamped Roanoke squad stole the spotlight. Last Saturday, a left-for-dead Hampden-Sydney team used balanced scoring and tough defense to beat Lynchburg, 12-8. Can they keep it going against the Generals?
In a game where goals will be at a premium, the Tigers will definitely be able to compete. I mean, when's the last time the Gennies blew a team out anyway? James Hughes knots another hat trick as HSC uses some of its late-season mojo to snatch another ODAC victory. Tigers, 9-8.
No. 16 St. Lawrence (10-3) at No. 3 RIT (13-2) - Saturday, 1 p.m.
COYNE: These two teams already know they'll be avoiding each other until the Liberty championship game, if they make it that far, so this contest is about avoiding a dangerous Clarkson team in the semifinals. There will be no surprises as to what these teams want to do in this affair.
St. Lawrence is riding six-game winning streak and during that time, the Saints have allowed an average of four goals per game, backboned by Jack Nuland's 61.0 save percentage. RIT, which is still undefeated in regulation this spring, is on a seven-game tear. Jack Krzyston (39g, 24a), Kyle Aquin (42g, 8a) and company have helped the Tigers average 17.6 goals per contest. Irresistible force versus immovable object? Not quite. RIT's defense isn't too far behind SLU's. Tigers, 11-6.
CENSER: I can count a zillion ways this game can go. In none of them do the Tigers lose.
As is generally the case, St. Lawrence is hard-nosed, well coached, tough on defense and good in goal. But good luck going goal-for-goal with a balanced and potent RIT offense that can dodge and then feed a couple of slick-sticked Canadians.
Aquin has six goals and garbage plates for everyone. RIT, 14-5.
Bowdoin (8-6) at No. 18 Wesleyan (11-4) - Saturday, 1 p.m.
COYNE: If these two teams have any aspirations of running the table and earning the conference AQ — an extremely long shot for both of them — then it starts with this quarterfinal matchup. The first meeting between these two took place two weeks ago, with Bowdoin pulling out a 6-5 victory in overtime. It was the third-straight win for the Polar Bears over John Raba's charges and the fifth time in the last six meetings that neither team cracked double digits.
Both squads are stinging heading into this one. Wesleyan coughed up an early 6-1 lead before losing, 11-10, to Conn. College on Wednesday while Bowdoin got stomped by Tufts, 21-8. The fourth-seeded Cardinals have home field advantage, but the fifth-seeded Polar Bears have a more powerful offense. Powerful enough to score one more goal, anyway. Bowdoin, 5-4.
CENSER: First team to break five goals sounds about right. Give Wesleyan credit. They beat Tufts a week ago playing that stingy brand of defense and only committed one 30-second penalty. On the Wes campus, the peaceniks rejoiced.
Anyway, I think Lexthe Cardinal backline can hold Bowdoin in check and maybe more importantly generate some transition opportunities as well. PCU, 9-4.
Aurora (12-3) at Carthage (14-2) - Saturday, 6 p.m. CT
COYNE: At the beginning of the season these two programs appeared to be the primary contenders for the Midwest Lacrosse Conference auto-bid with the departure of Adrian to the MIAA. Both have answered the bell with 9-0 league records to this point. Now they get to figure out who will have home-field advantage when they undoubtedly meet against in the MLC title tilt.
Offenses should rule the day, with Aurora averaging 18 markers per game and Carthage at 18.3. In games like that, it's all about who can grab the most possessions. Both Carthage's Hunter Douglas (224-for-336) and Aurora's Max Obriecht (166-for-249) have dueling 66.7 percent marks at the dot, but Obriecht (39g, 27a) is far more dangerous when he does get the rock. He goes for a hat trick as the Spartans edge the Red Men, 17-15.
CENSER: When there's about to be a lot of offensive fireworks, I'll take the team with the edge in goal.
Aurora junior Adam Holka is hovering around 60 percent and has been rock solid as of late. This is Sparta, 15-11.
Ithaca (11-4) at No. 11 Stevens (11-3) – Saturday, 2 p.m.
CENSER: What tempo is this game going to be played at? That's the question for me.
Because Ithaca is going to want to twist screws and grind. Frankly, if freshman goaltender Scott Sidnam is making saves in net, defensemen Marc Roberts and Adam Wacenske are flying around on the backline and Brandon Henne starts winning faceoffs, it could be a long day for the Ducks.
But I think it goes the other way. Nicolas Philippi, Rich Dupras, and Harrison Dorne score a few early and it's all up and down the field from there. Stevens, 15-6.
COYNE: Now that the Ducks have laid their egg for the year — the 17-8 dud against Nazareth — they should be good for the rest of the regular season and E8 tournament. Even the prospect of traveling back up to play the Flyers again in the conference finals isn't as daunting now that they know there are no slam dunks. Ithaca is not a team to be trifled with, but I'm not sure the Bombers have enough goals in their tank to stick with Stevens the whole way. Ducks, 11-8.