WD1 Bracket Breakdown: Expanded Field Snubs No One
|In past years, Virginia, with a 9-9 record, may have not made the 16-team NCAA tournament field. But the Cavaliers, who had the third toughest schedule in the nation, took the final spot in the 26-team bracket.|
This year's NCAA tournament has a new format and a lot of first-time participants. Will a wider field result in upsets and some new faces in the final four? Or will the top seeds' byes in the first round present an insurmountable advantage? Will a first-time champion emerge, or will one of the old guard prevail? Let's take a look.
The Top Seed
It would have been impossible to pick any team except Maryland for the top spot. They were the only undefeated team in the country, with terrific strength of schedule and the ACC championship to boot.
Maryland has the most NCAA tournament appearances (29), wins (51), championship game appearances (16) and titles (10) of all-time. The Terps last loss came in the 2012 NCAA semifinals, where they fell to eventual national champ Northwestern. There are a lot of games to be played, of course, but as things stand, the top-seeded Terps are on a crash-course for a championship rematch with the No. 2 Wildcats.
Last Team In
The Cavaliers have a 9-9 record, barely meeting the minimum .500 record requirement for tournament entry. That said, Virginia has the third-toughest schedule in the nation, which makes them a fair admission to the field. Three of their losses were one-goal misses against No. 3 North Carolina, No. 4 Syracuse and No. 7 Penn State. There is technically a defending national champion on the team — sophomore attacker Casey Bocklet won it all with Northwestern last year as the Wildcats' No. 2 feeder before transferring Virginia. Bocklet currently leads the Cavaliers in goals (37), assists (20) and points (57).
First Team Out
They had a great 6-0 start to the season with wins over tournament teams Canisius and Penn State. But the Big Red faded fast once they hit Ivy League play, where they finished with a 4-3 record. In retrospect, a seven-game away series that included the Nittany Lions, North Carolina, Penn, Princeton and Dartmouth might have been an overextension of a talented team. Cornell lost one-goal games to both the Tar Heels and Penn in that stretch, and close contests against the Tigers and the Big Green.
When more than a quarter of the entire field gets into the postseason, it's tough to say anyone was snubbed. The 26-team format was the result of an NCAA bylaw that states that half of the NCAA tournament must consist of at-large bids. With 13 conferences now sponsoring the sport, there must be 13 corresponding at-large bids. The 26-team bracket seems big right now, but it allows room for growth as more teams in existing conferences add lacrosse. In 2014, the Atlantic Sun will add two new teams (Elon and Furman) and the MPSF will add one (Colorado).
This year, there weren't any cases of a small school team sneaking into the tournament on the strength of one or two big out-of-conference wins, as fans sometimes see in the men's basketball tournament. Perhaps the possibility of doing so will result in more ambitious scheduling in the future.
Best First-Round Game
Stanford vs. Notre Dame
This game is a rematch of the season-opener for both teams. Way back on February 16, Notre Dame rallied in the second half and ran out the clock for a 12-10 win. Now battle-tested by a roller coaster season and a gritty slog to the MPSF title, Stanford may be in better position to hold on for a win, which would be an NCAA tournament first for the Cardinal. Either way, expect a high scoring game. Both attacks average more than 13 points, and both defenses usually allow opponents into double digits.
The season-opener in Palo Alto drew 757 fans; hopefully an NCAA game in Evanston can match that number. Winner gets the privilege of taking on No. 2 Northwestern on Sunday in the second round. Congrats?
Seeded Too High
No. 6 Georgetown got the last, precious first-round bye. The Big East runners-up are 6-5 against other tournament teams, with losses to Duke, North Carolina, Notre Dame and Syracuse. It's tough to say that anyone should have gotten this seed in the Hoyas' place, but a chance to sit out the first round and host the second is quite a prize for a team whose most impressive wins are a pair of victories over unseeded Loyola.
Seeded Too Low
No. 4 Syracuse arguably could have leapfrogged over the Tar Heels for the No. 3 seed. The Orange won the Big East championship, and the league is one of the toughest conferences in the country, whereas North Carolina was the runner up in the ACC.
Canisius over Penn State
No. 7 Penn State should not look beyond its first-round match-up against MAAC champion Canisius. Golden Griffs sophomore goalie Kayla Scully has the best save percentage in the entire country (.533) and is in the top five for average goals allowed (7.28). The Nittany Lions have an average shooting percentage of .472, but leading scorer Maggie McCormick (43g, 33a) shoots a cool 62.3 percent. McCormick is involved in about a third of all Penn State's points. If Golden Griff defender Morgan Leonard, the 2012 MAAC Defensive Player of the Year and 2013 MAAC Midfielder of the Year, can slow her down, things could get interesting.
Best Potential Matchups
Maryland vs. Stony Brook/Towson (second
Maryland played both of its potential second-round opponents earlier this season, defeating Stony Brook, 8-3, on March 17 and Towson, 11-8, on March 26. If the old chestnut about how hard it is to beat a team twice holds true, the Seawolves or the Tigers might have the makings of an upset.
Florida vs. Jacksonville (second round)
Another potential second-round game to watch: if Jacksonville defeats Denver in the first round, the Dolphins will advance to play Florida. In 2009, there were no Division I women's lacrosse programs in the state of Florida. Both Florida and Jacksonville launched their programs in 2010, and in 2013, there are both the NCAA tournament and they could even cross paths.
Three Players to Watch
Jasmine DePompeo, Navy, Sr., A
The three-time Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year leads the nation in points (55g, 65a), and is a full 12 points ahead of the next highest player (Maryland's Alex Aust, 108 points). DePompeo can do it against the best competition too — she had five goals and three assists in Navy's 15-12 loss to Northwestern, and drew a faceguard from Kerri Harrington in the process.
Lauren Kahn, UConn, Jr., M
The 2013 Big East Midfielder of the Year leads UConn in all major statistical categories — goals (38), assists (23), points (61), ground balls (46), draw controls (60) and caused turnovers (31). She was the Huskies' only first-team all-conference player.
Kayla Treanor, Syracuse, Fr., A
Treanor has been a force all season for the Orange, but she had to step up her production when Michelle Tumolo tore her ACL in mid-April. (Tumolo has not played since April 16, although coach Gary Gait hesitated to say she will not play in the tournament.) In the meantime, Treanor surpassed Tumolo's program record for goals as a freshman and had a career-high seven points (6g, 1a) against Georgetown in Syracuse's 14-7 win in the Big East championship game.
Don't Be Surprised If...
...the final four consists entirely of seeded teams. Despite the expanded bracket, the first-round bye is a big advantage and experience counts for a lot in the postseason, so upsets could be few and far between.