May 7, 2013

Sheehan: My NCAA Tournament Thoughts

by Sheehan Stanwick Burch | LaxMagazine.com

Notre Dame is making its eighth NCAA tournament appearance and this will be the fifth time the Irish have a first-round stop in Evanston, Ill, home of Northwestern.

Selection Sunday has come and gone.

This year I think that the lacrosse world is left with a feeling of ease. The expansion of the bracket to 26 teams allowed for more teams to be included. As a result, it seems that no one was left in that awkward situation where the whole team was all gathered in the meeting room eating pizza, waiting to hear their name called, only to find that they need to go clean out their lockers. This was a scenario that was far too common in the past.

Looking ahead, here are my thought for the tournament.

At a glance

The Big East along with the ACC are the only two conferences that have five of their members headed into post-season play. Syracuse, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Loyola and UConn represent the Big East, and Maryland, Duke, North Carolina, Boston College and Virginia from the ACC. Though parity seems to have impacted all of Division I lacrosse (men's and women's) the power conferences still seem to have sway with the women's selection committee.

A closer look

There are a lot of teams and a lot of matchups. I don't know how the committee was able to sort through it all. The only thing that gives me pause is Penn State at the No. 7 spot. I don't know who I would have given their spot to, so it isn't that I think someone was snubbed. However, six losses on the season — one of them to Cornell, who is not even in the bracket, and others unseeded Loyola and Princeton make me wonder how they get the privilege to host. I get that they beat Florida at the end of March, but I don't know if this deserves the seventh seed.

Luckiest team in Division I

Virginia played the ACC Tournament with its tourney hopes on the line last weekend and pulled a big upset over Duke. Not only did it give Virginia a signature win, but also it made them tournament eligible by guaranteeing they would finish the season out with a .500 record, an at-large criteria for teams that don't take their conference AQ.

Last team in

I would have to say Stanford would have been on the outside looking in had they not taken down Denver to win the AQ in the Mountain Pacific Conference Tournament. I give them all the credit in the world for turning it on when they needed to. However, looking at their tournament resume, they had no quality wins over any opponent that made the field of 26, and a late season loss to UC Davis seemed to seal their fate. James Madison and Johns Hopkins are sure wishing they were in Stanford's shoes (or maybe their biggest detractor, since if Stanford would have lost, they could have potentially snuck into the tournament). The bottom line is Stanford took care of business and won the bid.

Sound familiar?

Notre Dame is making its eighth NCAA tournament appearance and this will be the fifth time the Irish have had a first round stop in Evanston, Ill., the home of Northwestern. Notre Dame has lost that first-round game to the Cats each time in 2004, 2008, 2010 and 2012. The good news is that Notre Dame plays Stanford first and if all goes as planned for the Irish, they will meet Northwestern again on Sunday. Because of the weight the committee has to give to geography when setting the bracket, it is a no-brainer that Notre Dame ends up traveling to Evanston. However, Notre Dame controlled its own destiny, but fell short of earning a top eight seed and hosting the tournament in Indiana.

First-round matchups I like

In the past, Notre Dame and Stanford have matched up extremely well against each other. It was a two-goal game in Notre Dame's favor back in February. Thankfully those first few snow filled weeks are a distant memory. Both teams have grown and evolved. Notre Dame has been idle since the end of April because they did not make the Big East Tournament. It is hard to replicate game intensity in practice and that is something a lot of teams in the field of 26 will have to deal with. In my mind, Notre Dame will be successful if they can overcome playing stale.

UConn takes on UMass at the first round games hosted by Penn State. These are two feisty teams. UMass has more experience, as they have been to the NCAA tournament before. UConn will make its first trip to the post season, and the Huskies are coming off their first Big East Tournament appearance. Although they came up short to Syracuse in the Big East Tournament, they can rely on the confidence that they played and competed in one of the toughest conferences in the country. This game will be won in the midfield, and draw controls and turnovers will be important stats to keep an eye on.

CBS Sports Network women's lacrosse analyst and 2001 Tewaaraton Award finalist Sheehan Stanwick Burch providwa a column for LaxMagazine.com every Tuesday throughout the Division I women's college season. Follow Sheehan on Twitter @StanwickBurch.


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