Sheehan: Upsets Raise Stakes in NCAA Race
by Sheehan Stanwick Burch | LaxMagazine.com
Florida's upset loss at unranked Cornell may have knocked the Gators out of a top-four seed and forced them into a potential NCAA tournament road game. In two seasons, Florida is just 6-8 on the road, compared to 18-2 at home.
© Greg Wall
The season of upsets continues. At this point, I fully expected that the major upsets were behind us. Boy was I wrong.
Undefeated and top-ranked Maryland lost to Dartmouth 9-8 in overtime. If that upset wasn't big enough, second-ranked Florida was also taken down by unranked Cornell 9-6.
Heading into the Terps matchup, Dartmouth senior Greta Meyer said, the Big Green was prepared to leave it all on the field. "We were thinking we had nothing to lose and everything to gain," she said afterward.
This mentality should scare all the top teams in the country. The 2011 NCAA tournament has the makings to be the most competitive group of 16 teams we've seen in some time. When teams feel no pressure and just want to go out and play, that is precisely when top-ranked foes topple.
Despite the loss to Dartmouth, Maryland has already secured its spot in the NCAA tournament, having captured their third straight ACC title.
Florida, on the other hand, will be more affected by its loss. It may have knocked the Gators out of consideration for a top-four seed in the NCAA tournament. The benefit of getting a top-four seed is having the luxury of playing home games until final four weekend, while other teams face the likelihood of playing at least one road game en route to Stony Brook.
Home-field advantage is key for Florida, because the Gators have not fared very well on the road. Florida's only two losses this season came when it was away from Gainesville. The ALC tournament will be held at Vanderbilt this weekend, and it will be good preparation for what may lie ahead for the Gators, who in two seasons are 6-8 on the road, compared to 18-2 at home.
It is less than a week away from Selection Sunday, and this is what we know so far on a conference-by-conference basis...
The Terps are still playing without Karri Ellen Johnson, who has been sidelined with a concussion. Even without its star, Maryland steamrolled to another NCAA tournament. Even with their Dartmouth loss, the Terps will still likely get the No. 1 seed. UNC and Duke should receive at-large bids, and Virginia and Boston College are likely to hear their names called, as well, but there is no guarantee.
Albany is the lone undefeated team in Division I. But the Great Danes will be challenged by UMBC and Boston University for the automatic bid. We will know by the end of this weekend who will be awarded the automatic bid. If the Danes do get upset, they will still likely qualify at large on the strength of a No. 7 RPI (as of April 30).
Loyola no longer looks to be the favorite in the Big East after Syracuse and Georgetown defeated the Greyhounds in consecutive weeks.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com
This weekend will feature a battle for the Big East crown. Loyola no longer looks to be the favorite following losses to Georgetown and Syracuse. At this point, it is still too close to pick a winner from this conference. Loyola, Georgetown and Syracuse have a decent shot at an at-large berth, but Notre Dame's hopes rely on winning it all.
Once again, this is another conference championship that could go any which way. From a purist's standpoint, this is the way that titles should be won. It's difficult to imagine more than one CAA team getting a berth, though James Madison has an outside shot of getting an at-large bid. That said, JMU, William and Mary, Towson and Drexel will likely all fight for one spot.
This conference championship game will be held on Sunday. This has been a very competitive conference this season, which makes it extremely difficult to pick a favorite to win the automatic bid. As for the NCAA tournament, Penn should be safe to make the field of 16 with or without the Ivy League tournament title, and Princeton and Dartmouth could also be considered for at-large bids. Harvard would need to win the conference automatic berth to make the tournament.
Stanford secured their spot in the tournament by winning the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation title over Oregon, and the Cardinal may have a chance of getting a home game in the first round.
It is important to keep in mind that there is no automatic bid in this conference until next year. Based on their stellar performances this season, Florida and Northwestern should get at-large bids. It is also likely that, depending on a strong conference tournament run, a third ALC team like Penn State, Ohio State, Johns Hopkins or Vanderbilt may get to join the postseason fun.
... Lastly, the field for the two NCAA tournament play-in games are set.
In the first play-in game, MAAC champion Canisius will take on Atlantic-10 winner UMass. I think that UMass is playing very well right now and will advance.
In the second play-in game, Patriot League champion Navy plays NEC winner Quinnipiac. Navy had a strong comeback performance against Colgate and will likely get the final spot in the NCAA tournament field.
Given the way the season unfolded, I can't wait to see the field of 16 finally take shape. There are sure to be a few party crashers.