The NCAA tournament shuffled the final rankings a bit. Here’s a rundown of 1-through-20:
1. Syracuse (16-2): No doubt about this one. The Orange remain at No. 1 after winning their second straight national title. With one of the nation’s best attackman (Kenny Nims), arguably best all-around player (Matt Abbott), best defenseman (Sid Smith) and best late-season addition (Cody Jamieson), the Orange played their best in the final six weeks of the season.
2. Cornell (13-4): No arguing this. The Big Red beat Princeton and Virginia and had Syracuse in a three-goal hole with four minutes left in the title game. It was a painful collapse, but Cornell warrants a jump from No. 7.
3. Duke (15-4): Learned the hard way it isn’t smart to run with Syracuse. Still, the Blue Devils’ only losses since March 1 came against the two national finalists. They might be the favorites in 2010, and pretty much all of their fourth-year seniors will be back as part of that NCAA ruling that gave an extra season of eligibility to the members of the ‘06 team. Down a spot from the end of the regular season.
4. Virginia (15-3): Still hard to make sense of the Cavaliers’ no-show in the semifinals. They’d looked so good in the first two rounds of the tournament, and were the No. 1 team for much of the season. Two losses to Duke keep them out of the No. 3 spot in the end. Dropped a spot from the start of the tournament.
5. Princeton (13-3): That 6-4 loss to Cornell doesn’t look so bad in retrospect. The Tigers enjoyed a bounceback year, but still went their fifth straight season without a trip to the semifinals. It was an interesting team – maybe Princeton’s best since 2002 – and warrants the same spot in the rankings it began the tournament with.
6. North Carolina (12-6): The window on the dark times in Carolina lacrosse might finally be closing. It’s hard to describe this year as too miserable; the Tar Heels won an ACC tournament game for the first time since 1996, beat an ACC opponent for the first time since 2004 and played Duke to a goal in the NCAA quarterfinals. Carolina will be an even greater threat next year with a quality coach (Joe Breschi) and star attackman (Billy Bitter) set to return. Up from No. 8 to close the regular season.
7. Johns Hopkins (10-5): The head-to-head loss to Carolina probably would have slid the Blue Jays down a spot anyway. The pummeling they absorbed in the quarterfinals against Virginia cemented it. Hopkins simply didn’t have the speed and discipline on defense to stick with the best teams, even if it did deploy an impressive offense. Tough to see next year being substantially better, at least as an early outlook.
8. Maryland (10-7): Up from No. 13 to close the regular season, if only because it’s hard to justify placing the Terps behind Notre Dame after their successful trip to South Bend. It remains a disappointing team, not because it didn’t win a title but because it was so uneven thoughout the season. Maryland felt a little like a Rubik’s cube all spring, with parts constantly in motion but never really fitting in an ideal way. Still, 10 wins is 10 wins.
9. Notre Dame (15-1): Down from No. 4, the Fighting Irish flopped in the tournament. In many ways, it was a typical Notre Dame team. Plenty of offensive firepower, capable goalie and making do with what was available elsewhere. On the bright side, the Irish will head into the Big East as the new league’s No. 2 program behind Syracuse.
10. Hofstra (11-4): Maybe the single-most crushing loss absorbed all season by a tournament team was the Pride’s stumble against Villanova in the CAA tournament. With a win, maybe Hofstra wins an AQ and secures a home date (far away, possibly, from Cornell) in the first round. Either way, it was a good season for a veteran group that fell just a spot in the final ranking.
11. UMBC (12-4): More than a month later, it remains difficult to figure out how the Retrievers lost to Hartford. It’s more understandable that they got Bittered in the tournament at North Carolina. Another superb coaching job by Don Zimmerman; UMBC (holding steady at No. 11) is firmly established as the program to beat in the America East.
12. Brown (12-4): Hats off the committee for including the Bears, who played in the most entertaining game of the first three rounds. Goalie Jordan Burke wasn’t insane in that overtime loss to Hopkins, but Brown’s offensive pieces were most impressive. There’s quite a bit to replace, but reaching the tournament for the first time since 1997 was a fine feat. Up two spots from the end of the regular season; that defeat of Cornell sure looks better now.
13. Loyola (9-5): The Greyhounds remain the highest ranked team to miss the tournament, falling three spots during May. Perhaps the best team in the era of the 16-team field to miss the postseason, Loyola still had its chances and didn’t capitalize. You can be certain a 10-4 Loyola bunch would have been included.
14. Navy (11-5): Swapped spots with Brown after tumbling badly to Duke in the first round of the tournament. The Mids’ curious season arc featured both struggles and success at unexpected junctures of the schedule. But beating Army, Georgetown and Maryland didn’t mean as much in terms of quality opponents as it typically does, so this is an appropriate landing spot.
15. Massachusetts (9-6): The Minutemen won the shaky ECAC, a league that is getting dismembered after this season. Massachusetts quickly bowed out of the tournament, but at this point is surely the best of the rest remaining – all of which remain in the same spot as the end of the regular season.
16. Penn State (9-5): The Nittany Lions started slow, closed fast but got burned by the lack of quality teams in their league. The reconstituted CAA – with Delaware, Drexel, Hofstra, UMass and Towson joining Penn State – will be a fascinating conference to watch in 2010.
17. Georgetown (7-7): That’s two straight missed tournaments for the Hoyas, who were genuinely erratic. Tough to explain how they beat Maryland and UMass and held Syracuse to single digits but gone run off the field by Hobart.
18. Harvard (8-5): Don’t look now, but the “Lost Cause” has life. The Crimson were a nuisance for everyone to play this spring, and they would warrant a top-20 finish even without an early-season surprise at Duke.
19. Villanova (11-6): The Wildcats didn’t acquit themselves well at Virginia in their NCAA tournament debut. No matter. They were a borderline top-20 team for much of the season, and they’ll end it the same neighborhood.
20. Bucknell (9-7): The Bison sure loved playing Patriot League teams, going just 2-6 outside the league. But there are some intriguing pieces there, and the late rout of Colgate is enough to earn the last spot in the board.
Next five: Colgate, Stony Brook, Bryant, Fairfield, Albany.