The Washington Times - April 10, 2011, 11:17PM

There was a temptation to delay the start of a lacrosse bracket projection for another week.

Why? The sample size of the data necessary to analyze still isn’t particularly large.

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Of course, that problem exists with the ratings percentage index whether a team has played 10 or 15 games. It isn’t a great metric, but at least it functions the same today as it will in early May.

As for the strength of schedule of a team’s top 10 opponents? That can change significantly over the final weeks of the regular season.

No team reflects that better than Maryland, which is 8-2 and owns a strong victory at Virginia. But it also played sub-.500 Bellarmine, Detroit and Saint Joseph’s and three of its in-state foes (Navy, Towson and UMBC) have struggled this year.

So the Terps’ RPI (14 according to LaxPower) and especially strength of schedule (28) doesn’t look all that impressive – for now.

In another four weeks, Maryland will cycle in games against Johns Hopkins, Colgate and at least one (and maybe two) ACC opponents in the conference tournaments. Even if the Terps go, say, 2-2, their RPI will improve; regardless of results, the strength of schedule will look much better on Selection Sunday.

However, bracket projections are guesswork even while trying to analyze the results to date; trying to toss in predictions with how the rest of the season will unfold makes it a trainwreck.

So Maryland is unseeded in this projection – even though the Terps will probably wind up with a home game once May arrives.

(1) Syracuse vs. METRO ATLANTIC/Siena
(8) IVY/Cornell vs. Hofstra

The unbeaten Orange are the obvious top seed at this stage. Siena is among four MAAC teams with one loss in league play, but the only one with a winning overall record. Cornell faces its last, best chance at a signature victory when it visits the Carrier Dome on Tuesday. Hofstra’s strength of schedule (40) has a real chance to cost the one-loss Pride a home game in the postseason. This pairing of first round games would get funneled into Hofstra for the quarterfinals.

(4) Duke vs. COLONIAL/Delaware
(5) Johns Hopkins vs. Penn

The Blue Devils’ computer numbers (RPI: 6; SOS: 2) aren’t going to get much worse with Virginia and the ACC tournament on the horizon. Delaware has a victory over Hofstra but not much else for its at-large profile; the Blue Hens already look like a team in need of a conference tournament title. Hopkins has a double-digit strength of schedule at this stage for the first time in seemingly forever, but has positioned itself well. Penn (RPI: 11; SOS: 11) could turn out to be a computer darling – though the early victory over Duke helps, too. This winners of these two games would be sent to Foxborough for the quarterfinals.

(3) Virginia vs. PATRIOT/Bucknell
(6) Villanova vs. Maryland

Despite a two-game hiccup, the Cavaliers’ profile remains sound. Bucknell looks like the best team in the Patriot League, though Colgate could make a decent case, too. Villanova has great RPI and SOS numbers (4 and 7), but its best victories are against Penn, Delaware and Penn State. The 17-23 combined record of their remaining opponents won’t prop up their computer numbers; Villanova is essentially the anti-Maryland. Despite being unseeded in this projection, the Terps aren’t in danger of missing the tournament. This quarter of the bracket would be assigned to Hofstra for the second round.

(2) Notre Dame vs. AMERICA EAST/Stony Brook
(7) North Carolina vs. ECAC/Denver

The Fighting Irish improved to 8-0 Sunday with a defeat of Georgetown, and both their computer numbers and their quality wins (Duke, Denver, Villanova) justify this seeding. As good as Stony Brook is supposed to be, its path to the tournament is through the America East tournament. North Carolina is tough to read, though its victory over Maryland will eventually look better as the Terps’ RPI and SOS improve. It is difficult to decide what to do with Denver, which suffered its only two losses to unbeaten Syracuse and Notre Dame. This quadrant would feed into Foxborough.

Patrick Stevens