Dermot Coll picked up the phone late Sunday, his work as the chairman of the NCAA’s lacrosse committee complete. The 16-team bracket was unveiled less than an hour earlier, and even then he knew precisely what the first question from a reporter would be about.
The Air Force associate athletic director was referring to a conference matchup in the first round of the tournament. Maryland will visit eighth-seeded North Carolina on Sunday, the first league opponents to meet in the opening round since 2003.
Coll cited the combination of the NCAA’s two-flight suggested guideline and the competitive balance of the tournament for pairing the two ACC teams who have already played twice this season.
“In my mind, it was a true [8-9] matchup,” Coll said. “We prefer not to have that. Today, we spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to move some things around and not have that first-round game.”
The crucial results in setting up the matchup, it turned out, came this weekend. North Carolina bolstered its profile when it upset Notre Dame, earning a top-five victory. Maryland, meanwhile, lost Saturday to Colgate.
Flip both of those results – and perhaps even just one –and the bracket might be different.
Maryland is a far more accessible trip for several schools than North Carolina. The other seven road teams in the draw – Siena, Hartford, Hofstra, Penn, Delaware, Villanova and Bucknell – are all within a 400-mile radius of College Park.
Only one (Delaware) is that close to Chapel Hill. Schools separated by than 400 miles are slated to bus to their site according to NCAA regulations.
Had the NCAA found another team to send to Carolina, Maryland likely would have been shipped to Denver for the first round.
“We had one at 417 and one at 413, but we couldn’t get anyone there [in less than 400],” Coll said.
Maryland coach John Tillman declined to make an issue of the odd matchup. The winner will meet the Syracuse-Siena winner in Foxborough, Mass., on May 22.
“Going to Carolina was going to be tough and going to Denver was going to be tough,” Tillman said. “Carolina just beat the No. 2 team in the country and it’s going to be a challenge. You look at that and go ‘Wow, it’s going to be tough.’ Going out to Denver, you have to deal with the altitude, the blazing hot and playing Bill Tierney. Either one was going to require us to play well.”
Given a top-five preseason ranking and a roster with 17 seniors, the unseeded Terrapins (10-4) are in an unanticipated spot. Maryland has not reached the final four since 2006, and the path to Memorial Day weekend requires a road victory and likely a defeat of the nation’s No. 1 team.
However, Tillman acknowledged the Terps had chances to avoid such a predicament.
“With us, if we won every single game, we’d have made it very easy for the committee,” Tillman said. “We didn’t, and when you don’t do that, you end up being at the mercy of someone else.”