In a refrain from the entire month of April, a wild weekend has shaken things up a bit in attempting to forecast the NCAA men’s lacrosse tournament field.
Loyola, the nation’s (and RPI’s) top-ranked team? No longer unbeaten.
Duke, last week’s projected No. 1 seed? Upset in Denver.
Villanova, seemingly a sure thing as an at-large? Upended by Providence, which entered the weekend with a 1-12 record.
So what, exactly, did get settled?
* Lehigh clinched the first NCAA tournament berth in program history by winning the Patriot League tournament. The Mountain Hawks, with an RPI of 6 (per LaxPower), will be in the discussion for a seed and a home game.
* Denver made a claim to an at-large berth. The Pioneers handled Duke, and now get Loyola coming to town in the ECAC tournament. One top-five win did wonders for Denver, and attackman Mark Matthews and Co. can solidify a spot in the postseason with another win Wednesday.
And, really, that’s about it.
Which brings about the bracket projection with merely a week before Selection Sunday. Only 25 Division I games remain in the season, and most are in conference tournaments that will produce automatic qualifiers in the next week.
The teams angling for the last four NCAA berths: Colgate, Penn State, Denver, Villanova, Ohio State, Cornell, Fairfield, Syracuse and Navy, the latter as an extreme longshot.
The teams the bubblers will no doubt be rooting for (unless they themselves are involved): Massachusetts, Loyola, Notre Dame and Princeton.
After all, there is still time to disrupt this. …
(1) Duke vs. AMERICA EAST/Stony Brook
(8) Maryland vs. PATRIOT/Lehigh
Duke is in the clubhouse at 13-4 after a forgettable trek to Denver. But the Blue Devils are also the only team in the top five in both RPI (4) and strength of schedule (2), and their four wins against the top-10 lead the field. If the selection committee sticks to its past history, Duke is the probable No. 1. … Stony Brook clinched the top seed in the woebegone America East. It also helps represent a major headache for the selection committee, which is tasked with minimizing flights in the first weekend if at all possible. Six of the projected seeds are located south of the Mason-Dixon line. Seven of the projected visitors are from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. It could be hard to avoid a third flight, especially if UMBC can’t win the America East. … Maryland began last week at No. 5 in the RPI, beat two sub-.500 teams and fell to No. 10. The Terps might be playing for a home game when they visit Colgate on Saturday. … Congrats to Lehigh, who reached the NCAA tournament in unexpected fashion: A 16-14 shootout against Colgate. Consider: The Mountain Hawks allowed half as many goals (or less) in 11 of their previous 15 games.
(4) North Carolina vs. Denver
(5) Virginia vs. IVY/Princeton
It was not intentional, but this bracket does set up the possibility of a mini-ACC tournament in the top half of the draw if the home teams all won their openers. … North Carolina‘s RPI will take a hit when it faces 1-12 Michigan to wrap up its season. The Tar Heels will likely keep their No. 1 strength of schedule, not to mention victories over Hopkins, Virginia and Maryland. … Denver‘s profile is immensely better than a week ago, but it is still vulnerable to a bid thief or two. It would be difficult to leave the Pioneers out if they stack a victory over Loyola on top of the upset of Duke. It would be impossible if Denver just goes and wins the ECAC tournament altogether. … Virginia (with Notre Dame) leads the field in top-20 wins with six, at least for the moment. Collecting victories over Cornell (No. 14) and Syracuse (No. 19) didn’t help nearly as much as anyone would have guessed back in March, though. … Princeton just went 6-0 in Ivy League play for the first time since 2001. Now here’s another Tiger tidbit: Goalie Tyler Fiorito and Co. have lost three games by a combined four goals this year.
(3) ECAC/Loyola vs. Villanova
(6) Johns Hopkins vs. Penn State
Loyola faced its largest deficit of the year (five goals) and rallied anyway to force overtime Saturday against Johns Hopkins. That’s good. Nonetheless, the setback stole some wiggle room for the Greyhounds, who have a quick turnaround to face Denver on the road on Wednesday. Loyola’s probably in decent shape for a home game, but its seeding could be in serious flux with back-to-back losses to end the regular season. … It’s not the most spectacular group of victories, but Villanova owns four top-20 wins (Lehigh, Bucknell, Syracuse and Drexel). Three of those were earned in February, though that doesn’t matter much. Nonetheless, the Wildcats are probably toast if they can’t beat Syracuse in the Big East semis. … Reports of Johns Hopkins‘ demise were greatly exaggerated. But it is bizarre to see the Blue Jays’ schedule ranked 16th. Swapping regular season finale foe Army (26th) for UMBC (35th) in the list of the top 10 opponents for schedule strength purposes won’t help a ton, either. … Penn State shouldn’t have much to worry about, but the Nits would sleep better next weekend if they can beat Drexel in the CAA semifinals. Penn State hasn’t allowed an opponent to reach double figures since March 10.
(2) BIG EAST/Notre Dame vs. METRO ATLANTIC/Siena
(7) COLONIAL/Massachusetts vs. Colgate
Notre Dame‘s schedule is littered with average to slightly above average opponents, hence its slightly above average schedule strength (20th). Eight of the Irish’s 12 games came against teams within two games of .500, and only one was against a team with a record worse than 6-9. … Siena clinched its sixth straight 10-win season on Saturday. Only Virginia (8), Notre Dame (7) and Duke (6) can match that run, though both Maryland (9) and Cornell (7) can extend their double-digit win runs with one more victory. … Massachusetts demolished Delaware to roll into the Colonial tournament unbeaten. The Minutemen have done all they could, but the comparison to 2009 Notre Dame continues to hold up. The Irish entered Selection Sunday with a strength of schedule of 36 and an RPI of 6 and wound up as a No. 7 seed. Maybe UMass gets treated better with its RPI at 2, but it will remain vulnerable to a lower seeding thanks to a schedule strength of 38th entering the final week. … Colgate has the rare opportunity to play back-to-back win-and-you’re-in games. The Raiders lost the Patriot final to Lehigh, but will be an easy at-large pick if they poach another victory over Maryland. Even with back-to-back losses, Colgate would own a worthy profile (RPI of 9, strength of schedule of 17, 4-1 against the top 20).
—- Patrick Stevens