Big weekend for teams on tourney bubble

This weekend's games will decide the Colonial and MAAC automatic bids for the NCAA Tournament, as well as separate some of the teams on the tournament bubble.

Updated: May 3, 2006, 12:38 PM ET
By Quint Kessenich | Special to ESPN.com

Quality wins are essential for admittance into the NCAA Tournament. With that said, let's get the easy stuff out of the way. As of May 2, these teams are in the NCAA Tournament: Virginia, Hofstra, Cornell (automatic qualifier), Maryland, Syracuse, Navy (automatic qualifier), Johns Hopkins, Princeton, Georgetown and Denver (automatic qualifier).

Penn and UMass are likely to make the big dance as well. Penn plays at Maryland this weekend, and a win over the Terps could get the Quakers a home game in the Round of 16, but even if they lose, they are still on the good side of the bubble. UMass has beaten Hofstra and with a win over Rutgers this weekend, the Minutemen gain entry. If they fall to the Scarlet Knights, things could get dicey for coach Greg Cannella.

We've got automatic qualifiers Cornell (Ivy), Navy (Patriot) and Denver (GWLL) already put to bed. This weekend the Colonial and MAAC bids are at stake.

Let's look at who's on the bubble -- this is where things get fun.

Bubble Teams

Towson: A win Wednesday is essential for coach Tony Seaman's Tigers. Towson is 1-4 against top competition.

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Loyola (Md.): Hosts Hopkins on Saturday (2 p.m., ESPNU). It's a clear-cut playoff game for the Greyhounds. Lose and you can clean out your locker.

Harvard: Plays Dartmouth on Saturday. The Crimson have three top-20 wins, but that probably won't be enough. If they fall to the Big Green, then forget about it.

Penn State: A win over Georgetown could get coach Glenn Thiel's Nittany Lions into the postseason. PSU has a victory over UMass.

Hobart: Needs to beat Cornell this week and then root for Hofstra to win the CAA and claim an automatic berth.

Colgate: Same deal as Loyola. The Red Raiders have beaten Navy this year, but that's it. They need to garner another quality win, and beating Syracuse would bring some life to Hamilton, N.Y.

UMBC: The Retrievers may have peaked a week too early. They're 8-4, but without a top-10 win and lost head-to-head against Towson. I think they are very talented, but probably have to win their conference's automatic bid to get into the tourney.

Notre Dame: Has two top-20 wins but none in the top 10. The Fighting Irish play Quinnipiac this weekend.

Army: Doesn't have any top-10 wins. Beating Ohio State this weekend is for pride only. Just can't get the Black Knights into the bracket.

Delaware: Needs to win the Colonial to qualify.

Stony Brook: Anything less than an America East title will leave the Sea Wolves on the outside looking in.

Albany: Lost a close one to Johns Hopkins earlier this year, as well as a heartbreaker to Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. Coach Scott Marr's squad beat UMass, but that won't be enough. The Great Danes can score with anybody, but they'll have to win the America East tourney.

At-large berths into the NCAA Tournament are selected using the following criteria:
1. Quality wins -- results against teams in the top 20.
2. Strength of schedule index using the RPI -- only the 10 highest-ranked teams are counted.
3. Normal RPI rank -- includes winning percentage, opponents' strength of schedule and opponents' record.

The NCAA selection committee also uses some secondary factors: head-to-head competition, results against common opponents, advisory committee rankings and results against teams not under consideration. Strength of schedule and RPI counts for two-thirds of the selection criteria.

Here's what my updated bracket looks like:

1. Virginia: Unbeaten and untouched, the Cavaliers will host the MAAC champion in the first round. A year ago, Virginia was 1.4 seconds away from a trip to the NCAA final. The Cavaliers have used that devastating defeat as a rallying cry. Where are they vulnerable? Nowhere. To beat Virginia, here's what would have to happen: An opponent would have to win 65 percent of the faceoffs and save more than 70 percent of shots on goal while Virginia goalie Kip Turner struggled to save 40 percent. The opponent must also cash in on specialty situations -- go plus-3 in that category -- and hope the Wahoos have a shooting day around 20 percent. Very unlikely. I've covered 11 NCAA tournaments, and I've never seen a stronger favorite to win it all than Virginia.

2. Hofstra: If the Pride win the CAA, then they could slide into the No. 2 slot. If they fall this weekend, I still think they are a No. 3 or No. 4 seed, even though their strength of schedule is extremely weak.

3. Cornell: Coach Jeff Tambroni continues to amaze me. On paper this team is average; on the field they are excellent.

4. Maryland: Closed the gap against Virginia to a six-goal margin Sunday in the ACC championship after getting dusted 15-5 in the regular season, but still scored just five goals against the Cavaliers.

5. Georgetown: The Hoyas would love a quarterfinal rematch with the Terps.

6. Princeton: Head-to-head win over the Blue Jays is what coach Bill Tierney is hanging his hat on.

7. Hopkins: Jays need to beat Loyola on Saturday to avoid the dreaded 8-9 game this year.

8. Syracuse: Have six wins in a row. Doubt the Orange will take Colgate lightly.

9. Navy: Senior attackman Jon Birsner is my new hero.

10. UMass: Another date in Baltimore?

11. Penn: Ivy League rematch looks attractive.

12. Towson: Scrap with Georgetown would be exciting.

13. UMBC: If it wins the America East, I'm sticking with an MD-UMBC intrastate rivalry.

14. Loyola: This last at-large spot is wide open. Right now, regardless of Saturday's outcome against Hopkins, Loyola is the strongest candidate. A win over the Blue Jays would solidify its spot. Loyola has the No. 12 strengh of schedule (second-best of the remaining candidates) and is the only remaining at-large contender with a top-five win. Other contenders for this spot include Penn State, Colgate, Harvard and Hobart. Harvard has the best strength of schedule of the bunch. And if Penn State, Colgate or Hobart wins this weekend, then it would be a much-needed quality win that could earn any of them an at-large bid. Of course, if an underdog wins its respective conference tournament, then it will earn this spot.

15. Denver: Southwest has cheap flights from Colorado to Islip, N.Y.

16. MAAC winner

Comments? E-mail quint@insidelacrosse.com. ESPN.com is working with Inside Lacrosse to provide you with news and analysis. Click here for more coverage.

Quint Kessenich covers college and professional lacrosse for ESPN.

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