NCAA tourney picture lacks clarity
Army and Denver secured the first two automatic qualifiers to the NCAA tournament on Sunday. Congratulations to the Pioneers, who were undefeated in the ECAC, and the Cadets, who swept both the regular season and Patriot League tournament.
Championship weekend is here! With less than one week to go before the NCAA tournament's Selection Sunday (ESPNU, 8.30 p.m. ET) the field for the postseason is narrowing.
What did we learn last weekend? It's safe to say that Harvard, Navy and Dartmouth are toast. Johns Hopkins, even with a win over Loyola, may be left aside. Cornell took a huge step toward the postseason with a one-goal win at Princeton. Towson put itself in a corner; it must win the CAA's AQ to even be .500. And the top five remains the same -- the biggest question may be who'll get the fourth seed and a potential matchup with Duke in the quarterfinals Maryland, Syracuse or North Carolina?
The Hoos dismantled Robert Morris 18-9 on Saturday afternoon to end their regular season at 14-1, a stellar campaign for coach Dom Starsia's team, considering the rigorous schedule. The Cavs averaged 13.4 goals a game, scooped up eight more ground balls per game than their opponent, and cleared the ball at 92 percent, which is the highest number I can remember. They have a bye this weekend for final exams. Virginia will be the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and host a first-round game at Klockner Stadium.
Another defensive gem by the Big East champions in a hostile environment, holding Notre Dame to six goals Saturday night. Syracuse was ranked at No. 4 in RPI when the NCAA released its data last week, I'm expecting to see the Orange improve to the point where they receive a No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the tournament. They clearly deserve the No. 2 slot. Otto's only blemish is a one-goal loss on March 7 on grass at Virginia. SU is now 44-5 since the start of the 2008 season. The Orange wrap up the regular season slate at St John's on May 8.
I thought the Terps may be on upset alert and ready for a regression following a taxing ACC tournament (two games in three days), but they pummeled Fairfield 17-4 on Senior Day in College Park. Grant Catalino now has 50 points and Ryan Young has 40. Coach Dave Cottle's extra-man is 55 percent on the year. The four ACC schools combined only have one loss out-of-conference and it's likely that all four will be seeded in the top five when the NCAA brackets are released May 9.
4. North Carolina
The Heels had the weekend off, a much needed time to recover from a grueling month of April. Carolina's offense hasn't been clicking without Sean Delaney -- the Heels were held to five goals against Virginia and Maryland in late-season losses. Midfielders Jimmy Dunster and Cryder DiPietro are keys to a postseason run. Carolina is just a 48 percent face-off team. UNC plays Ohio State this week.
The Blue Devils had the weekend off. I had the chance to speak with Team USA attackman Ned Crotty last week on my ESPNU Lacrosse Podcast. He dished out some helpful tips for young players and he gave me the feeling that Duke has finally come together as a team. They finish the regular season with Sacred Heart.
What a gutsy performance by the Big Red on a scorching Saturday at Princeton. Cornell got excellent performances from David Lau, Ryan Hurley, Roy Lang, Rob Pannell and goalie AJ Fiore. This team is always dangerous with Jeff Tambroni and his staff patrolling the sidelines -- they were prepared and played hard, smart and with emotion. Cornell attacked Princeton's short stick midfielders and lead 4-0 early. They stretched the lead to 9-3 and withstood a furious Tiger rally to hold on 10-9. Cornell has now beaten Princeton, Army, Yale and Harvard and has positioned itself well for an at-large selection. Big Red host the Ivy League tournament this weekend in Ithaca, N.Y. (Watch the championship Sunday on ESPNU at noon ET.)
The Tigers hit the gas in the fourth quarter, scoring six of the game's last seven goals in a 10-9 loss at home against Cornell. Princeton's attack was neutralized by Cornell. Freshman midfielder Mike Chanenchuk scored his 26th goal of the spring, setting an all-time Princeton record for goals by a first-year player. The Tigers play Yale on Friday in Ithaca. Princeton has now lost two straight games -- but holds wins over Yale, Brown, Hofstra and Hopkins which will come in handy on Selection Sunday.
Nova has wins over Fairfield, Delaware, Drexel and Notre Dame in its back pocket but a bad loss to Lehigh hurts. The Wildcats were ranked No. 12 in the RPI last week and their SOS will be low. I think that the winner of the Villanova-Georgetown game Saturday has a strong chance to qualify for the big dance.
The Dragons were No. 18 in the RPI last week. They've earned wins over Notre Dame, UMass and Hofstra. Drexel plays Delaware, a team they lost to 10-6 on April 24, on Wednesday in a CAA semifinal.
The Minutemen have beaten Brown, Hofstra and Georgetown and lost to Yale, Harvard, Towson, Delaware and Drexel. They are a great example of why the selection process can be so difficult. UMass plays Towson on Wednesday in the CAA semifinals -- it's a must-win game for both squads.
The Pioneers won the ECAC on Sunday afternoon, shocking Loyola 12-4. Sophomores Patrick Rogers and Alex Demopoulos led Denver to its eighth straight victory, each recording hat tricks. Coach Bill Tierney's first season in the Mile High City began with losses to Syracuse, Jacksonville and Penn but after the 1-3 start, the Pioneers ran the table in ECAC play.
12. Stony Brook
Stony Brook pasted Vermont, 16-10, on Saturday. The Seawolves have wins over Towson, Siena and Delaware, which means they'll have to win the America East AQ. They tackle Vermont again in tournament action Wednesday.
The Hoyas took care of business this week, beating Rutgers 14-9. Their RPI was No. 11 last week, with wins over Harvard, Delaware, Navy, and Notre Dame. Georgetown squares off with Villanova on Saturday in what may amount to an elimination game.
14. Notre Dame
The Irish own a win over Duke, which is the only top-five win that anybody outside the top-five has. The Irish also beat Denver and Loyola, which may be enough to gain them entry into the NCAA tournament -- but their losses to Drexel, Fairfield and Villanova hurt if they are sitting on the bubble with those teams. I'm of the opinion that Notre Dame's win over Duke is the golden ticket to the tournament.
The Pride will not be playing in the CAA tournament this week. They've beaten Hopkins, Army, Delaware and Brown. If those teams finish with a flourish, Hofstra may sneak back into the equation.
The Greyhounds' wins of merit are against Navy, Towson, Fairfield and Georgetown. That's bubble city baby. Loyola hosts Johns Hopkins on Saturday -- Hopkins must win to be .500 and Loyola must win to put itself in the at-large equation.
Congratulations to coach Joe Alberici and the Cadets for winning the Patriot League AQ on Sunday afternoon. Goalie Tom Palesky was terrific as the Black Knights return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005. After starting the season with a 1-4 record, Army rebounded to win nine of its next 10 games, and are riding a seven-game winning streak.
The Bears have won five of their last six games and now travel to Cornell for the Ivy League semifinal against the Big Red, a team they beat 13-10 on April 24. Brown has wins over Harvard and Cornell -- that's really it. Losses to other bubble teams like Hofstra, Umass, Princeton and Yale will hurt its case.
The Bulldogs have been one of the great stories of the 2010 season, capturing 10 wins and a share of the Ivy League title. Coach Andy Shay is a national coach of the year candidate. Their NCAA résumé includes wins over UMass, Brown and Harvard. Yale was ranked No. 19 in the latest RPI and has a very low SOS. If Yale beats Princeton on Friday, it is very much in the mix.
20. Johns Hopkins
At 6-7, the Jays have wins over Siena, Delaware, and Towson. Beating Loyola on Saturday is mandatory to even be in consideration at .500. Hopkins will have strong SOS and RPI numbers, but losses to Hofstra, Navy and Princeton could be lethal.
Quint Kessenich covers lacrosse for the ESPN family of networks and welcomes your opinions at email@example.com.
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