Bracketology: Cornell Can Solidify Standing with Win Over Syracuse


Cornell defenseman Brandon Salvatore emerges with a ground ball during the Big Red's 15-11 win over Harvard on Saturday. Cornell hosts Syracuse in a game tonight that could have NCAA tournament implications.

Time’s ticking on the season, which means opportunities to make a postseason push are dwindling by the week.

It’s not quite make-or-break time — the conference tournaments serve that function — but the next few days could go a long way toward distinguishing the at-large candidacies of several teams near the edge of this week’s bracket projection.

Among them:


No one should quibble with how the Big Red has bounced back from consecutive losing seasons. After winning six of seven, Cornell is squarely in contention for an NCAA bid. It owns a solid, if unspectacular, set of victories (Harvard, Penn and Penn State), and it can really help its cause Tuesday night against Syracuse. A loss wouldn’t be devastating, but it would remove some of the Big Red’s margin of error.


The Cavaliers are at least on track to making the ACC tournament after handling North Carolina last week. That’s progress. But that victory alone isn’t going to get the job done in nailing down an at-large bid.

Beating Duke, though? That would make a difference. Of course, it would also be a breakthrough for a program that’s dropped nine in a row and 17 out of 18 to the Blue Devils. A win on Saturday coupled with handling business against Vermont and VMI later in the regular season would make it hard to leave out Lars Tiffany’s team.

North Carolina

The Tar Heels need to snap out of a month-long funk, and historically, going to the Carrier Dome to play Syracuse hasn’t been the right antidote for that problem. But the Orange have been blown out at home twice this season, and North Carolina has proven tough to completely finish off over the last couple years.

That having been said, the Tar Heels would have a narrow path to an at-large bid with a loss, and it would probably require a victory or two in the ACC tournament — assuming they even make it into the four-team field.

Penn State

Sunday’s loss to Maryland was a missed opportunity for the Nittany Lions. Now Johns Hopkins comes to town in a game that means just as much. Fall to the Blue Jays, and Penn State will be looking at needing (a) a victory over Rutgers, (b) at least one win in the Big Ten tournament or (c) quite possibly both to find its way back to the NCAA tournament.


Thanks to a victory over Syracuse, the Scarlet Knights are probably in better shape than the likes of North Carolina, Penn State and Virginia. But the last two years have taught Rutgers it’s best not to leave anything to chance.
Winning at Maryland on Sunday night wouldn’t guarantee Brian Brecht’s team anything. Still, it would provide a substantial boost to a program seeking its first NCAA bid since 2004.
Records against the top five, top 10 and top 20 and losses to teams outside the top 25 are based on performance against the current RPI rankings, not human polls.

Automatic Qualifiers (9)







26+ L

Albany 1 8 2-0 2-0 5-0 UMBC (49)
Maryland 2 4 0-1 2-1 6-1
Yale 4 12 0-0 0-1 2-2
Loyola 9 12 1-0 1-1 2-3
Denver 12 28 0-0 1-2 2-2
UMass 23 26 0-2 0-2 0-3 Army (33)
Jacksonville 34 48 0-0 0-1 1-2 Ohio State (32), High Point (38)
Bryant 36 50 0-1 0-1 0-2 Drexel (29), Boston U. (35), Providence (47)
Quinnipiac 55 63 0-0 0-0 0-1 UMass Lowell (39), Holy Cross (41), Fairfield (44), Hartford 51)

Albany’s profile remains the best in Division I despite a misstep at UMBC on Friday. The head-to-head victory at Maryland will help the Great Danes, but they can’t afford to go into a tailspin, either. Chances are, they won’t once Connor Fields returns from injury. … Maryland: Still undefeated all-time against Michigan and Penn State. The Terps continue Big Ten play against Rutgers, which it last lost to in 1980. …

Yale probably cost itself a bit in seeding with its loss to Bucknell, but it remains the Ivy League leader. … Loyola still hasn’t lost to Lehigh since entering the Patriot League. The Greyhounds scored the first seven goals on the Mountain Hawks before cruising to a 16-10 victory, and they might not play on the road again between now and Selection Sunday. …

Has anyone put together a better game all season than what Denver did against Villanova? Albany (at Syracuse) and Loyola (against Johns Hopkins) stand out as alternate choices. The 22-6 rout puts the Pioneers in control of the Big East race. … UMass hasn’t won more than seven games since its perfect regular season in 2012. The Minutemen go for win No. 8 this week against Towson. …

Jacksonville has the best RPI of the four teams tied atop the Southern Conference, hence the Dolphins’ inclusion this week. … Bryant dusted off Wagner to remain at the top of the Northeast Conference. Saint Joseph’s is also undefeated in NEC play. … The bottom 18 teams in the RPI (out of 71) include the Metro Atlantic’s entire seven-team contingent. It’s going to take a surprising development for Quinnipiac (or whoever wins the MAAC) to avoid going on the road for a play-in game.

At-Large Bids (16 teams/8 spots)







26+ L

Syracuse 3 2 0-2 2-3 3-3
Johns Hopkins 5 11 1-0 2-1 3-2
Villanova 6 5 1-1 1-1 3-2
Notre Dame 7 6 0-2 0-3 2-3
Duke 8 3 0-1 2-1 4-2  
Rutgers 10 12 1-1 1-1 1-1 Princeton (31), Army (33)
Cornell 13 23 0-2 0-2 3-2 Colgate (26)
Vermont 14 58 0-1 0-1 0-1
Bucknell 15 12 1-0 2-0 2-2 Richmond (40)
Virginia 16 7 0-2 1-3 2-3
Harvard 17 35 0-1 0-1 0-2 Holy Cross (41)
Navy 18 10 0-1 0-2 1-3 Jacksonville (34)
North Carolina 19 9 1-1 1-2 1-4 Hofstra (37), Richmond (40)
Penn State 20 21 0-1 0-2 1-3
Brown 21 18 0-0 1-1 2-2 Quinnipiac (55)
Robert Morris 22 47 0-0 0-1 1-1 Georgetown (26), Bryant (36)

It’s a big week for Syracuse, which faces Cornell on Tuesday and then can seal the ACC regular season title Saturday against North Carolina. The Orange’s numbers look good beyond the absence of a truly high-end victory. … Johns Hopkins keeps winning. The Blue Jays get the next two on the road (Penn State and Michigan) and can further solidify their chances of earning an NCAA tournament home game with a couple more victories. …

Villanova still has a decent claim to a home game even after a 22-6 loss to Denver. Doesn’t mean it will remain that way in another four weeks. … Duke made a big RPI jump after smothering Notre Dame on the road. The Blue Devils now own more top-20 victories than everyone other than Albany and Maryland.

The less said about Notre Dame and its offense over the last two weeks, the better. … Rutgers held serve against Michigan in impressive fashion. Now, can the Scarlet Knights finally navigate Maryland and add a second signature victory to their resume? …

Just re-stating the obvious: Tuesday’s visit from Syracuse has considerable postseason implications for Cornell. A win would be a major asset for Jeff Teat and the Big Red. … Not only is Vermont missing a top-20 victory, it owns just one triumph against the top half of Division I. That came against Jacksonville (No. 34). …

Bucknell has won at both Loyola and Yale and during its current winning streak. Those victories give the Bison a slight edge over Virginia for the last spot in the field for now. … Speaking of the Cavaliers, their 18-game losing streak in ACC regular season games is finally over.

To be a serious at-large threat, Harvard needs a quality victory somewhere along the way. That means beating Yale at the end of the month. … Navy has won seven of its last nine. The Midshipmen would have an interesting case without that season-opening loss at Jacksonville (which, admittedly, doesn’t look as bad on paper now as it did two months ago) …

Penn State couldn’t finish the job against Maryland, so it still has a lot of work to do. … Now on a six-game skid, North Carolina will fall under .500 — and off the board —with a loss to Syracuse this week. …

The best thing going for Brown, besides victories over Penn and Villanova, is opportunity. The Bears are the only Ivy team with games remaining against Cornell and Yale. … Robert Morris needs Penn State to do well, so the Nittany Lions’ loss Sunday didn’t help the Colonials at all. …

Missing from this chart is Penn, which checks in at No. 11 in the RPI but would be ineligible if the tournament was selected today because of its sub-.500 record (5-6). … The at-large chart shrank from 20 teams to 16 this week, and even a couple of those included this time around are long shots because of strength of schedule issues.


A few reminders on piecing together the bracket. …

* The committee seeds the top eight teams and then assigns the unseeded teams based on geography in an attempt to limit air travel while trying to maintain bracket integrity.

* Conference matchups are to be avoided in the first round.

* If applicable, quarterfinal host schools are funneled into their own site. Hofstra and Navy are this year’s quarterfinal hosts.

* Of the nine automatic qualifiers, the two with the weakest resumes are assigned to the preliminary round game the Wednesday before the first round. At-large teams are not selected for play-in games.

Hempstead, N.Y.

(8) Notre Dame vs. Denver

Annapolis, Md.

(5) IVY/Yale vs. Rutgers
(4) Johns Hopkins vs. Bucknell

Hempstead, N.Y.

(3) Syracuse vs. COLONIAL/UMass
(6) Duke vs. PATRIOT/Loyola

Annapolis, Md.

(7) Villanova vs. Cornell
(2) BIG TEN/Maryland vs. SOUTHERN/Jacksonville

Last four in: Villanova, Cornell, Rutgers, Bucknell
First four out: Virginia, North Carolina, Penn State, Navy

Multi-bid conferences: Atlantic Coast (3), Big Ten (3), Big East (2), Ivy (2) Patriot (2)

Moving in: Bucknell, Jacksonville, Quinnipiac
Moving out: Canisius, Furman, Penn

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