Bracketology: No Obvious Way to Rank Field Past Maryland, Georgetown

PHOTO BY RICH BARNES


The NCAA lacrosse committee has two primary tasks each year when it crafts a postseason bracket: Seeding and selection.

One of those looks a lot more challenging than the others.

There isn’t an obvious way to rank the field beyond Maryland and Georgetown. While conference tournaments will help sort some things out, the on-field differences between No. 3 and, say, No. 13 aren’t especially wide. There is some variation in RPI, strength of schedule and quality victories, yet the committee showed some flexibility in constructing its second midseason top 10 late last week.

Bottom line: There could be some seeding surprises. The options for actually filling out the field are more limited.

In fact, here’s a not-so-bold prediction. The eight at-large selections will come from this 13-team group: Brown, Cornell, Duke, Harvard, Georgetown, Maryland, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn, Princeton, Rutgers, Virginia and Yale.

As many as three of those teams could land automatic bids (via the Big East, Big Ten and Ivy League). At least two of them won’t play beyond this weekend.

Helping matters for the committee is the absence of possible bid thieves. Everyone in the Ivy League tournament is in good shape. Johns Hopkins is the only Big Ten team left without at-large hopes. The non-Georgetown teams in the Big East tournament possess the greatest potential for squeezing someone from the at-large field.

In the interest of showing the work, here’s a league-by-league breakdown of what to look for this week, including a projected number of NCAA berths for each conference.

America East (1): Not only is it one-bid territory, but whoever comes out of the league tournament in Burlington, Vt., is surely ticketed for a play-in game. Vermont (RPI: 39) won the regular season and will face Albany (48) on Thursday, while UMBC (52) and Binghamton (58) meet in the other semifinal.

Atlantic Coast (1-3): Virginia (RPI: 10) is good to go, and it’s hard to imagine the winner of Saturday’s game between Duke (8) and Notre Dame (13) won’t find its way into the field barring chaos (hence the possibility of a one-bid ACC). Could the loser of that contest in South Bend, Ind., get in? If it’s Duke, maybe. If it’s Notre Dame, it could be a bit of a stretch.

Atlantic Sun (1): There could be some entertaining games later this week in Huntsville, Ala. (No, that is not a typo). But the A-Sun is strictly a one-bid league. Utah (RPI: 21) gets Bellarmine (63) in one semifinal, while Air Force (37) and Robert Morris (38) meet in the other.

Big East (1-2): It’s not complicated. Georgetown (RPI: 3) can make this a one-bid league if it wins two games on its home field, starting with Marquette (51) on Thursday. Denver (15) and Villanova (24) are both good teams, but they’ve combined for one top-20 victory. This is the one league guaranteed to have a potential bid snatcher lurking on Saturday.

Big Ten (2-3): Maryland (RPI: 1) is in line for the top overall seed; it faces Johns Hopkins (20) less than two weeks after beating the Blue Jays 22-7. Rutgers (6) was No. 5 in the committee’s top 10 rankings entering the weekend, and it’s hard to imagine a loss to Ohio State (11) would nudge the Scarlet Knights from the field. The Buckeyes, though, would be well-advised to snag a semifinal victory over Rutgers. It might be the difference between playing on another week or getting left out of the field.

Colonial (1): Only the league tournament winner is getting in, and it’s anyone’s guess who that will be. Delaware (RPI: 26) is the top seed and gets defending CAA champ Drexel (42) in the semifinals. Massachusetts (25) and Towson (27) meet in Thursday’s other game in Philadelphia.

Ivy (5-6): This year’s masters of the RPI are the top six teams in the Ivy League. Conference tournament host Brown (RPI: 9) and Penn (4) meet in one semifinal, Yale (5) and Cornell (7) in the other. It’s basically like what the ACC tournament used to be; the winners get a boost, and the losers won’t be harmed. Princeton (2) is in great shape even after missing the Ivy tournament. Harvard (12), though, really could have used another chance to bolster its profile.

Metro Atlantic (1): Like the eventual America East champ, the MAAC winner will face a quick turnaround for a play-in game next week. Top-seeded St. Bonaventure (RPI: 41) faces Siena (61) in one semifinal, while tournament host Marist (40) gets Manhattan (55) in the other.

Northeast (1): This is another one-bid league, but the winner has a chance to escape a play-in assignment — at least if it is top-seeded Saint Joseph’s (RPI: 19). The Hawks welcome LIU (43) to Philadelphia on Thursday, while Bryant (35) and Hobart (44) play in the other semifinal. Saint Joseph’s doesn’t own a victory over a top-25 RPI team, so it needs an automatic berth to get in.

Patriot (1): There are plenty of interesting teams here, including top-seeded Boston University (RPI: 14) and second-seeded Army (18). Neither has a strong enough profile for an at-large berth, but both could be headaches in the right NCAA tournament first round game. The Terriers and Black Knights have byes into the semifinals; Bucknell (33) visits Loyola (22) and Lehigh (29) plays host to Navy (28) on Tuesday to get tournament week underway.

Southern (1): The harsh truth is Jacksonville (RPI: 23) is going to need to win the SoCon tournament to land its first NCAA tournament berth, even with its 3-1 mark against the top 20 of the RPI. The Dolphins meet VMI (69) on Thursday, with the winner facing either Richmond (16) or tournament host High Point (32).

Now for the bracket breakdown entering the final week of the season.

AUTOMATIC QUALIFIERS (10)

Maryland (12-0) Big Ten

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

25+L

1

18

1-0

3-0

6-0

Georgetown (13-1) Big East

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

25+L

3

14

1-1

1-1

5-1

Brown (10-4) Ivy League

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

25+L

9

12

2-1

3-1

3-3

Boston University (10-4) Patriot League

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

25+L

14

22

0-2

0-2

0-4

Saint Joseph's (12-3) NEC

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

25+L

19

49

0-1

0-1

0-1

Del. (26), at Drexel (42)

Utah (9-3) ASUN 

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

25+L

21

55

0-1

0-1

0-2

at UMBC (52)

Jacksonville (13-2) SoCon

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

25+L

23

38

0-0

1-0

3-1

Delaware (9-5) CAA

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

25+L

26

37

0-0

0-1

2-1

at Mich. (46), Hofstra (49)

Vermont (9-6) America East

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

25+L

39

35

0-0

0-2

0-2

at Dart. (31), at Prov. (47)

St. Bonaventure (10-3) Metro Atlantic

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

25+L

41

73

0-0

0-0

0-2

at Siena (61)

Maryland’s strength of schedule went from 11th to 18th during its open date. That isn’t a huge surprise considering the NCAA’s schedule strength metric accounts for only a team’s 10 best opponents. If they reach the Big Ten final, the Terrapins will cycle out two of Syracuse (30th), High Point (32nd) and Penn State (34th) for a pair of top-20 games. … Georgetown was already the No. 2 seed ahead of Princeton in the committee’s eyes prior to the weekend, and the gap is surely wider after the Tigers lost to Cornell. …

Brown might get a home game even if it loses to Penn in the Ivy League semifinals, but better safe than sorry for Bruno. … Boston University’s level is roughly Top 20. It is 10-0 against teams outside the top 20 of the RPI, 0-4 against those inside it. …

Saint Joseph’s nearly landed a signature victory in its one shot at a top-20 opponent, but fell to Penn in overtime. All three of the Hawks’ losses have come by a goal. … Utah brings a six-game winning streak into the Atlantic Sun tournament. It hasn’t dropped a game since March 19 at Georgetown. …

Unlike Utah or Saint Joseph’s, Jacksonville could add another top-20 victory if it beats Richmond in the Southern Conference final. Here’s guessing the Dolphins wouldn’t have to deal with a play-in game if it adds two victories this week. … Delaware’s two top-20 victories came against Saint Joseph’s and Johns Hopkins. …

Vermont is a considerable favorite in the America East tournament. It outscored six league foes by a 99-41 margin, including a 43-19 edge over the three programs traveling north to Burlington this week. … St. Bonaventure must open Metro Atlantic tournament play against the one league foe it lost to this season (Siena).







AT-LARGE (14 TEAMS/8 SLOTS)

Princeton (9-4) Ivy League

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

25+L

2

1

2-2

4-3

5-4

Penn (8-4) Ivy League

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

25+L

4

4

0-3

2-4

4-4

Yale (10-3) Ivy League

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

25+L

5

6

2-0

2-2

5-2

at Penn State (34)

Rutgers (12-2) Big Ten

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

25+L

6

24

0-2

0-2

3-2

Cornell (11-3) Ivy League

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

25+L

7

8

2-1

2-2

4-3

Duke (11-5) ACC

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

25+L

8

13

0-1

1-1

5-2

at Syracuse (30)

Virginia (11-3) ACC

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

25+L

10

17

0-1

0-2

4-3

Ohio State (10-4) Big Ten

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

25+L

11

10

0-1

0-3

4-4

Harvard (8-4) Ivy League

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

25+L

12

15

1-1

2-3

3-4

Notre Dame (7-4) ACC

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

25+L

13

21

0-2

1-3

2-4

Denver (9-5) Big East

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

25+L

15

16

0-2

0-3

1-4

Richmond (9-4) SoCon

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

25+L

16

30

0-1

1-2

1-3

North Carolina (8-6) ACC

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

25+L

17

4

0-0

1-4

4-6

Army (11-3) Patriot League

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

25+L

18

27

0-0

1-1

2-1

Navy (28), Lehigh (29)

Is Princeton good? Yes, despite the defensive issues the last two weeks. Are the Tigers making the NCAA tournament? Yes, even without an Ivy League tournament appearance. But is Princeton the second-best team in the country? That’s a stretch, and its ability to stubbornly stick at No. 2 in the RPI after consecutive losses is just the latest reason to roll your eyes at the NCAA’s primary metric. … Whether Penn lands a first-round home game is probably tied to whether it can win at Brown in the Ivy League semifinals. …

The only team with more top-20 wins than Yale? Maryland. The only teams with more top-10 wins than the Bulldogs? Princeton, Maryland and Brown. … Rutgers had a quarterfinal bye in the Big Ten tournament, and its situation remains unchanged. Even at 12-2, it might need to beat Ohio State to pin down a first-round home game in the NCAA tournament. …

Cornell really needed that victory at Princeton. The Big Red is probably a bit like Penn; an Ivy League semifinal victory would make it feel pretty good about its chances of landing a first-round home date in the NCAA tournament. … Has Duke done enough, regardless of what it does at Notre Dame on Saturday? That’s going to depend on what other teams do. The Blue Devils might land a home game with a victory in South Bend. …

A related question: Is Virginia in danger of hitting the road in the first round of the tournament? The Cavaliers were No. 7 in the committee’s pre-weekend rankings, ahead of Penn (eighth), Cornell (ninth) and Duke (not in the top 10). … Ohio State is a team on the spot Thursday. Beat Rutgers in the Big Ten semifinals, and the Buckeyes will be hard to keep out of the NCAA tournament. Lose, and it could be vulnerable to Notre Dame snagging a spot or a Big East team like Denver or Villanova bumping it from the field. …

It's worth remembering that Harvard’s strength of schedule number will go down a little this week, simply because other teams are replacing opponents near the bottom of their respective schedules with a high-end foe or two in some conference tournaments. The Crimson, which missed out on the Ivy playoff, doesn’t have that luxury. … It would be more surprising if Notre Dame lost to Duke and got in than if it beat the Blue Devils and missed out. If the latter scenario unfolded, the Irish would probably be the best team to miss the tournament since the field expanded to 16 in 2003. …

Beating Villanova isn’t going to help Denver enough for at-large purposes. It’s Big East tournament title-or-bust for the Pioneers. … Richmond just doesn’t have as much oomph to its profile as other teams hovering around the edge of the field. The Spiders need to win the Southern tournament. …

North Carolina is in the clubhouse after dropping four of its last five, with each of the defeats by at least seven goals. Last year’s No. 1 seed will miss the tournament. … Army is included for the sake of thoroughness, but the two notable losses make the Black Knights’ profile stand out for the wrong reason.

BRACKET

A few notes worth remembering …

  • The NCAA will return to eight campus-site games in the first round this season. First-round conference matchups will be avoided, which can lead to some movement for the unseeded teams.

  • With the return of the Ivy League from last year’s hiatus and the addition of the Atlantic Sun, there are 10 conferences eligible for automatic berths. That means there will be two play-in games, featuring the four lowest-ranked automatic qualifying teams. The rankings will be determined by the committee and not specifically by the RPI.

  • Limiting air travel remains a priority for the NCAA, so this won’t necessarily be a 1-through-16 bracket. Historically, the NCAA tries to bracket the field so only two teams must travel more than 400 miles for a first-round game, though it isn’t a completely inflexible rule.

  • Quarterfinal hosts are funneled into their home sites. Whichever quadrant of the bracket Ohio State lands in (assuming it makes the tournament) will play a second-weekend game in Columbus.

  • This exercise is an attempt to project what the NCAA committee would do based on its history and on this season’s results to date. It is not an attempt to predict future results or suggest what the committee should do.

Hempstead, N.Y., quarterfinal    

(1) BIG TEN/Maryland vs. COLONIAL/Delaware-METRO ATLANTIC/St. Bonaventure
(8) Virginia vs. Penn

Hempstead, N.Y., quarterfinal

(5) Rutgers vs. SOUTHERN/Jacksonville
(4) Princeton vs. PATRIOT/Boston University

Columbus, Ohio, quarterfinal

(3) Yale vs. NORTHEAST/Saint Joseph’s
(6) IVY/Brown vs. Ohio State

Columbus, Ohio, quarterfinal      

(7) Cornell vs. Duke
(2) BIG EAST/Georgetown vs. ATLANTIC SUN/Utah-AMERICA EAST/Vermont

Last three included: Penn, Duke, Ohio State
First three on the outside: Notre Dame, Harvard, Denver

Moving in: Delaware
Moving out: Towson

Conference call: Ivy (5), Big Ten (3), Atlantic Coast (2)

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