Kyle Rowe has won 57.4 percent of faceoffs for Duke, which visits No. 6 seed Johns Hopkins in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Duke Last In, Army First Out and Killer First-Round Matchups

If the lesson of the 2017 season is to expect the unexpected, there’s a good chance it will be reinforced during the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.

There are some heavyweight matchups scattered throughout the first round. Loyola heads to Ohio State. Syracuse must play host to a tough Yale bunch. Duke heads to Johns Hopkins. Albany draws defending national champion North Carolina at home.

“It might be from top to bottom the most competitive games that we’ve looked at since I’ve been on the committee — across the board,” Fairfield athletic director and NCAA lacrosse committee chairman Gene Doris said. “We’ve had some great matchups, but there’s the potential for an upset in almost every game on the slate. That really says a lot about where the sport has come.”

This year’s field includes one first-time participant (Monmouth). Eleven states are represented in the 17-team bracket. And with Penn State, Syracuse, Towson and Yale in one quadrant, there’s a guarantee at least one team that hasn’t advanced to the semifinals since at least 2013 will make it to Memorial Day weekend in Foxborough.

"There’s the potential for an upset in almost every game on the slate. That really says a lot about where the sport has come.” — Fairfield athletic director and NCAA lacrosse committee chairman Gene Doris



The Terrapins are the top seed for the second consecutive year. They owned the No. 1 RPI, and also beat four of the other seven seeded teams plus defending national champion North Carolina. They played 11 games against the top 20 of the RPI and earned both the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles. All three of their losses came by a goal (with two in overtime).

With six capable scoring options on its starting offense and a defense featuring the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year (Tim Muller) and one of the nation’s best short sticks (Isaiah Davis-Allen), the Terrapins don’t have many holes. They might not be as deep as last year, but they probably possess the highest floor of anyone in the field.



This is what the edge of the field looks like in 2017 — a team that beat North Carolina and Notre Dame, has no shortage of capable athletes and played defense in the second half of the season as well as it has for any stretch since its 2013 national title run barely made the tournament.

Or, think of it like this: The Blue Devils were effectively playing a round of 32 game Sunday against Boston University. Duke won 18-8, and has the look of a credible threat to win multiple tournament games. Doris said the committee’s discussion over the final spot in the field stretched into the early afternoon on Sunday. That’s how close the Blue Devils’ 10-year tournament streak was to ending.



In addition to Duke, Doris said the committee deliberated over five other programs for the last spot in the field: Army, Hofstra, Richmond, Rutgers and Villanova.

Ultimately, the Black Knights’ victory over Notre Dame prompted a deep discussion for the committee. Army had its flaws, notably a loss to Navy and a difference in strength of schedule, but it also beat both Syracuse and Notre Dame — two of the top four seeds in the field.

“There’s an advantage to playing in the ACC because you get in many ways a built-in schedule that helps,” Doris said. “When it comes to overall body of work, it’s the whole thing across the board. Getting into it all, that’s why they call them nitty-gritty sheets. We went through every bit of information to see who had the most check marks. The edges were definitely slight.”

On a side note, this means almost everything that could have possibly gone against Rutgers — Denver losing in the Big East tournament, Army leapfrogging the Scarlet Knights despite a head-to-head loss to Brian Brecht’s bunch, Duke holding serve against Boston University — happened in the final four days of the season. It wasn’t the last team out, but Rutgers was the unluckiest of the tournament contenders.


Johns Hopkins

The Blue Jays do get the benefit of playing at home, but they’ll face a Duke team that figured things out in the second half of the season. Survive their first NCAA tournament game at Homewood Field at 2012, and Hopkins will face either an Ohio State team that handled it twice or a Loyola program that specialized in providing payback during its run to the semifinals last year. Hopkins edged Loyola earlier this season.

On a side note, it’s hard to give this nod to Maryland since it gets a play-in winner, but the prospect of going through either Albany or North Carolina simply to make it to Foxborough is a hellacious task to deal with if it advances to the quarterfinals.


Towson vs. Penn State

What a contrast in styles. Penn State loves to push the pace, while Towson and its exceptional defensive midfield of long pole Tyler Mayes and short sticks Zach Goodrich and Jack Adams can lock down the most potent of offenses. The Tigers stymied Denver in last year’s first round, and faceoff ace Alex Woodall has largely enjoyed a successful season. If Towson controls possession, it could move onto the quarterfinals again.

In truth, there are a lot of potential upsets lurking in the first round. This might be a year like 2014, when first-round chaos cleared the path for multiple teams to advance to Memorial Day weekend. Three of the top four seeds exited in the first round last year, and it’s not out of the question it happens again.


Marquette at Notre Dame
Air Force at Denver

There’s a pair of first-round games that are regular season rematches. Air Force, which was coming off a season-opening victory at Duke, dropped a 14-6 decision at Denver on Feb. 11. More recently, Notre Dame edged Marquette 11-10 on April 11.


Cole Johnson and his Army teammates will miss the NCAA tournament despite owning wins over Syracuse and Notre Dame, the Nos. 2 and 4 seeds, respectively.


Trevor Baptiste, Denver: In a year defined by faceoff aces, Baptiste (73.6 percent) is the best of the bunch. His ability to help the Pioneers’ monopolize possession could be especially helpful in the quarterfinals; both Marquette and Notre Dame win less than half of their faceoffs.

Connor Fields, Albany: The junior ranks third in the country in goals per game … and second in assists per contest. With 51 goals and 57 assists, he is the centerpiece — but hardly the only weapon — on an explosive Great Danes offense. He had three goals and five assists against Maryland last month, so he’s a proven commodity against better defenses.

Ryder Garnsey and Sergio Perkovic, Notre Dame: Garnsey led the Fighting Irish with 20 assists in the regular season. Perkovic, a mainstay as an All-America midfielder throughout his career, has 22 goals this season. Neither played because of injury in Saturday’s loss at Army. Their health is critical if Notre Dame is to make a run this month.

Matt Rambo, Maryland: The Terrapins’ career points leader is one of the most consistent forces in the game. He has plenty of help, but it’s clear to all who the central figure on Maryland’s offense is this season.

Pat Spencer, Loyola: The national leader in assists per game, Spencer has enjoyed a fine season even if the Greyhounds slipped under the radar after early losses to Virginia, Johns Hopkins and Duke. If he can re-emerge in a big way at Ohio State, Loyola has the ability to pull off a first-round surprise.


Ohio State advances to its first final four

The Buckeyes might be the best program not to make it to the final weekend of the season. After quarterfinal trips in 2013 and 2015, they’ve found themselves in position to get there of late. With an offense littered with weapons and an elite option on faceoffs in Jake Withers, Ohio State joins Maryland among the nation’s steadiest teams. Can it punch through in the crucible of May?


Syracuse’s performance in one-goal games

The Orange went 12-2, including an 8-2 mark in one-goal games. It’s simple-minded to suggest Syracuse simply “knows how to win.” It’s equally unwise to write the Orange off as a team ripe for an early exit. Syracuse’s offense, particularly Nick Mariano and Sergio Salcido, will be heard from.

The question is whether its defense can hold up, especially if it runs into a team with a stout faceoff man enjoying a strong night. That could happen in the first round against Yale’s Conor Mackie, who brings a 59.1 winning percentage into the postseason.


Denver, Duke, Maryland and Syracuse reach the semifinals, with Maryland winning its first national title since 1975.

More than most years, it’s possible to pick at shortcomings of pretty much everyone. Can the defense hold up for Denver, Penn State and Syracuse? How will Albany and Ohio State handle a greater spotlight? Can Johns Hopkins play better away from home than it has much of the year? What of Notre Dame’s injury situation? Or Duke’s midfield depth? Or Maryland’s average faceoff work down the stretch?

There’s reasons not to trust just about everyone. The bottom half of the draw could yield plenty of carnage in the first weekend; Duke, Loyola, Towson and Yale are all plenty capable of pulling an upset.

As for the top half, Maryland against Albany or North Carolina sets up as a high-end potential quarterfinal, and Denver and Notre Dame are tested commodities in May.

Last year, Maryland created distance between itself and everyone else both on paper and on the field. The Terps are worthy of their No. 1 seed, but there isn’t a massive gap between them and the rest of the tournament field. Nonetheless, they keep putting themselves in position to finally end their title drought. With a heavy senior presence throughout the lineup, this might be the year it happens.



The one unexpected twist in this year’s bracket was Denver’s placement. The raw numbers suggested the Pioneers would be in the scrum in the No. 7 or No. 8 seed slots after losing to Marquette in the Big East semifinals.

Instead, the committee issued a No. 5 seed to Bill Tierney’s team, which will face Air Force in the first round.

“I felt like the only surprise I probably had was where Denver was seeded, quite honestly,” said Loyola coach Charley Toomey, himself a former committee member. “That surprised me coming off the weekend.”

The committee took advantage of the opportunity to avoid far-flung trips in the first weekend. Southern Conference champ Air Force heads to Denver rather than somewhere east of the Mississippi, and Marquette’s bus trip to Notre Dame was clearly going to happen as soon as the Golden Eagles won the Big East. Only Loyola (to Ohio State) and North Carolina (to Albany) require first-round flights.

In a perfect world, Air Force and Marquette would probably face the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds, leaving Yale and Loyola (teams with better profiles) to meet the Nos. 4 and 5 seeds. That’s on the NCAA and not the committee, which worked within some geographic constraints even as it attempted to maintain bracket integrity.

“As much as we could, yes,” Doris said. “If you could have more flexibility, it would be great. You might have looked at a couple matchups a little differently.”

Nonetheless, the committee still yielded the eight seeded teams the data suggested it would, though in a different order than forecast. The at-large field also came out as expected. There are nits to pick, as there are every year, but the teams that should be playing on this month will do so starting Wednesday afternoon.