Sunday night’s announcement of the 18-team NCAA tournament bracket was obvious. It seemed plausible Ohio State could get in ahead of Notre Dame, in part because of a head-to-head victory.

But Duke, with an RPI of 7, getting left out of the field? And Harvard, which had a worse RPI and strength of schedule than Duke and Notre Dame, getting in?

"> Time for a Change? Committee Throws Curveball with Final Selections | USA Lacrosse Magazine

PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

Jake Naso and Duke were left out of the NCAA tournament field.

Time for a Change? Committee Throws Curveball with Final Selections


Well, no one saw that coming.

Certainly not Duke or Notre Dame.

The fallout from Sunday night’s announcement of the 18-team NCAA tournament bracket was obvious. It seemed plausible Ohio State could get in ahead of Notre Dame, in part because of a head-to-head victory.

But Duke, with an RPI of 7, getting left out of the field? And Harvard, which had a worse RPI and strength of schedule than Duke and Notre Dame, getting in?

That was a curveball.

It turned out this was a year when quality victories and — significantly — noteworthy losses were deal breakers, according to committee chair Donna Woodruff. She said the five-person committee sorted out the top four at-large teams (Yale, Princeton, Rutgers and Cornell) before digging deeply into the remaining contenders.

That group included Brown, Duke, Harvard, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Virginia.

“From that, we said, ‘Let’s break these down in the exact same way to one another,’” said Woodruff, the athletic director at Loyola. “And at the end of the day, really what we ended up with was we were comparing significant wins, meaning the top 20, significant losses, and then if we had to and it kept going and we were still debating, head-to-head.”

Often, the committee uses things that differentiate a team to make a decision about it, one way or the other. This committee saw three losses outside the top 20 for Duke — against Loyola, Jacksonville and Syracuse — as a noteworthy difference.

“The truth of the matter, right away with Duke, when we were looking at significant wins and significant losses, yep, they had significant wins, but at the end of the day, we could not overlook from the significant losses standpoint that they had three losses outside of the top 20,” Woodruff said. “There were no other at-large teams that came even close to that. So they were a quick choice after we looked through all that with everybody.”

And with Duke effectively eliminated, that devalued Notre Dame’s signature accomplishment — a sweep of the Blue Devils, including a comeback victory Saturday in South Bend.

“Notre Dame, unfortunately for them, while they have three significant wins, none of them were over teams that are in the tournament, where others did have that,” Woodruff said. “Ohio State had the Harvard win. Obviously, Brown has Penn/Yale/Cornell, etc. Head-to-head, [Notre Dame] lost to Ohio State and UVA.”

And with that, two postseason mainstays that seemed on their way to contending for a trip to East Hartford, Connecticut, later this month found their seasons abruptly short-circuited.

After all these years of tracking committee decisions, a fair maxim is that it’s OK to be upset but not to be surprised. But Duke, with its RPI of 7, has the highest RPI of any team left out of the field since at least 2010. The Blue Devils’ exclusion comes as a stunner from both a competitive and a mathematical perspective.


“We may need to recognize that we need a subjective, human-based element to the selection criteria.”

— Lars Tiffany


THE FAVORITE

Maryland

Really, who else could it be? The 14-0 Terrapins have mowed down threat after threat after threat, and the team that gave them the toughest time this season and nearly bounced them from the quarterfinals (Notre Dame) isn’t around to make life difficult.

Maryland beat the No. 5 seed (Princeton) by five, the No. 6 seed (Rutgers) by eight and 10 in two meetings and defending champ Virginia by 11. The Terps aren’t invulnerable — they were in a one-goal game with Ohio State going into the fourth quarter last month — but they’re clearly the most complete team this season.

LAST TEAMS IN

Ohio State and Harvard

After Thursday’s Big Ten semifinal loss to Rutgers, Ohio State coach Nick Myers pointed out the strengths of his team’s profile. They beat Harvard and Notre Dame, two fellow borderline tournament teams. And the Buckeyes scheduled intelligently, also playing Cornell, Denver and North Carolina outside the Big Ten.

If the Buckeyes had been left out in favor of Notre Dame, Ohio State would have had a legitimate gripe about its head-to-head result not counting for anything. Instead, the Buckeyes are back in the field for the first time since 2017.

Harvard ended an eight-year postseason drought, a milestone in third-year (and second-season) coach Gerry Byrne’s tenure. Victories over Brown and Princeton carried the day for the Crimson and earned a trip to Rutgers in the first round.

FIRST TEAM OUT

Notre Dame

Based on Woodruff’s explanation, Duke was the first team cut from the final jumble of at-large teams, and that in turn hurt the Fighting Irish. Basically, Notre Dame was left with no victories against anyone in the tournament field.

There’s an interesting dynamic of having Duke and Notre Dame getting snubbed that has nothing to do with the ACC or the Irish’s sweep of the Blue Devils. Duke routinely plays as many games as it possibly can each season. That’s more opportunities to play — and more opportunities to trip up, as the Blue Devils invariably do just about every February.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, plays a more truncated schedule, especially since the ACC tournament disappeared last season. The Irish logged 14 games prior to the NCAA tournament in 2018 and 2019, then 10 a season ago (albeit under pandemic conditions) and 12 this year.

Fewer games mean fewer opportunities to impress, though Notre Dame is a bit more isolated geographically and doesn’t seem especially interested in a barnstorming tour. It’s an understandable conundrum.

Too many games? Too few games? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s just curious that neither approach worked out for selection purposes this season.

TOUGHEST DRAW

Virginia

If the Cavaliers win a third consecutive national title, they’ll have certainly earned it. First, they head to Brown to face coach Lars Tiffany’s former team and alma mater. That’s a cute subplot, but the game itself should be stellar. Neither team is bashful about pushing the pace.

If Virginia makes it through, top-seeded Maryland likely awaits in the quarterfinals in Columbus. The Cavaliers needed one-goal victories over the Terrapins in both of their title runs under Tiffany — in the quarterfinals in 2019 and on Memorial Day last year. Truth be told, the roughest draw for anyone is one that goes through Maryland without a quick turnaround. Couple that with the Brown trip, and Virginia has its work cut out for it.

UPSET ALERT

Ohio State at Cornell

Cornell has dropped three of four, including its last two home games by a combined 12 goals. The Buckeyes gave Rutgers a stellar run in the Big Ten semifinals before fading in the final 25 minutes, and they’re only a few weeks removed from pushing Maryland as well as anyone has in the last two weeks.

Plus, Ohio State has already been to Ithaca this season, dropping a 14-11 decision on March 5, so it has some direct experience dealing with the Big Red. This feels like a bit of a toss-up game, and the offensive personnel both teams deploy should make it one of the most enjoyable contests of the opening weekend.

PAYBACK TIME

Boston University at Princeton

The Patriot League champion Terriers are making their second trip to Class of 1952 Stadium this season. Back on April 9, they gamely hung around for three quarters before Princeton pulled away for a 12-7 victory. That game came as the Terriers were without defenseman Patrick Morrison, and midfielder Jake Cates suffered a season-ending injury early on.

Morrison is back, and Boston University has won four of its last five, including Sunday’s Patriot League title game against Army. Princeton will be coming off a two-week layoff. Will that help or hurt? And how will the Terriers handle their first taste of the NCAA tournament? Of course, Princeton hasn’t been this far in 10 years, so the Tigers aren’t postseason regulars, either.








NAMES TO KNOW

A Matt Brandau, Yale. The junior ranks second in the country in points (91) and fifth in goals (52). He’ll be a handful for anyone who encounters the Bulldogs.

M Graham Bundy Jr., Georgetown. The Big East tournament MVP is tied with Vermont’s Thomas McConvey for the most points for a midfielder this season with 67.

A Taggart Clark, Robert Morris. The Canadian connection is strong in Moon Township. Clark has 47 goals and 15 assists for the Colonials, and is one of the sport’s breakout stars after scoring eight times in 21 games over the previous three seasons.

FO Zach Cole, Saint Joseph’s. The national leader in faceoff percentage at .689, Cole has won at least half his draws in each appearance this season and had a 21-for-21 game against Wagner in March.

D Owen Grant, Delaware. There are a lot of options to choose from on the Blue Hens’ potent offense, but the two-time CAA defensive player of the year and Delaware’s career leader in caused turnovers is worth pointing out heading into his first NCAA tournament.

M Sam Handley, Penn. At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, Handley commands attention with his size. His skills — 33 goals and 33 assists worth — are exceptional, too. Don’t pencil his name into a first team All-America slot; chisel it in stone.

A Sam King, Harvard. Just a freshman, King led the Crimson in assists (19) and points (43). He’s certain to draw the attention of one of Rutgers’ top defenders.

G Brendan Krebs, Manhattan. The MAAC’s co-defensive player of the year in 2021, Krebs saw his numbers dip a little as a graduate student. Still, he’s plenty experienced and a big part of the Jaspers’ return to the tournament after a 20-year hiatus.

A Ryan Lanchbury, Richmond. The Spiders’ career scoring leader, Lanchbury has 39 goals and 39 assists and will look to cap his career by leading Richmond to its first NCAA tournament victory --- and maybe even more.

M Thomas McConvey, Vermont. The America East’s offensive player of the year, McConvey led the league with 55 goals. Only Georgetown attackman Dylan Watson (58) has more in Division I.

LSM Roy Meyer, Boston University. With 54 caused turnovers to go with 75 ground balls, Meyer is a menace in the middle of the field and a contender for All-America honors in the defensive midfield.

A John Piatelli, Cornell. The fifth-year senior made up for lost time after the Ivy’s shutdown, depositing 53 goals as the Big Red reached the postseason in former star Connor Buzcek’s first season as head coach.

LSM Ethan Rall, Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have five players with at least 27 goals, but their defense probably doesn’t get as much attention as it should. Rall is one of the top poles in the game and could find himself matchup up with Penn’s Sam Handley in the quarterfinals if both teams advance.

M Jackson Reid, Ohio State. There isn’t a midfielder in the country playing better than Reid at the offensive end of late. He had five goals in four of his last five games to help the Buckeyes earn an NCAA berth.

A Connor Shellenberger, Virginia. The star of last year’s postseason with 14 goals and 10 assists in four games, Shellenberger is the most dynamic player on a Cavalier offense that isn’t lacking for talent.

M Jake Stevens, Princeton. A brilliant do-it-all player, Stevens has 21 goals to go along with 59 ground balls. A .429 shooting percentage stands out as well.

G Connor Theriault, Brown. When Theriault was cooking, so were the Bears. He had a .637 save percentage during the five-game winning streak in April that vaulted Brown into the postseason.

FO Luke Wierman, Maryland. What makes the Terrapins even scarier than last year, when they had Jared Bernhardt. Wierman winning faceoffs at a 65.4 percent clip is a big part of it. The best way to contain Maryland’s offense is to keep the ball away from it. Wierman makes it exceptionally difficult to do.

DON’T BE SURPRISED IF

There are fresh faces on Memorial Day weekend

Penn hasn’t reached the semifinals since 1988. Harvard and Rutgers, owners of 16 previous NCAA tournament trips between them, have never made it past the quarterfinals. Richmond has never won an NCAA tournament game. One of them will advance to East Hartford.

But it doesn’t stop there. Second-seeded Georgetown (1999) and unseeded Delaware (2007) and Ohio State (2017) each have only one trip to championship weekend. Robert Morris has never been there. And seventh-seeded Cornell, while once a Memorial Day weekend regular, last played in the semis in 2013. One of them is getting through as well.

YOU’LL HEAR A LOT ABOUT

The Ivy League

The Ancient Eight has a superlative six playing on for at least another week. It was no surprise to see Penn, Princeton and Yale land top-five seeds, and Brown and Cornell both looked like they would be in the field as well.

But Harvard, which hadn’t made the tournament since 2014? That was an unexpected quirk, and the Crimson got in largely on the strength of its victories over Brown and Princeton.

Still, that’s not the story with the Ivies. Instead, it’s the resurgence of a league that missed almost all of last season and saw enough talent to fill an All-America team transfer out. Even without posses of graduate students and transfers, the Ivy capped a comeback season with a monster Selection Sunday. And they’re not done yet.




PHOTO BY RISLEY SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY


PREDICTIONS

1. Someone will push — and maybe beat — Maryland.

When was the last NCAA tournament that truly felt like a three-week coronation? Maybe 2006 Virginia, another undefeated team, though 2007 Duke (in its return to play) sucked most of the oxygen out of the room. And in 2017, Maryland was a clear-cut favorite, but there was also 42 years of scar tissue to work through.

The last champion to win every NCAA tournament game by at least four goals was 2006 Virginia. The last to win every game by at least five was 1990 Syracuse (no matter what the NCAA decrees about a vacated title). It is hard to steamroll everyone, and the Terps are bound to find themselves in a tight game or two this month.

2. At least one program will win its first NCAA tournament game.

This is guaranteed to be correct by Wednesday, since Vermont and Manhattan are both 0-1 all-time in the NCAA tournament. But Boston University, Richmond, Robert Morris and Saint Joseph’s also have never won a postseason game, and someone from that spunky group could very well pull off a surprise.

3. Multiple coaches who have never led a team to championship weekend will do so.

This is not a tournament littered with familiar coaching personalities. No John Danowski. No Bill Tierney. No Kevin Corrigan or Charley Toomey or Joe Breschi.

Exactly five of the 18 coaches in the field have a Memorial Day weekend appearance to their credit: Maryland’s John Tillman (eight), Virginia’s Lars Tiffany (three), Yale’s Andy Shay (two), Delaware’s Ben DeLuca (one) and Ohio State’s Nick Myers (one).

GRADING THE COMMITTEE

C

This grade covers both the committee itself and the process it uses, and it is really the latter that warrants the greatest scrutiny.

If the inputs are substandard — and in this case, the RPI that creates the foundation of the committee’s work is a one-size-fits-all metric utilized by the NCAA that generally doesn’t fit anyone particularly well — then the output is always going to risk being flimsy.

“There’s always some confusion about why did a certain team get in or did not get in, but I think this year will stimulate more conversation,” Virginia coach Lars Tiffany said Sunday night. “It might be time for us, in a sport that only plays 15 games a season per team roughly, we may need to recognize that we need a subjective, human-based element to the selection criteria, that there’s no magical math formula.”

This is not a new insight, either in lacrosse or in any college sport tied to the RPI. Stakeholders in college basketball, the NCAA’s biggest breadwinner, thought the RPI was so great they went out and had a new metric developed — and it had twice as many data points per team to work with than lacrosse.

There is also an obvious irony that this is the first time in at least 20 years that ACC juggernauts were punished by the system. A year ago, the ACC’s five teams doubled as the top five in the RPI. Duke hadn’t missed the tournament when it played a full season since 2004. Notre Dame’s last miss was in 2005.

“We’re relying on an antiquated formula and playing only 15 games each, roughly,” Tiffany said. “It’s probably time to have some serious conversations. Can we make this more subjective and have more of a selection committee that has more voting rights than just following criteria? I’m not second-guessing the selection committee at all. They just follow the criteria they were given. This is one of those years that should make the rest of us go ‘It’s our fault. We didn’t change the criteria. This is the criteria we gave the selection committee.’”

Here’s an admittedly subjective assessment, backed up with some data: It is unlikely Duke, in particular, would have been excluded by any committee in at least the last decade. Only two other teams since 2010 have finished with a top-10 RPI and been left out: 2010 Georgetown and 2021 Army, both of which checked in at No. 9. Duke was seventh.

Put another way, Duke probably thought it had done enough given how the metrics were evaluated over a lengthy stretch. There is always some inconsistency from year to year; the committee members change, and no season is identical. Still, a moving target can be frustrating.

Time for another subjective assessment, with no statistical backing: This season’s editions of Duke and Notre Dame are arguably the two best teams since the field expanded to 16 to miss the tournament. Credit some of that to having more quality teams in the sport, which is good. It’s 2022, not 1982.

Yet it also creates the potential for the most damaging situation possible. In past years, there were arguments about who should have been a No. 1 seed, or who got a home game, or who got the last spot in the field. The conversation never really lurched toward pointing out how an excluded team had legitimate title hopes.

It did Sunday night. And when that happens, fair or not, the entire event faces a credibility issue.

The point of the tournament is to identify a national champion. Most would acknowledge both the flaws and the necessity of a single-elimination format, which doesn’t always spit out the best team. But it does produce a winning team everyone agrees upon as a champion, so long as reasonable people believe the best eligible teams were included.

That may not be the case after Sunday night, and that’s a problem. It would behoove everyone with a stake in the sport, especially coaches and administrators, to do what they can to ensure it doesn’t happen again. The process probably begins with a concerted and widespread push to re-evaluate the criteria that led to an angst-filled selection evening in the first place.

The committee isn’t the bug. The statistical inputs they’re asked to work with are. College lacrosse has needed better ones for some time. Sunday night just provided greater clarity for the consequences of not finding and developing them sooner.


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