Analysis and Deep Dive on the NCAA Division I Women's Lacrosse Bracket

Sunday night’s theme was throwing the book out. Literally.

“In years past, using the criteria was pretty straightforward, but we couldn’t do that this year,” Christy Leach, chair of the NCAA Selection Committee and Stetson head coach, said. “We had to focus a lot on significant wins and losses and what those meant.”

And what it meant was confusing to some, but fair to others. The biggest surprise was a 9-7 Duke team that registered just two wins over teams in this year’s NCAA field (Virginia and High Point) getting a No. 7 seed. Leach even cited competitiveness in games they lost, a factor not normally used in selecting and seeding teams.

“I think they were pretty competitive in those games,” Leach added. “They weren’t getting blown out, so to speak.”

Duke’s seed came at the expense of Drexel, who bested Duke in every metric, which was mostly cast aside. Drexel had five victories over teams in the field, but because it came against only two teams, Towson and Hofstra, that was discounted.

“Today they had an opportunity to take one from JMU, which would have added a quality win for them,” Leach said Sunday night after the bracket announcement.

Objectively, the numbers aren’t close.




vs. RPI T20

vs. RPI T40

Drexel 4 13 3-2 10-2
Duke 21 9 0-6 4-7

For the committee, the numbers needed to be viewed in a different light.

“The numbers aren’t as true as they’ve been in the past,” she said. “That’s where we look at the teams themselves. The RPIs were skewed.”

The skewing was truest for teams in the Big Ten and the MAAC, as they only played conference opponents. In a closed-loop system, the RPI doesn’t work. But for the other conferences that allowed non-conference play, it’s the only objective indicator we have to evaluate teams and conferences.

What ended up happening, according to Leach, is that the committee relied upon the regional advisory committees (RACs) to provide input about team quality. Then the national committee created their own internal rankings and based results from there.

This didn’t seem to be applied the same to all teams. For example, the ACC got the benefit of the doubt, but the CAA didn’t. Sure, the CAA got four teams in the field, but the fact that the ACC landed five seeds and the CAA didn’t grab one seemed unbalanced.

Duke got a higher seed than Stony Brook, which also has a better RPI (No. 5). Other unseeded teams include Loyola, which was No. 8 (and beat Drexel), Stanford (11-0 overall, No. 9 in the RPI), UMass (No. 12 RPI), Denver (No. 13) and James Madison (No. 15), which won the third-best league in Division I but has to travel to Chapel Hill and play Johns Hopkins.

Last point on the Duke decision: Twelve unseeded teams (including one that didn’t even make the field) matched or exceeded Duke’s win total over teams in the current field: Drexel (5), Maryland (4), James Madison (4), Hofstra (3), Denver (3), Penn State (3), Rutgers (2), Virginia (2), Temple (2), Towson (2), Vanderbilt (2) and Jacksonville (2). 

It has to be noted that Duke head coach Kersten Kimel is also on the national committee, although she had to recuse herself whenever her team was being discussed.

“In years past, using the criteria was pretty straightforward, but we couldn’t do that this year. We had to focus a lot on significant wins and losses and what those meant.”

Big Ten’s Scheduling Costs Them a Bid

Northwestern garnered a No. 2 seed, while Maryland and Johns Hopkins were comfortably in. Rutgers was among the final four teams in the field, according to Leach. The clearly second-best league didn’t get a fifth team in because of its round-robin play, which led to split series and surprise results.

We had projected Penn State in. The Nittany Lions went 4-9 but did themselves in with losses to Ohio State and Michigan. Positively, they also swept Maryland and got a win over Rutgers.

“It was the whole body of work,” Leach said. “It just was where we ranked those [Big Ten] teams in our minds, how quality of a win was that, how it ended up beating Maryland and Rutgers, which was one of those bubble teams, we couldn’t guarantee that [Rutgers] was in. Yes, they had two wins over the same opponent but a lot of losses. And in the NCAA tournament, you have to show you can win.”

More shockingly, Penn State, along with Ohio State, weren’t even in the first four teams out of the field. More on that in a bit.

UConn Got In

It’s true. The Huskies, who lost in the Big East championship game to Denver — a third loss to the Pioneers — were a shock inclusion in the field of 29. In Saturday’s final game tweet, the account spoke in the past tense about the season.

UConn’s resume is not strong. The Huskies carded one significant victory over UMass, a team they split with, while also carding a bad loss to 6-11 Villanova (RPI No. 51). No other at-large team carried as bad of a loss.

“For us, it was the body of work, a quality win over a quality UMass team,” Leach said. “Once again, it’s about differentiating good wins over good losses. [The loss to Villanova] wasn’t bad. I think the quality win is what propelled them over.”

The Favorite

It’s a two-team race: North Carolina and Northwestern. The Tar Heels have proven themselves over and over again, while Northwestern hasn’t really gotten the chance to do so.

Since 2006, the national champion has been a Top 3 seed, so it stands reason that will continue this year. In 2006, No. 4 Northwestern won the title over No. 7 Dartmouth. Who was on that Wildcat team? Christy Leach.  

Northwestern’s path to the NCAA semifinals appears smoother, too — a second-round date at home against Stanford or Denver followed by a quarterfinal matchup against either No. 7 Duke or Maryland.

Nevertheless, the edge goes to Carolina, who has won 16 of its 18 games by five goals or more.

Last Teams In

According to Leach, the final four teams (in alphabetical order) were Connecticut, Rutgers, Towson and Vanderbilt. While she wouldn’t provide an order, we will take an educated guess that Rutgers and Vanderbilt were the most solidly in, while Towson and UConn were Nos. 28 and 29.

First Four Teams Out

This will surprise some people: Albany, Arizona State, Colorado and Saint Joseph’s. It came down to a lack of significant victories for these teams, although Albany and Colorado are the only ones of these four to have any (one apiece).

Saint Joseph’s was likely one win away from making it over UConn. The Hawks didn’t have a bad loss and lost one-goal games to Drexel, Hofstra and Temple, as well as a two-goal decision to Towson.

Arizona State’s inclusion here was a slight surprise. The Sun Devils lost by 12 to Denver and split with Colorado and USC but couldn’t find a win in three tries against Stanford.

Not included in the first four teams out were Penn State (three wins over NCAA teams) or Virginia Tech, which beat Virginia.

Biggest Snub

For us it was Penn State, but since the Nittany Lions weren’t even in the final discussion, it’s probably Colorado. The Buffaloes split with Denver, which was excellent this year. Losses to Arizona State and USC hurt the Buffs, but they didn’t carry anything as bad as what UConn did with its loss to Villanova.  

Toughest Draw

The Stony Brook pod will be a battle. Drexel is the clear No. 9 but will face a stern test in battle-tested Rutgers, while the Seawolves have to get by a scrappy Towson squad to start. SBU should advance, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Drexel or Rutgers get into the quarterfinals.

Upset Alert, Part I

The seventh-seeded Blue Devils will be poised to face Maryland in the second round. It will be intriguing how the Big Ten teams fare against other squads.

Upset Alert, Part II

This goes back to how the committee seeded teams and then then how geography sends teams to certain pods. Loyola is one of the 10 best teams in this tournament, and if it can get past Hofstra, they have a nice chance to upset the third-seeded Orange.

Revenge Fuel

Florida has to be hoping to get another shot at Jacksonville, which took a surprise win earlier this year. Also, the Gators want to reestablish their home-field advantage in the NCAA tournament.

After starting 5-1 in NCAA home games from the first round in 2011 through the second round of 2014, the Gators lost three straight to unseeded teams in 2014 (Northwestern), 2016 (Penn State) and 2017 (USC). The 2018 win over Colorado snapped that skid. A pair of wins this weekend would be a nice way to get that mojo back.

Don’t Be Surprised If…

CAA teams don’t win a game.

All four matchups are difficult, with two of them coming against Big Ten squads. Towson tangles with Stony Brook in the tournament’s first game on Friday at Noon.

You’ll Hear a Lot About…

Duke being a seed.

It’s perplexing. And there’s a chance the Blue Devils will get exposed by Maryland.


Players to Watch

Izzy Scane, A, Northwestern — Ninety-nine points in 13 games (7.61 ppg) is absurd. And that was against Big Ten competition. It will be exciting to see Scane and company against new teams.

Jamie Ortega, A, North Carolina — A three-time All-American, Ortega is UNC’s best scorer in school history by a goal per game (4.96 over her career). She has 96 points in 17 games this season on a team with tons of scoring talent.  

Ally Kennedy, M, Stony Brook — Kennedy is so versatile. She scores, wins draws and forces turnovers. She averages four goals per game, but maybe nearly as important are the possessions she creates or continues for the Seawolves. She averages 5.3 draws per game and scoops over 2.5 ground balls per game.


North Carolina and Northwestern will hold serve and reach the semifinals. Joining them will be Florida (by virtue of a quarterfinal win over Syracuse) and Boston College, whichi will manage its pod before dispatching Notre Dame in the quarterfinals.

UNC and Northwestern seem destined for the final, and the Tar Heels will prevail.

Grading the Committee


This bracket was always going to be extremely challenging. There wasn’t a full bucket of data points, and two conferences didn’t venture outside of their membership for games. Nevertheless, this committee will continue to be questioned.

From UConn’s inclusion in the field to Duke’s seeding, the manner in which objective criteria were used and not used is up for debate. The ways the regional committees were advising the national committees seems confusing and lacks transparency.

Yes, this year is odd due to the pandemic, and we are all thankful the tournament is taking place, but the seeding has major ripple effects as it relates to the balance of the field. Ultimately, it doesn’t feel like the best eight seeds were identified, nor were the best 14 at-large teams.

Bracketology Breakdown

For the first time in four tries, we didn’t correctly predict all teams in the field. This year we went 28-for-29, as UConn was not included.

We correctly predicted six of the eight seeded teams (although the order of Northwestern and Syracuse was flipped). Florida and Duke received seeds when Drexel and Loyola were predicted to do so.