Taylor's Takes: Predicting the First and Second Rounds of the NCAA Tournament

PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER


Taylor Cummings is a three-time Tewaaraton Award winner, a member of the U.S. women’s national team, the inaugural Athletes Unlimited Lacrosse champion and the head coach at McDonogh (Md.). “Taylor’s Takes” is presented by Gait Lacrosse. Be legendary.

After a fun conference championship weekend, the NCAA bracket has finally been announced, and we now know the roads each of the 29 teams will have to take to lift the trophy on May 29. This week of “Taylor’s Takes” will cover my Selection Show Sunday gut reactions, as well as my predictions for the first and second round games. Time to dive right on into tournament time talk!

Initial reactions …

1. The televised combined selection show has many pros, but also many cons.

Any time we can get the game of lacrosse on television, I’m a happy camper. I initially loved the concept of a men’s and women’s dual Selection Show because we were unifying the sport and showcasing it for the world to see. I still like that the show is nationally televised, but the show itself from a content perspective needs work. The order of bracket announcements this spring started out great with Sheehan Stanwick Burch and Rachael DeCecco announcing the top three women’s seeds right out of the gate.

We then we took a 35-minute deep dive into the men’s bracket that not only had enhanced graphics, detailed discussions from analysts and team highlights, but even had a prerecorded video about how seeded teams have fared in past years. Women’s teams and fans sat for half of the show simply waiting around. I believe if the announcements were intertwined and had equal content and discussion opportunity, fans from both games would be intrigued for the full 60 minutes.

2. Arizona State was the snub of the 2022 tournament.

Arizona State seemed to be on a roll from April on and had managed to get some key wins along the way against Rutgers, Stanford and USC — all teams that made the NCAA tournament. NCAA Selection Committee chair Michael Scerbo said that the “full body of work” was of importance to the committee, so one would think that would have benefited the Sun Devils considering their growth from the start of the season. I personally would have taken them over UMass or UConn given their out-of-conference opponents and schedule overall.

3. There’s no easy side of the bracket or straight road to the Final Four.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many challenging first- and potential second-round games in an NCAA tournament. With so much parity and teams constantly beating up on one another throughout the season, we’ve been left with a lot of teams with similar resumes who all can take down powerhouse programs. I’m personally most excited for the USC-Virginia and Notre Dame-Michigan games on Friday afternoon and think we should all be on upset alert the entire weekend, as many of these teams can challenge the seeded programs awaiting them.

FIRST ROUND PREDICTIONS

USC vs. Virginia

Even though UVA plays in a harder conference and is coming off a huge do-or-die game against Syracuse in the ACC quarterfinals, I’m picking the dark horse USC squad in this match. The Women of Troy have had time to recover from their ASU loss in the Pac-12 semifinals and will bring a ton of athleticism, energy and a stingy defense to Chapel Hill.

Rutgers vs. Saint Joseph’s

If Rutgers plays like it did against Northwestern on Friday and the first half against Maryland on Sunday, the Scarlet Knights will be big trouble in this tournament. They have strong and powerful dodgers, a locked in defense with few holes and a goalie who can get hot quickly. I like Rutgers in this one.

Drexel vs. Stony Brook

Stony Brook has had the weekend off after not being permitted to compete in the America East championship tournament and will be fired up after getting seeded lower than hoped. Drexel will be riding high after a CAA final win, but I think Stony Brook’s tricky zone and lightning quick midfield will be tough to handle for a full 60 minutes.

Syracuse vs. Fairfield

Syracuse, too, has had time to rest, recover and revamp since a stunning ACC quarterfinal loss and will come into this tournament ready to go. I anticipate that even though they’re not hosting due to Carrier Dome conflicts, the Orange’s offensive arsenal and dominance on the draw will be the deciding factor toward their favor in this one.

UMass vs. Princeton

With a huge stroke of luck, Princeton went from unseeded and traveling to unseeded and hosting thanks to conflicts with Syracuse’s graduation. Princeton now not only has the comforts of home on its side but will also be playing for something bigger in an effort to send Chris Sailer off with a few more victories. UMass has hit a double whammy, unfortunately, and will have to play a perfect game to beat the Tigers.

Notre Dame vs. Michigan

In a rematch of an early February game, I think this is going to be the best first rounder of them all. Michigan stunned the Irish early on, but after watching Notre Dame dismantle Duke and push North Carolina to the limit, the Irish are going to be a confident bunch that will be tough to stop. The Irish offense seems to finally be clicking. Their draw team is full of work horses, and their goalie play is matched by few. Michigan will make it a tight one with workhorses and a fantastic goalie of its own, but I am anticipating the Irish coming out on top.

Central Michigan vs. Northwestern

It was difficult to tell whether Northwestern was off or simply outplayed in Friday night’s Big Ten semifinal (maybe a combination of both?), but the Wildcats will have surely shaken that loss come this Friday. Central Michigan has had a historic year, but with Northwestern’s eyes set on redemption, the Wildcats will be difficult to upset again.

Vermont vs. Denver

Vermont stunned Albany in the America East finals and rightfully earned its way into the big dance, but the Catamounts will unfortunately be running right into the buzzsaw that is Denver. The Pios had a little scare with Georgetown in the Big East final, but those types of wins under pressure can only give a team even more confidence and belief. With their stellar zone and lethal shooters, the Pios could make some serious waves in this tournament.

James Madison vs. UConn

JMU has been on a roll lately and took down several top programs this season, including tournament teams like Maryland, Virginia, UConn and Drexel. The Dukes won 13-7 in the first meeting between these two teams in February, and I anticipate the same come Friday. Isabella Peterson is electric both in the draw circle and on the offensive end, and their zone is one of the best I’ve seen. Anchored by solid goalie Molly Dougherty, JMU will force UConn to play a perfect game to win.

Mount St. Mary’s vs. Loyola

Having just called the Patriot League final, I can personally attest to the dominance of this Loyola team. From defense to offense to between the 30s, the Greyhounds are simply solid across the board. The Mount has had a stellar year of its own and could challenge Loyola early, but I do not see them being able to hang with the Greyhounds for a full 60 minutes. I just think they are too strong in too many areas to be stopped so early in the tournament.

Florida vs. Mercer

The Gators are coming off of a game in which they put on an offensive clinic, and I see that pattern continuing into Friday. The combo of Emma LoPinto and Danielle Pavinelli alone is dangerous, but adding in all their other weapons from the attack and midfield makes them a force to be reckoned with. Mercer has had an exceptional season, but I think the Gators’ offensive prowess and pure athleticism help them take this one.

Stanford vs. Jacksonville

The Dolphins have made a few waves this season, especially early on, but will be greeted with a Stanford team that has continued to get better. After a 1-4 start, the Cardinal seemed to make a turn and have improved tenfold across the field. A team with a ton of experience and talented freshmen, this confident Cardinal squad will be difficult to stop now that their offense is clicking and their defense is more of a unit.

Johns Hopkins vs. Duke

Similarly to Princeton, the Blue Jays will also be playing to keep their coach’s final season alive. But I think they will be in for a mighty tough match against the Blue Devils on Friday. With Maddie Jenner’s ability to play “make it, take it” at the draw circle, that alone will have the Hopkins defense worried. Add in Catriona Barry, Katie Desimone and Olivia Carner on offense, and Friday may prove to be a long night for the Blue Jays.







SECOND ROUND PREDICTIONS

North Carolina vs. USC

UNC is too strong across the board and is easily the tournament favorite. The Tar Heels will have to have a bad day at every spot on the field and play against a near perfect opponent to be knocked out, and I don’t anticipate that happening so early in the tournament for the Heels.

Rutgers vs. Stony Brook

This is my big upset prediction of the second round. If the Scarlet Knights play with the confidence and poise they showed during the Big Ten tournament, they can hang with any team. Stony Brook’s easier second half of the season may cause them to stumble against this talented Rutgers squad.  

Syracuse vs. Princeton

Syracuse is already out for a little redemption, and now things get a little personal playing against the new host of the first two rounds. I love the energy of the Tigers, and think Kyle Sears is a phenomenal player, but I think the overall balance of the Orange will prevail.

Notre Dame vs. Northwestern

This is a game I went back and forth on when filling out my bracket because it really depends on which version of both teams show up. We can never count out Kelly Amonte-Hiller or the Wildcats come tourney time, so my gut goes with Northwestern.

Boston College vs. Denver

My prediction is that this is going to be a close one. Denver lost in a frigid game that was called off after three quarters in March and will be out for blood. However, I think the experience of a veteran BC squad is going to kick in, and the Eagles will hold out long enough to get the W. Once you win a national championship, the mindset truly changes come tournament time.

James Madison vs. Loyola

JMU’s zone sure is tricky, but knowing the Loyola staff, they will have every slide package analyzed and memorized as to best prep their talented squad. Beating a zone calls for poise and lacrosse IQ — both of which Loyola has tons of — so I think the Greyhounds will prevail.

Florida vs. Stanford

Florida hasn’t seen a final four since 2012 and is on a mission to get back. The first half of this game will be back and forth, but I see the Gators pulling through thanks to their athletic defense and sheer will to win.

Duke vs. Maryland

Former ACC foes now meeting only in the postseason, this game is a rematch of last year’s second round. This 2022 Maryland team is playing much better than in 2021, but depending on which Duke team shows up on Sunday, they could have a really tough 60 minutes on both ends of the field. My Terp blood aside, I objectively believe that they are the better team and will win, but I also think the Blue Devils’ balance on offense and defense will force them to have to play their very best to come out on top.

Taylor’s Top 10

1. North Carolina
2. Maryland
3. Boston College
4. Syracuse
5. Loyola
6. Northwestern
7. Stony Brook
8. Florida
9. Princeton
10. James Madison

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