Championship week is here. Win or go home. There are five automatic bids on the line this weekend. Bucknell can exhale, having won the Patriot League last Sunday. The final pieces of the puzzle will fall into place, and the 16-team NCAA tournament will be assembled Sunday night.
I'm confident that Syracuse, Cornell, Notre Dame, Johns Hopkins, Duke, Maryland (with a win over Colgate this Saturday) and Virginia have earned top eight seeds and a home game in the first round. The eighth seed is very hazy with teams such as Denver, Penn, Bucknell Villanova and North Carolina in the discussion. "Nobody can predict what the committee will do, we just have to trust their judgement and trust the process," says Notre Dame's Kevin Corrigan.
Will the committee emphasize the RPI, strength of schedule or quality wins? In my opinion, its main sticking points will be the eighth seed and the 10th and final at-large spot. Hofstra, Harvard, UMass, Yale, Colgate, and Army all have a shot.
Colonial Athletic Association
Hofstra (13-2) entered the CAA semifinals riding an eight-game winning streak and having won 15 straight at home. Delaware beat Hofstra, 10-9, Wednesday night, with five fewer turnovers and superior shooting and save percentages. Not sure why Hofstra long-poled Kevin Kaminski and not Nick Elsmo. Kaminski had one goal, but Elsmo had four hockey assists (a pass to the player who in turn assisted on a goal). The folks on Long Island didn't sleep well Wednesday night. The Pride's NCAA tournament hopes rest on wins over Colgate, Penn State, Princeton, Harvard and UMass. But their strength of schedule is weak after Johns Hopkins and Army both dropped them. They will be rooting for Denver and against Harvard this weekend.
Delaware (10-6) must regroup quickly for a trip to Amherst, Mass., to face UMass (10-4) in the CAA finals. The Minutemen won 13 of 15 faceoffs in an 11-5 victory when the teams met last Friday. The winner advances, the loser will wait for bad news.
Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (Saturday, noon, ESPNU)
The ECAC semifinals are on Thursday evening (6pm and 9pm EST) in Denver with Loyola challenging Fairfield and Denver hosting Ohio State. For Loyola (8-4) its the season. The Greyhounds will need to capture the automatic bid, their resume for the NCAAs is light. "The ECAC tournament is new for us," says coach Charley Toomey. "We are excited to get on the plane and focused."
On March 19 Loyola lost at Air Force, falling to 3-3. The season looked bleak. "We had a real meeting," says Toomey. "We talked about discipline, preparation and commitment on and off the field. We asked some of our freshmen to step up. We dug in. It wasn't about X's and O's, it was more about a sense of discipline."
At 11-2, Denver can make a strong case for a top eight seed and a home game in the first round of the NCAAs if they win out. Their home field advantage is the altitude.
Ivy League (Sunday, noon, ESPNU)
The tournament semifinals will be played today (ESPN3.com) in Ithaca, NY. Top-seeded Cornell faces Yale, and Penn takes on Harvard. Cornell is on a roll, having won eight straight, but it must contend with a Yale team that is strong in the faceoff department (Cole Yeager .644). But Yale (10-3) hasn't beaten a team with a winning record this spring and has the worst strength of schedule of all the contenders. Cornell and Penn are lock NCAA at-large candidates, while Harvard will put themselves in the discussion with a semifinal win. A Harvard win would hurt Hofstra's chances at securing the 10th at-large bid.
This league will only get one NCAA bid. Stony Brook (10-3) defeated Binghamton, 12-8, Wednesday night and now hosts Hartford Saturday for the title and automatic qualifier. Hartford (10-6) pounded UMBC in the semifinals to advance. Hartford hasn't beaten a team above .500 this spring.
The Seawolves, who were an NCAA quarterfinalist in 2010, have won 13 straight in conference and are led by Canadian stars Jordan McBride (37 goals in 2011 and 171 career) and Kevin Crowley, who is the Division I active leader in points with 229. Their three losses are to Virginia, Cornell and Towson.
Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference
Today, Detroit (5-9) meets Marist (8-6), and Siena (11-4) takes on Jacksonville (5-9) in the MAAC semifinals from Canisius in Buffalo, NY. The MAAC representative has never won an NCAA tournament game and hasn't been close. Many claim the conference doesn't deserve a bid. But I disagree. The AQ [automatic qualifier) system gives these schools a reason to invest in lacrosse. Siena has greatly upgraded their scholarship commitment, facilities and coaching salaries. Jacksonville and Detroit are the new kids on the block, looking to make history.
The league is a toss up. The results have regional implications in the NCAA tournament. Detroit is likely to be sent to Notre Dame. Siena and Marist would bus to Syracuse or Cornell.
Marist is the now team. It has topped Albany and Rutgers and rides a seven-game win streak into the postseason after starting the year at 0-5. "We've got 30 freshmen and sophomores who are starting to believe right now," says Marist coach Scott Nelson. "Our main goal is the MAAC tournament and the AQ, and we know that every team in our league is even, so it'll come down to making plays in the fourth quarter."
Bucknell beat Colgate, 10-3, Sunday to claim the automatic qualifier from the Patriot League. The Bison are 14-2 with a resume that's borderline for a home game, based on a low strength of schedule. They are a potential bracket buster.
Coach Frank Fedoraka explained their success: "After last year's Patriot League loss to Army, I committed to being harder on our guys and not allowing for any excuses. In 2010, we lost our six games by a total of seven goals. We lost 3 OT games ([ncluding one to Duke] and we only won one one-goal game all year."
Fedoraka went old-school on his troops. "It started in fall ball where we practiced at 6 a.m. once a week and lifted at 6 a.m. two other days. We scrutinized each mental mistake or each lack of effort. It was rough at first but by the third week, the guys really started to enjoy the new commitment level."
Bucknell will be a challenging opponent in the NCAA tournament because of exceptional personnel, chemistry and a few unique schemes, including a "10-man" ride, where the Bison leave the net open and use the goalie as the 10th defender.
Bucknell danced with the trophy Sunday. The automatic qualifier system creates excitement and gives the mid-tier programs an opportunity to compete in the NCAA tournament.
The NCAA selection show is Sunday at 9 p.m. on ESPNU.
Quint Kessenich covers college sports for the ESPN networks and writes a weekly column for the Baltimore Sun during the spring.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun