Evan Washburn was a starting defenseman on the Delaware squad that advanced to the national semifinals of the 2007 NCAA tournament before falling to Johns Hopkins. The CBS Sports Network analyst, who can be followed on Twitter via @EvanWashburn, writes a weekly column for Lacrosse Magazine. Washburn offered his opinion on Syracuse as the top seed, the most interesting first-round matchup and the team with the easiest road to the Final Four.
What was your assessment of the job the NCAA selection committee had done with the bracket?
I think they were pretty transparent about what it is they felt was the way to put this bracket together, and I thought that minus maybe a Bucknell, it’s pretty much on point. The Bucknell situation is predicated by the fact that some wild things happened Thursday and Friday. When you have a team like Towson beat Penn State, that’s going to throw a wrench in the system, and then you had Cornell going down. So factoring that, I thought they did a really nice job.
Did you agree with Syracuse getting the top seed?
I had Syracuse as my No. 1 seed. When you look at resumes, there’s an argument for [second-seeded] Notre Dame, but how can you have a team be a No. 2 seed and sit below a team that they beat twice in a span of six or seven days? To me, that was a no-brainer. You have to factor in all of the RPIs and the resumes, but you also have to have some rationale to it, and that was clear that they had that.
You mentioned Bucknell being left out of the tournament. Is there a team in the field the Bison could have replaced?
As I look at it, no, there’s no team they could have replaced. Again, this is where rationale has to come into it a little bit. Their resume may be better than Loyola’s, but I think Loyola is more worthy of being in the tournament based on strength of schedule and a variety of factors. To me, there’s just the eye test, and I think Loyola’s the better team. Bucknell clearly has a reason to be upset, but – and I think this was a factor that was made clear – they were also going to look at your worst loss, and the fact that Bucknell lost to Mount St. Mary’s may be a big reason why they didn’t get in and Loyola did.
Is there a seeded team that you thought was seeded too high?
I think Ohio State at three is a bit much. They had a fantastic week in winning the [Eastern College Athletic Conference tournament], but to make that kind of jump is a bit much. I would have liked to see [fifth-seeded] North Carolina get that three or four spot and maybe have Ohio State at five. I’d like to see North Carolina at three. I think they are the hottest team going into the tournament. It’s a matter of the way their conference tournament breaks down and that they weren’t playing. It’s ‘What have you done for me lately?’ Ohio State had a fantastic week. They beat Loyola badly and then they beat Denver to win the ECAC championship.
What is the most intriguing first-round game?
It’s tough to argue against the [sixth-seeded] Maryland-Cornell matchup. I had them as my Final Four teams about two weeks ago when I did a game. I had Maryland, Cornell, Syracuse and UNC in the Final Four. So that’s the headliner, but there are some interesting subplots to all of them. The one that I can’t wait to watch is [fourth-seeded] Denver-Albany. Albany is incredibly adept at scoring in bunches, and Denver’s weakness is defense. So it’s one of those games that could end up being in the 20s. I think that one could be wild. If Albany can handle the travel and the moment – which I think they can – I think that would be the one to watch in terms of highlights and scoring.
Which seeded team has the easiest road to the Final Four?
I think that Syracuse is in a really nice spot, and obviously, they’re the No. 1 seed, so that’s really helpful. I think they can get through Bryant and then they have either [eighth-seeded] Penn State or Yale. I like Penn State, but I think this is unfamiliar territory. So if they get by Yale and they face Syracuse, which is playing really, really well right now, Syracuse can rest on its experience. I just think Syracuse has a nice path. I also think that whoever comes out of that Maryland-Cornell game has a nice path because I think Ohio State-Towson is an intriguing matchup, but having been a part of this tournament as a player, that first time you’re in, you are a bit wide-eyed. It’s a much different ball game. Not just the venue, but the attention that you get. The week is different. So the teams that have been there and the players that have been there, it’ll pay off.
Which seeded team has the most difficult path to the Final Four?
That portion of the bracket with UNC, Lehigh, Denver and Albany, all four of those teams – in my mind – are capable of going to the Final Four. Whoever comes out of those matchups will face a really tough test in the quarters. All those teams have areas where they’re really successful. So the matchups almost fit each other perfectly. Lehigh’s defense is really strong, and they have one of the best goalies in the nation in [sophomore] Matt Poillon facing what we know about North Carolina’s attack. And then on the flipside, Denver’s defense has been a glaring issue all season, and Albany can score in bunches. So that’s probably the toughest portion of the bracket.