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Sports Lacrosse Insider

Q&A with ESPN's Mark Dixon

ESPN analyst Mark Dixon provided play by play for No. 13 Princeton’s 14-9 victory over No. 14 Cornell last Saturday and will offer analysis of the America East tournament final this Saturday. The former Johns Hopkins midfielder, who can be followed on Twitter via his account @Dixonlacrosse, opined on which team should be the top seed in the NCAA tournament, whether Johns Hopkins and Lehigh should get a seed and a first-round game at home, and what Cornell, Villanova and Syracuse have to do to stamp their tickets to the NCAA tournament.

Who deserves to be the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament?

I think it’s an interesting question. Everybody has some positives on their resumes, and everybody has some negatives. I think when you look at UMass, which is the current No. 1 team, they can win the CAA [Colonial Athletic Association tournament] and go undefeated. But then you have to look at their strength of schedule which is somewhere in the mid-20s [25th according to Laxpower.com]. Their RPI is significant [second], but that strength of schedule could weigh them down. I always think of 2007 when Cornell was undefeated, and everybody thought, ‘Cornell’s going to be the No. 1 seed.’ But they were the No. 4 seed. Notre Dame, I think, will have an argument. Those guys have been playing some pretty good lacrosse. They have a decent strength of schedule at [No.] 11, and their RPI is [No.] 1. So you’ve got Notre Dame. Then you can also have Loyola if they win the ECAC [Eastern College Athletic Conference] tournament. Their strength of schedule [at 27th] will go up a little bit, and their RPI [at third] will be strong. But will the SOS [strength of schedule] be enough to warrant hat No. 1 seed. Then you have to start looking at your Dukes and your North Carolinas and your Hopkinses and Virginias. So what I’m trying to say is, it is wide open right now. I don’t think there’s any one definitive No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Based on Saturday’s 10-9 overtime win against No. 3 Loyola, has No. 8 Johns Hopkins cemented a seed and a home game in the first round of the NCAA tournament?

If they don’t lose to Army [this Saturday]. I think that loss to Navy really hurt them in the NCAA metric criteria for the NCAA tournament. It dinged their RPI and that loss to Navy was their last game of the season. So I think if they beat Army at home on Saturday, Hopkins will definitely have a first-round home playoff game at Homewood Field. If they lose to Army, a lot will depend on what happens in conference tournaments and other action around the country. But if the teams that are supposed to win do win this week and weekend and Hopkins loses to Army, they could be on the road for the first round of the NCAA tournament.

By winning the Patriot League tournament and amassing a 14-2 record, has No. 12 Lehigh secured a seed and first-round game at home?

I do. That’s another team that took care of everything that was in front of them and now get their first ever NCAA tournament. I think Lehigh has played their way into a top-eight seed. But that’s just me. You’ve got North Carolina playing Michigan this weekend, Maryland at Colgate. Let’s say Maryland loses to Colgate again like they did last year. I think Maryland losing seals the deal for Lehigh to get a top-eight seed. When you look at a top-eight seed, you’re talking about UMass, Loyola, Virginia, Notre Dame, Hopkins, Duke. Then you’ve got Maryland, Lehigh, North Carolina and if Princeton wins the Ivy League [tournament] this weekend, I think they make a strong case to host a first-round playoff game. So I think Lehigh’s right around that [No.] 7 or 8 seed right now. If Maryland loses, they definitely get a home game in the first round. If Carolina beats Michigan, I don’t think you can give Carolina a home game and not Lehigh because of the head-to-head. [Lehigh defeated North Carolina, 9-8, on March 3.] When you look at the respective strength of schedules and RPIs, Lehigh right now has a stronger RPI [sixth vs. eighth]. Their strength of schedule really can’t match Carolina’s [29th vs. fifth], but I’m a big believer in head-to-head. Head-to-head has a lot of merit. Lehigh beat Carolina. So if all things remain equal, I think Lehigh has definitely given itself a chance to have a home game.

Do No. 14 Cornell, No. 16 Villanova and No. 17 Syracuse have to win their respective conference tournaments to earn a berth in the NCAA tournament?

I think Syracuse without question has to win the Big East tournament. Their biggest win right now is against Princeton and Princeton’s resurgence lately has helped Syracuse, but I definitely think that the Orange needs to win the Big East tournament. Cornell is a team that seemingly had everything straightened out and going well for them until they stumbled against Brown and got throttled by Princeton. So I definitely think that Cornell is a team that if you look at their strength of schedule [15th] and RPI [14th], the win over Denver [9-8 in overtime on March 20] really helps them. So I think Cornell is a big Denver fan this weekend to help bump up that RPI. Winning these conference tournaments takes all the guesswork out of everything, but Cornell is definitely sweating it right now. The Ivy League tournament is in Princeton, and they could potentially face Princeton in the championship, but they’ve got to get past a Yale team that has won seven in a row and is really healthy. So if they lose in the first round to Yale, Cornell’s season is over. If they get to the championship game and lose, they’ll have a fighting chance. Villanova losing to Providence [15-11 last Saturday], wow. Hats off to the Friars for their first ever Big East win in the history of the program, but to lay an egg like that before you go into the Big East tournament really hurts your RPI. That counts as a bad loss for Villanova. Excellent strength of schedule [third], but when you look at their big games, they lost to Princeton, they lost to Maryland, they lost to Penn State, and they lost to Notre Dame. Kudos to Villanova for playing that schedule where they were home against Princeton, at Maryland and at Syracuse during a brutal stretch, but they’ve got to win the Big East tournament to get in. I applaud Villanova for stepping up to the plate and playing a schedule like that. There are other programs that have really softened their schedule. But if you’re going to play that schedule, you’ve got to win a game or two to give yourself a chance at the end of the season. Had Villanova not lost to Providence, I think they might have been in better shape, but with that loss to the Friars, I think they put themselves in a position where they’ve got to win the Big East tournament to get in.

You were on hand to watch Princeton beat Cornell for the Ivy League regular-season championship last Saturday. Can any of the teams in the Ivy League prevent the Tigers from winning the conference tournament this weekend?

Not with the way the Tigers are playing right now. I believe they outscored their Ivy League competition, 81-35, in six games. And [senior goalkeeper] Tyler Fiorito gave up less than five goals and saved somewhere around 73, 74 percent. So when you have that combination, that’s going to be tough to beat. I was incredibly impressed by Princeton on Saturday. Their offense was flowing, it was diverse, and their transition game was incredible. Defensively, I don’t think as a close unit, they’re as scary as some people might think, but [senior John] Cunningham at the long-stick midfield position is an absolute beast, and Fiorito between the pipes is just unbelievable. With his playing at a championship level and the offense clicking the way that they are, they’re going to be very difficult to beat in the Ivy League tournament.

Denver coach Bill Tierney said during a conference call Monday that the Pioneers assured themselves of a spot in the NCAA tournament with Friday’s upset of Duke. Agree or disagree?

I think it remains to be seen. If they beat Loyola this week [in Wednesday’s semifinal round of the ECAC tournament], they’re in. they’re in even if they don’t win the ECAC championship. If you look at Denver, they’ve got losses to Fairfield, Ohio State, Cornell, Notre Dame and Loyola. Of their quality wins, they’ve got Duke, which helped them last year. And they’ve got a nice win over Penn State, which is going to go a long way. They’re a bubble team right now, and I’d have to say that because of the Duke win, they’re a bubble in.

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