Just how close is the top of this year’s women’s Division I tournament bracket? Well, I wouldn’t bet an acre of the farm on anyone.
Top-seeded Florida is the obvious favorite, of course, after beating defending champion Northwestern twice. The Gators have won 13 straight, so they've sailed past whatever cost them two early losses. Still, there could be a chink in their Gator-skin. Even though it was two months ago, they did fall to fourth-seed Syracuse and sixth-seed Loyola just beat Syracuse.
Need more convincing on the top-six parity?
Of eight regular-season games involving two of the top six seeds – Florida, Northwestern, Maryland, Syracuse, North Carolina and Loyola – five were decided by one goal and none by more than three goals. Two games went to overtime, including one of the two two-goal games.
None of the conference finals involving these teams was as close, but only Florida managed to win a second time.
The Gators beat Northwestern 8-7 during the regular season and 14-7 in the American Lacrosse Conference final, thus earrning the No. 1 seed over the defending champs. The Wildcats had been ranked No. 1 in the Inside Lacrosse media poll until Florida ascended to the top in Monday’s poll, the last poll until after the NCAA tournament.
Maryland turned the tables on North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, winning 14-10 to avenge the 14-11 regular-season loss. That helped boost the Terrapins, national finalists last season and the 2010 champs, to the third seed, ensuring a home game until the semifinals at Stony Brook Memorial Day weekend. North Carolina got the fifth-seeded spot
Loyola also turned things around in the Big East final, upsetting Syracuse 13-7 after falling to the Orange, 13-12, a week earlier in the regular-season meeting. That win, combined with the Big East semifinal win over Notre Dame, boosted the Greyhounds, who were ranked No. 10 in last week's Inside Lacrosse poll, to the sixth-seeded spot and a first-round home game. Syracuse is seeded fourth.
“I think it’s been a crazy year, but it’s been a great year for women’s lacrosse,” Maryland coach Cathy Reese said. “There used to be games that you would go into and say, ‘Oh, so-and-so’s going to win that game.’ Now you step on the field and these athletes have to compete every day. Every minute matters.
“This bracket was hard to figure out. You play with things ahead of time and you try to compare teams, but it can be kind of a web in there, because teams are beating each other. It’s made for some exciting games and I think this is going to be an exciting NCAA tournament too.”
Here are this weekend’s opening round games (numbers indicate seeds, not necessarily rankings):
Navy (18-2) at No. 5 North Carolina (14-3), noon
Albany (12-5) at No. 1 Florida (17-2), 1 p.m.
Massachusetts (19-1) at No. 3 Maryland (17-3), 2 p.m.
Penn State (11-3) at No. 8 Towson (16-3), 3 p.m.
Notre Dame (13-4) at No. 2 Northwestern (17-2), 4 p.m.
Penn (9-7) at No. 6 Loyola (13-5), 1 p.m.
Dartmouth (12-4) at No. 4 Syracuse (16-3), 4 p.m.