The seeds are set for a great tournament! Sometimes the need to match teams who are geographically close to their opponents in the first round is not particularly fair, and we'll talk about the specifics later, but it can give us great matchups, rematches and stories. I'll point those out as we take a closer look at the first-round games.
THE YEAR OF THE GWLL
Before I give some voice to the grievances of the left-behind, let's celebrate the Great Western Lacrosse League's accomplishment of getting three teams in the big show. Notre Dame, Ohio State and Denver earned bids this year. It's a milestone for the geographical growth of the college game or "spread" of the sport, since the Division I game is not actually growing.
Congratulations to coaches Kevin Corrigan, Joe Breschi and Jamie Munro, each not only responsible for this year's success at their respective schools, but also, in each case, for their programs' rise to prominence and the emergence of the GWLL as a top lacrosse conference, second only to the ACC. E-Lacrosse will have the GWLL tournament games posted later this week. You can watch Notre Dame take the first ever GWLL tournament crown in Detroit, home of the new GWLL team, University of Detroit, who joins the league in 2009.
READY, SET, COMPLAIN!
Each year somebody has a gripe with the selection committee and this year it's Brown and perhaps Georgetown. Albany, Drexel and Bucknell could complain but they don't have as much right to beef as the Hoyas or Bears. These three were really on the bubble in my opinion. They had great seasons but fell just shy of the cut in a 16-team field. All three had a chance to win their conference final and failed, with Albany and Drexel losing in spectacular breakdowns.
Georgetown beat Navy and may have a claim to Navy's spot but Navy did not lose to anyone nearly as bad as Penn State and I think that's important. How low a team falls in its worst loss means something to me. Loyola lost to Siena. Hofstra lost to UMass. You get the idea. It gives you a parameter on the low end. Georgetown's low end was far lower than Navy's and it came at the very end of the season when teams are supposed to be peaking and playing like they belong in the tournament. But Georgetown also reached a high that no other team in the nation achieved when it beat top-seeded and otherwise unbeaten Duke earlier in the season. It seems to defy logic that no teams in the tournament have beaten the top seed, while the one team who has barely missed the cut.
Brown is, in my opinion, a better team at this point in the season than both Navy and Denver. If Princeton had won that last game against Brown, I think everyone was prepared for the Tigers to sneak in even after a season that included a 10-2 loss to unranked Albany. But Brown won the game, shares the 2008 Ivy League title with No. 8 seed Cornell and got left out. I would have agonized over the Denver vs Navy choice, but Brown would have been a sure thing. The Bears were 11-3. They lost to Cornell late in the season but had a nine-game winning streak after losing at Denver and Hofstra early on.
A LOOK AT THE FIRST ROUND
Loyola @ No. 1 Duke
Duke should be fuming. This is the worst/best first-round opponent I have ever seen dealt to a dominant No. 1 team. The Blue Devils deserved Canisius and Canisius deserved them. Only Canisius bumped a legitimate team from the field as an automatic bid. The 2008 MAAC season provides a good argument for some sort of auto-bid qualifying criteria, like one team in the conference has to break the top 25 by the end of the season.
Loyola on the other hand, was truly upset by a much lesser Siena team and that weighed them down in the RPI. The committee knows Loyola is a sleeping giant. If Georgetown could beat Duke, Loyola can too. Duke should not have to play a highly contested game in the first round as long as a team like Canisius is in the field. Lacrosse and sports, generally, are supposed to be merit-based endeavors. What do you get for accomplishing what Duke did this season? Perhaps a first round ousting by a streaky Loyola team with loads of firepower and Collin Finnerty's karma.
After years of sympathy and support from the lax community, Duke's lax karma is ebbing as the super-seniors and their 4 ½ seasons' worth of stats have erased or are about to erase some of the elite records in the game. All of the Duke 2006 individual records need to be erased in order to be fair and preserve the game's historical integrity. There's no one selfless enough at Duke to do that voluntarily or man enough at the NCAA to mandate it after cowardly awarding the extra eligibility in the first place. Kismet may at least nip it in the bud Saturday with the help of the Greyhounds.
UMBC @ No. 2 Virginia
Are you kidding me? UMBC is playing where a No. 15 seed should. This team lost two games early and badly to Rutgers and Delaware and dropped a two-goal game to the Hop. Since then they've have improved every single game into a mature, confident lacrosse machine. Don Zimmerman is easily the Coach of the Year. If you just watch the video of both of UMBC's comebacks this past weekend, you will see that they are fearless, relentless, patient, and play like a team. UMBC rolling down to Charlottesville and beating the overconfident and overrated Cavaliers is more than possible.
The Cavs should be very dissatisfied with this opponent in the first round. They deserved to play Denver or Colgate. They could have lost to either of those teams too. I think they are the paper tiger in the tournament. I suppose if Garrett Billings is spectacular and Ben Rubeor plays at his best, they have the pieces to go far. But I just think the whole strategy this year was to sacrifice 2008 as an investment in the future and they got lucky winning anyway. I like them to win it all, NEXT YEAR. This year they lose in the first two rounds.
Canisius @ No. 3 Syracuse
Somebody needs Syracuse to make the Final Four badly. The big northern Syracuse fan base is needed in Foxboro, site of the semifinals and championship game. The Orange play unranked yet overrated Canisius and then face a possible matchup with the Colgate team they just lost to last week. In the 1980s film, The World According to Garp, the main character buys a house after seeing it get hit by a small plane claiming, "What are the chances of another plane ever hitting this house?" The answer is "more than Colgate has of beating Syracuse twice in a season."
Notre Dame is the only possible stumbling block for the Orange and that would be a great game. Notre Dame is the leading faceoff unit in the nation and has enough superstar sticks to go toe-to-toe with Syracuse.
Navy @ No. 4 North Carolina
These teams have played some of the most exciting games in recent lacrosse history in a series that regularly featured overtime games and included quite a few multiple overtime games, until this year when they stopped playing. The committee has reunited them in what could be a classic game if tradition is any indicator. If talent prevails, UNC rocks the Mids. But Navy always has unequaled conditioning and some intangibles on its side, like preparing for war on a daily basis.
Hofstra @ No. 5 Johns Hopkins
Hopkins should be visiting Cornell or UMBC in the first-round game. A No. 5 seed is just not reflective of the season the Blue Jays just played. Ironically, the same committee that gifted Hopkins the fifth spot also rewarded them with a Hofstra rematch. Seth Tierney, having worked the Homewood sideline for years, is most qualified to upset the Jays. I see overtime, either way.
Colgate @ No. 6 Notre Dame
Notre Dame, for the first time in the 28-year history of the program, will host an NCAA tournament game. The GWLL champion will be pumped for this one and South Bend will be a great atmosphere. This is an important moment in college lacrosse. I wish, out of all the games, that I could be at this one, partially for the history and the atmosphere, but also because of the matchup.
This will be a great faceoff matchup, too. Colgate and Notre Dame have two of the top faceoff units in the nation. Colgate faceoff specialist Chris Eck has won 193 out of 309 duels for a .625 winning percentage. The Irish have Taylor Clagett, who has claimed 186 out of 289 draws for a .644 winning rate. Colgate (11-5) has won seven straight contests but Notre Dame is on an 18-game home winning streak. This one will be great but I like the firepower of Notre Dame and Joey Kemp in the cage.
Denver @ No. 7 Maryland
I've seen Denver play very well and very poorly this year. Maryland has had issues since "Scootergate" but should know that they are good enough to go far this year if they can pull it together. They'd love a rematch with Virginia to avenge the ACC tournament semifinal loss but they can't look past a Munro team. This Denver squad plays for its coach and for each other with as much intensity as anyone in the nation. They are talented with a Canadian flare but have been inconsistent at times this season. I saw them get drilled by Cornell in a driving rainstorm in Dallas. If they perform similarly Saturday in College Park, the Terps will unleash a scoring flood like a Big Red flashback for the Pioneers.
Ohio State @ No. 8 Cornell
The two most impressive wins I've seen this year were Ohio State over North Carolina and Cornell over Denver. In both cases the offense came effortlessly, merging power and finesse. Cornell and Ohio State have great offenses, but both have faltered. Ohio State only scored twice on Notre Dame in the GWLL final and Cornell was listless against Princeton a few weeks back. Both also feature big tough defenses and fast break-minded middies. This should be a fast game, end to end. "Special teams" or hustle play will be the key, with the unsettled situations and groundballs determining the victor.
- College Basketball
- College Sports
- Notre Dame Fighting Irish
- Duke Blue Devils
- Cornell Big Red
- Georgetown Hoyas
- Loyola Greyhounds
- Canisius Golden Griffins
- Syracuse Orange
- Princeton Tigers
- NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament
- Siena Saints
- Denver Pioneers
- Rutgers Scarlet Knights
- North Carolina Tar Heels
- Ivy League
- Penn Quakers
- Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference
- Don Zimmerman