Before the NCAA men's lacrosse tournament bracket was unveiled Sunday night, the coaches at Towson and Loyola figured there were two at-large spots remaining in the 16-team field, and they thought their chances of making it were slim, at best.
And once the names Notre Dame and Harvard appeared early in the televised announcement, Tony Seaman and Charley Toomey knew their respective teams were toast. But that didn't stop them from shaking their heads and wondering, why them over both of us?
The Harvard selection, they could understand to a point. The Crimson (6-6) went 3-3 in the Ivy League, the highest-rated among the seven lacrosse conferences, with a huge win over Pennsylvania. Harvard also beat Denver, which won the Great Western Lacrosse League and gained an automatic qualifier.
Notre Dame, however, was less impressive while building its 10-4 record. The Irish have two lower-tier top 20 victories - over Penn State and Dartmouth - have not beaten a top 10 team, and lost to unranked Air Force. But that was enough to get a second Great Western member into the tournament.
"Our season was one of missed opportunities," said Toomey, who figured Loyola (6-6) wasted its upset of then-No. 2 Georgetown by losing to unranked Fairfield, then falling to Johns Hopkins in overtime Saturday. "But seeing two teams from the west get in, when each of them has only one win over a top 20 team, that was tough to swallow."
"We have some questions, but we don't have any excuses," said Seaman, who initially predicted his 8-6 team's demise after the Tigers lost to Delaware in its conference tournament semifinal, then held out hope that earlier wins over UMBC and Delaware might push Towson into the fold, even with a damaging early-season loss to Binghamton.
"Eight of Notre Dame's 10 wins are against teams below the top 20," added Seaman, who lost to the top four seeds, Virginia, Maryland, Hofstra and Johns Hopkins. "I guess this tells me I'm crazy to play the top three or four teams. The committee is telling me just play nonleague games against teams ranked 15-20, and get more wins."
It all came down to computer number-crunching over this combination: Whom did you beat? Whom did you lose to? How tough was your strength of schedule? And what was your overall power rating?
According to CollegeRPI.com, Towson had a solid Rating Percentage Index of 17, but its schedule was a killer. The Tigers whiffed against its top 10 opponents, resulting in a quality wins rating of 21. Playing in the top-heavy Colonial Athletic Association, which features weaklings such as Robert Morris and Sacred Heart, dropped Towson's strength-of-schedule rating to 36. Loyola's RPI (27) and strength-of-schedule mark (31) also doomed the Greyhounds.
"It's not just wins that count," said Princeton coach Bill Tierney, a committee member. "It's who you beat and who you lose to. Losing to Virginia and beating somebody at the bottom is minuscule. You've got to beat good teams and you can't lose to bad teams."