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Mike Preston

Mike Preston: Maryland is the true men’s lacrosse heavyweight, but Ivy League provides the muscle | COMMENTARY

The brackets were released Sunday night for the 18-team field in the NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse tournament, and of course there were the usual complaints from those left out, yet there were few surprises.

In fact, for those who want to criticize, please stop whining, and form a short line to the left.

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Notre Dame fans will cry the blues because their team didn’t get in, and some Maryland fans are in a sour mood because the Terps might have to face two-time defending national champion Virginia in the quarterfinals. Maryland fans don’t want that game, not after the Cavaliers’ 17-16 triumph over the Terps in last year’s NCAA title game and the Terps’ controversial 13-12 quarterfinal loss to Virginia in 2019.

Unbeaten and top-ranked Maryland (14-0) crushed Virginia (11-3), 23-12, earlier this season, but the Cavaliers don’t Fear the Turtle. It’s really the other way around.

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As for the field itself, it’s something to get excited about. Five of the eight seeded teams are from the Ivy League, and unseeded Harvard (8-4) makes six from the conference in the tournament.

Lacrosse fans and experts have bragged about the sport growing, but it was hard to agree with that assessment until some of the traditional favorites didn’t make and dominate the field.

2022 is that year.

There is no North Carolina (8-6), Duke (11-6), Johns Hopkins (7-9) or Syracuse (4-10). Bye-bye. The Atlantic Coast Conference has only one representative: Virginia (11-3).

“Honestly, if you think about it logically, they are playing with fire a little bit, only having five teams and not having that automatic qualifier. That’s tough,” Mark Dixon, a lacrosse commentator for the Big Ten and ESPN networks, said of the ACC. “But if you look at the talent level of the ACC, the athletes who play there and attend school, you really wouldn’t think they would only get one team. For sure, I didn’t think it was going to happen in 2022.

“I thought the ACC might get one team in if the Pac-12 formed a lacrosse conference or the Big Ten expanded, but not in the current situation.”

The Big Ten has the sport’s top heavyweight in Maryland, which has more talent and depth than any other team in the country. But the title for the best conference in 2022 goes to the Ivy League. It doesn’t have a clear top team but offers tremendous balance with No. 3 seeded Penn, No. 4 Yale, No. 5 Princeton, No. 7 Cornell and No. 8 Brown.

The conference is using the same formula the ACC used for years, but no one complained then.

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“In true Ivy League fashion, they knew the assignment, figured out the RPI [Rating Percentage Index] where you go out and score some out of conference wins and then cannibalize one another inside the conference,” Dixon said. “When Princeton scores a win over Georgetown and Penn scores a win over Duke, and then you beat up on each other, the RPI continues to gain strength.”

“We’re going to find out how good the Ivy League is soon,” Dixon said. “I’m not sold on them like they are that dominant, that good, but when you have six of the 16 teams competing after the play-in games, you assume one or more is going to get to the championship game. It’s going to be interesting to see how far they go in the NCAA Tournament.”

Notre Dame (8-4) would seem to have a case for being included. The Fighting Irish won their last six games and they have some outstanding individual talent. But when Notre Dame needed to come up big, it couldn’t knock off top teams. The Irish started the season 2-4 with losses to Maryland, Virginia, Georgetown and Ohio State.

In their final six games, they won twice against Duke, twice against Syracuse, once against Marquette and once against North Carolina. None of those teams made the tournament. Harvard, the only unseeded Ivy League team, had wins against Brown, Boston University and Princeton, all teams in the playoff field.

Of course there is going to be blowback from Notre Dame because this was only the fifth time the Irish failed to make the tournament since Kevin Corrigan became head coach in 1989, but the field is not determined by which team gets hot at the end of the season.

“You can’t help but look at what’s going on, and of course you think about that,” Loyola Maryland athletic director Donna Woodruff, chair of the selection committee, said about using the eye test. “But our job as a committee is to stick with the selection criteria, not to consider what part of the year it is or whether someone is getting hot at a certain time, but solely to look at the selection criteria and work through that.”

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The same can be said about Maryland possibly playing Virginia in a quarterfinal if the Cavaliers first defeat Brown.

“We do appreciate that at the end of the day, there’s going to be some potential matchups as we move through the tournament that people may or may not agree with or may want to look at more closely,” Woodruff said. “But our job at the end of the day was to seed the top eight and then do our best after that to fill out the bracket.”

It’s the playoffs. If Maryland is to win the championship, the Terps are going to have to play top teams, regardless of the round.

Maybe Maryland fans should take consolation in the fact that despite some traditional favorites having fallen off, the Terps are still dominant.

Because of a highly rated incoming freshman class, Syracuse is expected to be a national power again soon despite not making the tournament for the first time since 2007.

Another team whose name is synonymous with lacrosse, Johns Hopkins, had a losing record for the third straight year. Right now, there isn’t much hope on the horizon.

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At least this year, considering the plight of Syracuse, Duke and North Carolina, the Blue Jays have company..


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