There are 69 teams in Division I men's lacrosse, but just a handful are true contenders for the national championship.
The schools in the middle of the pack (no. 25-55) are separated by millimeters, with winning one-goal games so important.
New programs are clawing their way up the rankings, and soon there will be a 70th school — Cleveland State announced it is adding the sport in 2017.
With everybody working harder and smarter, April is a key month. It's about conference play — securing a spot in the league tournament so you can play for the automatic qualifier.
Here are my rankings, have at them:
1. Notre Dame: Two-time runnerups are poised for a title run with wins over Syracuse, Georgetown, Virginia and Ohio State.
2. Syracuse: Orange were a cut above in February and March, but championships are won in May.
3. Maryland: When you give up less than six goals a game, winning is inevitable. Faceoffs, goaltending and a disciplined defense give the Terps a shot at their first title since 1975.
4. North Carolina: Jimmy Bitter (5.3 points per game) and Joey Sankey (4.4) are the spark plugs that fire the Tar Heel engine.
5. Duke: The Blue Devils have won 21 straight home games but the Irish are coming into town Saturday. Defense wins championships, and Duke doesn't seem to have one. Myles Jones paves the way to Philadelphia.
6. Virginia: The Cavs prefer a close shave with tight wins over Johns Hopkins, Cornell, Loyola and St Joe's. Firepower not an issue.
7. Cornell: Obscured by Matt Donovan and Conor Buczek's scoring is defensemen Jordan Stevens, who holds his matchup to nearly 2.0 points per game less than their season average.
8. Denver: Faceoff ace Trevor Baptiste leads the nation at a .711 clip (150-211). The Pioneers score on 63 percent of their extra man opportunities. Wesley Berg has 147 career goals and Denver is 40-5 at home under Bill Tierney.
9. Brown: Dylan Molloy leads the nation with 41 goals. Less than 1 percent of Brown's goals have come from its senior class (12 of 145).
10. Albany: The Great Danes score a whopping 18.4 goals per game. Lyle Thompson is a show-stopper, a transcendent force who elevates his team and the sport.
11.Yale: Conrad Oberbeck powers to paydirt for a Bulldog squad that upset Maryland.
12. Princeton: The Tigers are stocked with playmakers — Mike MacDonald, Kip Orban, Ryan Ambler, Gavin McBride and Zach Currier. They play family-style, sharing the ball.
13. Georgetown: Coach Kevin Warne has the Hoyas stepping forward.
14. Ohio State: Scoring doesn't come easy for the Buckeyes, but their defense shocked Denver and they always well-prepped by coach Nick Myers.
15. Army: The Cadets have finished in the top 10 in defense in five of coach Joe Alberici's nine years. Black Knights are second in that category now. Complementary scoring from players not named Cole Johnson and John Glesener is imperative.
16. Navy: Young Mids sit atop the Patriot League at 5-1 with the eighth-ranked defense. Stormy seas ahead with Loyola on the docket.
17. Towson: The Tigers shocked Johns Hopkins with a shutdown defense and goalie Tyler White. Towson commits the fewest turnovers per game in the NCAA.
18. Stony Brook: The Seawolves are surging, winning eight of their last nine games. Trigger-man Mike Rooney has 57 points. The team shoots an eye-popping 42 percent.
19. Fairfield: After a sluggish 2-4 start featuring four one-goal losses, the Stags have won four straight.
20. Bucknell: It's 10-man ride causes massive headaches. Bison sniffing around the top of the cluttered Patriot League standings.
21. Colgate: The Red Raiders pasted Loyola last weekend. Colgate's primary midfield of Cameron Williams, Matt Clarkson and Peter Donato have combined for 59 of the team's 141 points (41.8 percent).
22. Loyola: Jekyll and Hyde Greyhounds have the ability to compete or lose to everybody.
23. Johns Hopkins: I had the Blue Jays pegged at No. 5 in my preseason poll, but nothing has gone according to script. The Big Ten automatic qualifier offers a clean slate.
24. Marquette: Marquette magic means one-goal victories over Lehigh, Hofstra, Richmond, Ohio State and Villanova. A Tuesday loss at Bellarmine stings.
25. Harvard: Talented bunch in Cambridge most kindly described as inconsistent.
26. Boston University: All 111 goals have come from freshmen or sophomores, including 34.2 percent from the freshmen class. New program has climbed the rankings fast.
27. Hofstra: After a sluggish 1-4 start, the Pride have gone 3-1 and are contenders in the CAA. Mike Malave has nine extra-man tallies.
28. Holy Cross: Holy cow! The Crusaders have upset Loyola, Army and Fairfield.
29. Villanova: Losers of three straight, the Wildcats haven't beaten a team with a winning record.
30. Richmond: The Spiders made the NCAA tournament field of 18 in its first year under coach Dan Chemotti. Conference automatic qualifier is the goal.
31. Lehigh: Rebuilding year for a team that won 39 games between 2012-2014 and made two NCAA tournament appearances.
32. Penn State: Six losses means an unhappy valley.
33. Marist: Impressive year for the MAAC favorite who has one-goal setbacks to Penn State and Brown.
34. Massachusetts: I blame the weather for an 0-5 start, but the Minutemen have blossomed since, going 3-1.
35. Penn: NCAA tournament team from 2014 isn't playing defense this year and have lost six of its last seven games.
36. St Joseph's: Philadelphia high school lacrosse is on par with, or superior to, Long Island and Baltimore. The Hawks benefit from it.
37. Drexel: Nick Saputo has won 58 percent of his draws and has 82 grounders. Loyola transfer Jimmy Joe Granito, took over in the cage after a 0-4 start and the Dragons are 4-2 since.
38. St John's: The Red Storm gave Syracuse a scare but haven't been able to win close games.
39. Mercer: Georgia based squad opened up at 0-5 but has three straight wins over High Point, Furman and Bellarmine.
40. Air Force: NCAA tournament team from 2014 has three one-goal losses.
41. Bryant: A year ago, the Bulldogs defeated Syracuse in the Dome to advance to the NCAA quarterfinals. This year, nothing has gone right.
42. Hobart: The Statesmen were once a Division III powerhouse winning 10 straight titles in the 1980s and three in the early 1990s. They elevated to Division I in 1995 and haven't made the Big Dance since 2004.
43. Providence: The Friars are better than their record indicates with a victory over Boston University. Offense has been a no-show in crucial games.
44. Binghamton: Wins over Delaware and UMBC are bright spots checkered by three one-goal losses.
45. Jacksonville: Wins over St John's, Michigan and Robert Morris hint at the ability to earn the Southeast automatic NCAA qualifier.
46. UMBC: The Retrievers are lacking bite. An 0-2 start in conference doesn't bode well for the postseason.
47. Michigan: The maize and blue have first-class facilities, the staff and they are recruiting high-level players, but results have not materialized. Wins over Bellarmine, Detroit, Canisius and St Joseph's don't inspire.
48. Detroit: TheTitans set a NCAA record for man-up offense converting on 34-of-48 (.708) last season and are 13-of-26 this year. Goalie Jason Weber averages 15.9 saves per game.
49. Bellarmine: As lacrosse gains popularity in Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee, Bellarmine will be able to recruit homegrown sleepers. Tuesday's win over Marquette is great for mojo.
50. Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights have nail-biting losses to Johns Hopkins, Princeton and Army. Rutgers has yet to capitalize on New Jersey's high school talent pool.
51. High Point: The low point was a loss to Mercer. The high point can be winning the Southern Conference.
52. Mount St. Mary's: The Northeast conference automatic qualifier is anybody's for the taking. The Mountaineers have three one-goal losses and can't find the back of the net.
53. Delaware: Coach Bob Shillinglaw needs three wins to reach 300 for his career at Delaware. He has coached 620 college games, an NCAA record.
54. Sacred Heart: Victory over Dartmouth stands out for a team that managed just two goals last weekend in a loss to Mount St. Mary's.
55. Hartford: The 2011 America East champs have wins over Siena, Manhattan, Quinnipiac, UMass-Lowell, Siena and Binghamton.
56. Siena: The Saints have beaten just bottom-feeders but know the way to the NCAA tournament.
57. Robert Morris: The Colonials went 11-4 in 2012 and 8-7 in 2013. It's been downhill since.
58. Dartmouth: Dating back to 2012, the Big Green is 4-22 against Ivy League rivals.
59. Lafayette: The Leopards have been getting pushed around in the Patriot League with a senior class that has won just seven games.
60. Furman: New program is two or three recruiting classes away from being in the top 35.
61. Monmouth: A win over Rutgers turned some heads in the Garden State.
62. Vermont: The Catamounts have wins over NJIT, Air Force and UMass-Lowell.
63. Wagner: Coach Matt Poskay, an all-American at Virginia, has turned things around with three straight wins after going 4-36 over the last three seasons.
64. Canisius: Tim Edwards is a tough cookie. During the last two seasons he has 63 points, 37 assists, a .574 faceoff percentage (197-343) and 124 ground balls.
65. Quinnipiac: Lacrosse team has lagged behind the success of the Bobcat hockey program.
66. Manhattan: A win on Wednesday against NJIT stopped the bleeding.
67. VMI: The Keydets are 3-34 since 2013 and commit 19 turnovers per game.
68. UMass-Lowell: Coach Ed Stephenson and the River Hawks knocked off NJIT for their first program win.
69. NJIT: The newbie Highlanders are looking for their first win.
Next: Cleveland State will add a men's lacrosse team in 2017. CSU would become just the second public university in Ohio with a Division I lacrosse team.
Quint Kessenich covers college sports ESPN and writes for The Baltimore Sun during lacrosse seeason.
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