This weekend brings us one step closer to "Mayhem," otherwise known as the NCAA lacrosse tournament that begins in earnest the second weekend of May.
Conference races are tight and, in reality, the league tournaments are just an extension of the NCAA Tournament. The field will be announced May 3 on ESPNU, but the 10 conferences whose teams get automatic qualifiers will know by then. Automatic qualifiers will be earned this weekend in the Patriot League and ACC.
For the eight at-large selections, it's time to finalize your resume or fail to achieve your goal. The ACC will likely grab four of those eight at-large picks.
Right now, the NCAA tournament bubble teams appear to be the Cornell-Princeton loser, Ohio State, Brown, Georgetown, Marquette, Colgate and Johns Hopkins. In all likelihood, Towson and Navy must win their league automatic qualifier.
Here's a look at the conference tournaments:
The five ACC schools are 39-3 out-of-conference. Four of the last five national championship games have been between two current ACC men's lacrosse teams. It looks as if all five ACC teams will host first-round NCAA tournament games on May 9 or 10. The semifinals feature Syracuse vs North Carolina and Duke vs. Notre Dame Friday night at PPL Park in Chester, Pa.
Syracuse faceoff man Ben Williams leads the nation with 10 ground balls per game. His .693 faceoff percentage ranks second in Division I for an offense scoring 15.5 goals per game. Dylan Donahue has 12 extra-man goals. But the Orange opened the game shooting 1-for-16 in a regular-season loss at Chapel Hill. North Carolina's Joey Sankey owns his school's career points record with 217. He's a Philadelphia native and will want to play well in front of family and friends.
Notre Dame is ranked No. 1 in the country. I expect them to take care of business against Duke, but the score will be close. Virginia plays Penn on Saturday night. With massive early season injuries a win would likely lock up a home playoff game for the Cavaliers, who haven't lost outside the ACC. The ACC tournament is a Memorial Day weekend dress rehearsal.
Albany leads the nation in scoring at 17.1 goals per game with an offense orchestrated by Lyle Thompson. The Great Danes are atop the standings but don't count out Stony Brook. The Seawolves have wins over Fairfield and Princeton, and hope to reverse a 17-15 loss to Albany. They shoot nearly 42 percent as a group. Vermont has hope, a result of the Catamounts' victory over Hartford. A win on Saturday against Binghamton or a Hartford loss to Stony Brook would advance Vermont to the league's postseason tourney. UMBC will not qualify for postseason play. I'd be shocked if anybody other than Albany or Stony Brook wins the automatic qualifier on May 2.
Denver has dominated conference foes and also has beaten Notre Dame and Duke. The Pioneers lead the country in faceoff winning percentage (.716) and extra-man percentage (.625). Georgetown and Marquette both have resumes that land on the NCAA tournament bubble. A win at Providence this weekend will lock Villanova into the fourth spot of the league tournament, but all signs point west to Denver.
Maryland and its No. 1-ranked scoring defense is hosting the tournament regardless of whether the Terps defeat Johns Hopkins Saturday. The Blue Jays don't have a playoff resume yet, and need to win two of their next three, if not three of three and the automatic qualifier. Hopkins has only one win over a team (Navy) with a winning record. The Blue Jays' defense has been porous against quality foes, ranking No. 42 in the nation. Ohio State is the likely second seed. The Penn State vs. Michigan winner will determine the fourth slot. These two programs are a contrast in personality. Rutgers will finish with a sub-.500 record again, the seventh time in eight years. In the inaugural season, Big Ten teams went an unflattering 29-24 out-of-conference.
Colonial Athletic Association
All we know is that Delaware is toast. Five teams can finish at 3-2 in the league. Towson is at Drexel this weekend and Fairfield hosts Hoftsra. The Tigers are judicious with the ball, committing just 10.5 turnovers per game, but scoring is a chore. The CAA is wide open, and its tournament has a history of unpredictable finishes.
The final week of the regular season features Princeton at Cornell, Brown at Dartmouth, Yale at Harvard and Penn playing Virginia at PPL Park on Saturday night. Prepare to be confused. For sure, we know that Dartmouth and Harvard are done. And that Princeton, Cornell and Yale have qualified for the Ivy League tournament next week. Brown is in with a win. Penn is in with a Brown loss. Princeton hosts the tourney if it wins, but it's hard to trust a defense ranked 43rd nationally. Brown and NCAA goal leader Dylan Molloy (53 goals) can host with a win and a Princeton loss. So let me get this straight — Brown could end up hosting — or being out of the tournament entirely.
Marist will host the MAAC Tournament. The Red Foxes are an intriguing team having just defeated Hofstra. Marist has been knocking on the door, losers to Penn State and Brown by a goal each. Playmaker Joe Radin is a legit All-American candidate. Quinnipiac and Detroit have clinched berths into the MAAC Tournament. If Monmouth beats Manhattan (1-13) they will be the No. 4 seed. The MAAC tournament usually defies prediction.
St. Joseph's will host the Northeast Conference Tournament for the second season in a row after the Hawks beat Hobart in overtime, 7-6. They've won six games in a row and could be a bracket-buster, having lost to Virginia by just a goal. They have the nation's fiercest penalty killers (.833). Hobart is viable alternative, as is Bryant, who upset Syracuse in last year's NCAA first round in the Carrier Dome. The Bulldogs lost to both St Joe's and Hobart by a goal. Revenge is often a strong theme in the postseason.
Semifinal games tonight at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium pit Bucknell against Colgate and Army facing Navy, with the winners playing Sunday for the automatic qualifier. Army staged an epic comeback on Tuesday on its way to ending Loyola's season. Greyhound fans suffered through a 7-8 campaign featuring six one-goal losses. The Cadets and the Mids are in an elimination cage match, with the winner surviving and the loser cleaning out the locker room.
None of the remaining four teams has an overwhelming resume worthy of an at-large NCAA bid. The league tourney is an extension of the NCAA bracket.
Richmond takes on Mercer for first place. The Spiders (9-4) won the Atlantic Sun title last year and lost to Air Force in the NCAA play-in game. The second-year program coached by Dan Chemotti is a lukewarm favorite to earn the Southern automatic qualifier. High Point is lurking.
Quint Kessenich covers college sports for ESPN and writes weekly for The Baltimore Sun during lacrosse season.
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