April is synonymous with league games and jockeying for position in the standings with the intention of qualifying for the league tournament and winning the automatic qualifier.
Ten automatic qualifiers from conferences receive spots in the NCAA tournament while eight at-large teams will be selected to round out the field. Selection Sunday is May 8.
Let's take a spin around the nation to check in on the 10 league races.
The ACC has lost 13 non-conference games. That's a staggering total compared to past years. Current ACC teams have accounted for six of the last eight NCAA titles. Low RPIs will hurt tournament entry and seeding. If the tournament started today, North Carolina (5-4) and Virginia (5-5) would be left out. Meanwhile, Duke (7-4) and Syracuse (5-2) would be scrapping for the last at-large bids on the bubble.
North Carolina and Virginia are in deep water. The loser of their game on April 10 will be hard-pressed to qualify for the ACC and NCAA tournaments. Finishing above .500 is also a prerequisite for an at-large bid. And that's going to be tough for the Cavaliers, whose offense moves at a glacial pace, too often walking and jogging in half-field sets.
Duke's comeback win against the Orange last Saturday saved its season. Midfielders Myles Jones, Deemer Class and Chad Cohan make goalies turn and rake.
Notre Dame (6-1) has a solo overtime loss to Denver. The Irish are a well-coached, hard-trying bunch — probably the most balanced squad in the nation — but they don't shoot well. Scoring goals hasn't come easy and neither have faceoff wins. Fortunately, the defensive corps is loaded with Matt Landis, Edwin Glazener, John Sexton and goalie Shane Doss.
Syracuse hosts Notre Dame on Saturday (5 p.m., ESPNU) in the Carrier Dome.
Albany (6-2) manhandled Stony Brook 16-10 on March 19. The Great Danes and Seawolves (7-2) tower above the the league. Albany allows a staggering 42 shots a game and wins faceoffs at a paltry 38 percent. The Danes can rip it on offense with Connor Fields and Seth Oakes orchestrating.
UMBC (1-6) is in survival mode, hoping to qualify for the league tournament. Beating Hartford (5-4), UMass-Lowell (2-8) and Vermont is paramount. The Catamounts (5-5) are improved but their five wins over teams that are a combined 7-49.
Denver (7-1) is in cruise control. Last week's loss to Penn State is a welcome wakeup call for coach Bill Tierney. Villanova (6-2) was humbled by Brown on Tuesday. The Pioneers are at Villanova on April 9. Marquette (6-1) looks third best. Providence (6-3) is a program going in the right direction for coach Chris Gabrielli. Denver looks unbeatable in the Big East.
Big Ten teams have a record of 32-20 to end their non-conference schedules. Maryland (6-2) and John's Hopkins (5-3) are on a collision course. The Terps, winners of five straight, will be a prohibitive favorite because of their toughness and defense. Matt Dunn, Mac Pons, Greg Danseglio, Isaiah Davis-Allen, Tim Muller and goalie Kyle Bernlohr don't give up anything easy.
The Blue Jays are bewildering. After losses to Loyola and North Carolina I had low expectations. Then wins over Princeton, Towson and Syracuse changed their trajectory. Hopkins handled UMBC on Wednesday night. Ground balls remain an issue. North Carolina and Virginia dominated second half ground balls while Hopkins missed too many first-time grounders. The Blue Jays' half-field offense is extremely efficient which is keeping them in games. Shack Stanwick, Ryan Brown and Drew Supinski have been stellar. Coach Dave Pietramala has missed the last three games with an illness. Like most great teachers, his absence in practice is more profound than on gameday.
Penn State (6-3) opened eyes last weekend by upsetting Denver, ending the Pioneers' 20-game win streak. Faceoffs have been the critical barometer for the Nittany Lions. Ohio State (5-5) is never an easy out, although I think the Buckeyes are a year away from being an NCAA contender. Michigan (3-5) is struggling in its fifth year as a Division I program. Rutgers (7-2) appears fourth best with an offense averaging 14.6 goals a game in its wins. Homewood Field hosts the 2016 Big Ten tournament on May 5-7.
Towson (8-1) and UMass (4-4) look the best right now with Hofstra (6-3) lurking. Schedule dynamics are important and the home-filed advantage favors UMass. Drexel (4-5), Fairfield (4-6) and Delaware (3-7) will scrap for the fourth spot.
The Tigers are ranked in the Top 10 although they've defeated just two teams with winning records. Feasting on bottom-feeders leads to a gaudy record with a low RPI. They travel to Amherst and Long Island for games against UMass and Hofstra. That's a pair of hornet's nests. Towson's defense with Nick Gorman, Mike Lowe, Andrew Cordes and goaltender Tyler White is formidable.
Yale (7-0) is ranked No. 1 in the country and has a win over Maryland. Brown (7-0) is a consensus top five team, also receiving first-place votes. They are the only two undefeated teams in Division I. The Bears destroyed Villanova 19-8 on Tuesday. Both Ivy squads are legit and a step ahead of the rest of the Ancient Eight. The Bulldogs will travel to Brown on April 16 for the regular season meeting. The Bears have the edge in goal and faceoffs but havent beaten Yale since 2009. The marquee individual matchup will be Brown's Dylan Molloy against Yale defender Michael Quinn. Both will be first team All-Americans.
As for the rest of the league, Harvard (5-5) has ability, evidenced by a win over Duke, although setbacks to Bryant and Boston University illustrate its inconsistency. Penn (5-3) has topped Cornell (3-4) and Princeton, and should land a league playoff spot.
The MAAC is always a crapshoot. Quinnipiac (4-3) and Marist (4-4) are the headliners. Marist won in 2015, then captured the play-in game against Bryant before falling to Syracuse 20-8 in the Dome. Known as a hockey school, Quinnipiac will skate in the Frozen Four next week in Tampa; the lacrosse Bobcats have never qualified for the NCAA tournament. Their last winning lacrosse season was in 2010. Goalie Jack Brust (Calvert Hall) stands his ground. This may be their year.
Monmouth (5-3) was 0-13 in 2014, their first season. After an abrupt turnaround they are contenders. Detroit (1-6) went to the big dance in 2013 and nearly upset Notre Dame. The Titans have a pair of two goal loses to Marquette and Air Force.
Bryant (4-3) has won four straight NEC titles. Coach Mike Pressler's Bulldogs face staunch opposition from Saint Joseph's (6-2), Mount Saint Mary's (4-3), Hobart (5-4) and Robert Morris (4-5). Bryant has a track record of success and senior goalie Gunnar Waldt (St. Paul's) is a proven commodity with more than 50 starts.
The Mount is a logical alternative with balanced scoring from Mark Hojinski (26 points), Bubba Johnson (15), Chris Dipretoro (14), Justin Gosnell (13), and Ryan Lamon (11).
Wagner (5-5) coach Matt Poskay deserves credit for turning around a program that went 8-134 between 2005 and 2014.
The Patriot is a dogfight amongst Navy, Loyola, Army (7-2) and Boston University. All four sit in the media poll top 20. Matchups and schedule dynamics will play a strong role in the sorting out process. Even Lehigh (5-4) is still in the mix. Multiple bids to the NCAA tournament are probable.
Loyola (6-3) is now starting a freshman goalie, Jake Stover. Their most prolific attack man, Patrick Spencer, is a rookie. Spencer has 23 assists. That's a stark contrast from the two combined assists from frontline midfielders Romar Dennis and Tyler Albrecht.
We will find out if BU (8-2) is for real as the Terriers play Lehigh, Army and Loyola over the next three weeks. Navy tackles Army on April 16 at West Point. This rivalry game has huge implications. The Mids (6-2) have gone from an 83 percent clearing team in 2015 to 91 percent this season. Defenders Chris Fennell, Matt Rees, Jules Godino and Hiram Carter make Navy special.
The SoCon as a group owns three upsets over ACC behemoths. It's an emerging potpourri of teams as Air Force (8-2), Richmond (7-2) and High Point (4-5) evolve. Air Force and Richmond appear to be the frontrunners. The Falcons lost to Navy and Denver to begin the season, made adjustments and have reeled off eight consecutive wins, including a shocker at Duke. Richmond also has Koskinen Stadium turf as a victory souvenir.
The next six weeks determine the field for the 2016 NCAA tournament. If I had to predict who the top four seeds will be, I'd go with Denver, Notre Dame, the Ivy Champion and Maryland. How this will shakedown is anybody's guess.
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Quint Kessenich covers college sports for ESPN and writes weekly for The Baltimore Sun during lacrosse season.
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