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NCAA women's lacrosse tournament 2014 preview

You asked for it so here it is. A somewhat rational look at the craziness that is the NCAA women's lacrosse tournament.

Drew Hallowell

Even to those of us who watch the game, the rules of women's lacrosse are frequently confusing. Now that the NCAA Tournament is about to get underway, it's time to add a new layer of obscurity. One hundred three colleges and universities participate in Division 1 women's lacrosse. Twenty six earn spots in the NCAA Tournament. Eight teams are seeded but only the top six receive first round byes. Why the NCAA has this odd combination of configurations is a mystery to me. Nevertheless, this is the tournament that gets underway on Friday.

Friday's game of interest

For Maryland fans the opening round game of interest is the tussle between Canisius and Penn. After tying Princeton for the regular season title, Penn won the Ivy League Tournament to earn that league's automatic bid. The Quakers are seventh in RPI with a 12-4 record on the season with losses to North Carolina, Maryland, Northwestern, and Princeton. Penn avenged that last loss by defeating Princeton 9-6 in the Ivy League Tournament championship game. The Terps easily defeated the Quakers 15-5 in a game in Philadelphia in March. While I suspect a rematch between the teams wouldn't be particularly friendly, I think no Maryland player would testify to shaking in fear at the possibility.

After clawing their way to a third place finish in the regular season, the Canisius Golden Griffins soared to an automatic NCAA bid by winning the championship of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament. They enter the NCAA Tournament with a 12-6 record that includes an upset of Ohio State and lopsided losses to UNC and Syracuse. According to the RPI, they are the twenty-fifth ranked team in the country.

Rounding out Maryland's quarter

Assuming the Terps advance to the quarterfinals, their opponent will come from one of the four squads playing in the pod at eighth seeded Notre Dame. Because the Fighting Irish are not one of the top six seeds, they will play a first round game facing the High Point Panthers who won both the regular season and tournament titles in the Big South Conference.

Friday's first game in South Bend provides a bit more intrigue. The Irish are only 5-4 at home and have lost five of their last six games so a win over High Point is far from guaranteed. Included in the five losses making up Notre Dame's season ending slump, is an 11-10 loss to Stanford and their lone win came in a 12-10 squeaker over Duke. Both games were played in South Bend and these are the teams that play in Friday's first game so, should the Irish win over the Panthers, it guarantees a rematch of some sort.

The bottom half

Both the fourth seeded Florida Gators and the fifth seeded Northwestern Wildcats compete in the American Lacrosse Conference. As top six seeds, each has a first round bye. Florida will face the winner of the game between Denver and Jacksonville while Northwestern will take on either Louisville or Ohio State.

With their program in only its fifth season, Florida is something of an upstart in the women's lacrosse world. After going 10-8 in their inaugural season, the Gators have compiled an impressive 70-12 mark in the four seasons since and have one Final Four appearance on their resume. If the seeding holds, the meeting between Maryland and Florida in the Final Four would be the first between the two reptilian schools.

Terrapins fans should be well acquainted with the Northwestern Wildcats who are coached by former Maryland great Kelly Amonte-Hiller. Amonte-Hiller took the helm in 2002 and by 2005 the Wildcats won the first of their seven National Championships that included a string of five straight between 2005 and 2009. Maryland ended that streak in 2010 with a stirring come from behind 13-11 win in the championship game at Towson - the site of this year's Final Four. The Wildcats bounced back to defeat the Terps 9-7 in the 2011 title game and in the 2012 semifinal en route to their seventh championship.

Should the seeded teams in the bottom half advance to face one another in a quarterfinal matchup, it will be their third meeting of the year. In each of the two previous games, the Gators came away with one goal wins - 13-12 in the regular season and 9-8 in the ALC Tournament. Northwestern hosted both of those contests.

On the other side

Here's a list of numbers to define a power conference: Eight, seven, six, four.

8 - The number of ACC schools that play women's lacrosse.

7 - The number of ACC teams competing in the NCAA field of twenty-six.

6 - The number of ACC teams seeded by the NCAA.

4 - The number of ACC teams with a bye.

Of the six seeded teams from the ACC, four are on the opposite side of the bracket from the Terrapins. In the bottom half are number seven Boston College and the second seed, the Syracuse Orange. Boston College finished the season 14-5 with all of their losses coming at the hands of ACC foes. The Eagles lost to Syracuse, Maryland, Virginia, and twice to North Carolina. Syracuse has lost only twice this season and both of those losses came to Maryland. Still, the RPI formula somehow has the Orange ranked ahead of the Terps. Go figure!

Third seeded North Carolina and sixth seeded Virginia are in the top half of the bracket. Like Boston College and Duke, Virginia finished 3-4 in ACC play. Two of their eight losses on the season came to Maryland. Their three non-conference losses came at the hands of Northwestern, Loyola, and Princeton all of whom are in the NCAA field.

As for North Carolina, all four of their losses have come on the heels of opening the season with eleven straight wins. They are 3-4 in the season's final seven games including a 9-7 loss to Syracuse in an ACC semifinal contest. The defending National Champion's most impressive wins are a 20-8 thrashing of Florida in their season opener and a 17-15 win over the Terps in Chapel Hill. That game and the Tar Heels' 13-12 triple overtime win in the 2013 title game are Maryland's only two losses over the last two seasons.

First round play begins Friday. Maryland, together with the other top six seeds, will begin their play on Sunday. The Terps will host the winner of the game between Canisius and Penn at noon in the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex in College Park.