Selection Sunday is the day lacrosse teams across the country have been waiting for since the games started in early February. Last night, 17 men’s teams and 26 women’s teams found out their NCAA Tournament path.
Both Maryland teams learned they would be the No. 1 overall seed in their respective brackets. It’s the men’s third straight year in the top spot and the sixth straight tournament for the women.
On the men’s side, John Tillman’s is the No. 1 overall seed despite losing to Johns Hopkins in the Big Ten tournament final on Saturday. The Terps are No. 1 in the RPI, have an NCAA best seven wins against the RPI top-20, and played the second-toughest strength of schedule against their 10 hardest opponents (this sounds confusing, but the selection committee uses an SOS index of a team’s 10 best opponents based on the RPI as one of its selection criteria).
Maryland’s had a resume a cut above most teams in the field, and it helped that multiple top teams fell in their conference tournament and weren’t able to shoot up the committee’s rankings. Duke, Denver and Yale all fail to win their conference tournaments, and Albany’s America East tournament title wasn’t enough to offset a midseason loss to UMBC.
In a year where almost half the teams in the field could reasonably win the national championship, Maryland is probably on the easier side of the bracket. No. 2-seed Albany and No. 3-seed Yale have been serious contenders for much of the season, and No. 7-seed Notre Dame is arguably the hottest team in the country. All three are on the other side of the bracket, as is Denver, who has an incredible faceoff man in Trevor Baptiste.
For Maryland to get to Foxborough, it first needs to get past the winner of Robert Morris-Canisius. Both those teams shouldn’t present much of a challenge for Maryland, but they won’t be cakewalks. Robert Morris has the best defense in the country, according to AnalyticsLacrosse.com, and junior goalie Alex Heger has a .603 save percentage. Canisius would be the easier matchup, but senior attack Connor Kearnan is one of the most productive players in the nation with 29 goals and 49 assists.
If Maryland advances to the quarterfinals, Cornell would be the tougher matchup than No. 8 seed Syracuse. The Big Red beat the Orange in Ithaca on April 10, and their confidence will be sky high after beating Yale this weekend. Sophomore attack Jeff Teat gives opposing coaches headaches, and he powers an offense that ranks second in the country in scoring with 14.13 goals per game.
The women’s team wrapped up the No. 1 overall seed with a win over Penn State in the Big Ten tournament final. The Terps have a whopping 10 wins against the RPI top 20, and trail only North Carolina in the RPI rankings. Both teams have two wins against the RPI top 5, but Maryland has four wins against the RPI top 10 compared to the Tar Heels’ two. The Terps also beat James Madison and Florida, to whom North Carolina lost this season.
To repeat as national champions, Cathy Reese’s squad will have to get through teams that have some Maryland connections. Cathy Reese was the head coach at Denver, one of Maryland’s potential second-round opponents, from 2004-06, and Maryland steamrolled High Point, the other possible opponent, in the same game last season.
In the quarterfinals, the Terps will likely face another team from Maryland. They could meet No. 8-seed Loyola, Navy or Johns Hopkins, and all three rosters are littered with in-state talent that would love to knock off the premiere team in the state. Both Navy and Loyola’s head coaches played a big part in the history of Maryland women’s lacrosse, as Navy head coach Cindy Timchal won seven straight national championships from 1995-2001 and Loyola head coach Jen Adams still owns the school’s all-time points record.
If Maryland can advance to a 10th straight Final Four, that’s where the matchups really start to get interesting. Boston College and Stony Brook are the No. 4 seed and No. 5 seed, respectively, and were 1-2 in the polls for much of the season before the Eagles fell to North Carolina in the ACC Tournament championship game last week. Playing Boston College means a rematch of last year’s national title game, and playing Stony Brook would mean playing the lone undefeated team in the country at their home stadium, which is hosting the Final Four this year.
However, everything I just wrote before this could be completely wrong in two weeks time, which is the beauty of the NCAA Tournament. Both Maryland teams start their title defenses Sunday at noon.