Notre Dame's men's lacrosse team nabbed the #6 seed in the 2014 NCAA Lacrosse Tournament and will be hosting Harvard at 2:30pm Eastern in South Bend.
It was a whirlwind season for the Irish. After dropping their final three ACC-conference games to end the regular season, Notre Dame was sitting right on the bubble for the NCAA tournament.
Most experts believed the Irish would have gotten in anyway due to their wins over North Carolina and Virginia, but performing well would have gotten the Irish ranked in the tournament and given them the all-too-important home-field first round game. In last season's tournament, six of the eight first round games were won by the home team.
So the Irish were at a pretty precarious position heading into the ACC Tournament. To the shock of most lacrosse followers (including myself), Notre Dame went on a miracle-run, upsetting Maryland and Syracuse to get the league's automatic bid.
Their win against Army to close out the season (and the first this year at Arlotta mind you) pretty much locked-in the Irish's middle selection and as a result, they play the last team to make it into the tournament in Harvard, who despite a lackluster regular season campaign, played themselves into a 5-1 Ivy League record and regular season championship before falling to Penn in the tournament final.
As for the rest of the field, on Twitter, I had the Irish seeded at 5, ahead of Penn, Denver and Virginia. I was close.
Let's see what the Selection Committee had in store for us for the rest of the field:
#1 - Duke vs First Round Winner (Air Force vs. Richmond)
Duke gets the #1 seed in the tournament for a number of reasons. They sport the #3 RPI, lead multiple statistical categories (eye test primer), a 13-3 record that includes wins over Penn, Denver, Notre Dame, Syracuse and Virginia. That's five of the top-8 teams seeded in the tournament! The Selection Committee seems to be looking past the Blue Devils' upset-loss to Syracuse in the ACC Semifinals and are rewarding them on body-of-work and giving the defending National Champions their due.
They play the winner of ECAC Champion Air Force, who is heading to the tournament for the first time since 1988, and Richmond, the Atlantic Sun champion who is not only making their first appearance in the tournament, but are doing so as a first-year program. Regardless of who wins, the Blue Devils will likely be a heavy favorite.
#2 - Syracuse vs. First Round Winner (Bryant vs. Siena)
Syracuse is playing the best lacrosse of the season at this point (that makes ND's win in the ACC Championship more impressive). They're 11-4. They've won 7 of their last 8 games. Their four losses this season were to teams with a combined 43-16 record and they boast the #1 RPI. Per the eye test, they are extremely efficient, are peaking at the right time and deserve a top seed (I had them at #1).
They get the winner of NEC Champion Bryant and MAAC Champion Siena. I actually think this might be a pretty solid first round game. Bryant is very well-coached (former Duke Coach Mike Pressler) and has the best Face Off Specialist in the country, Kevin Massa. Siena has All-MAAC First Team Attackman Richie Hurley, who will hope to test Bryant's top-10 defense.
#3 - Loyola vs. Albany
A little unfortunate for the Hounds. Loyola was one of the more-impressive teams in the country this year. Their 15-1 record was the best in the nation, not to mention the fact that they ranked in the top-10 in ten of the fifteen NCAA lacrosse statistical categories. Loyola beat Duke in the regular season, only fell to Virginia in OT and steamrolled through the Patriot League tournament to get the AQ bid.
But it is their league that ultimately hurt them. Loyola's conference schedule pushed their RPI below Duke and Syracuse. Having to play teams like Holy Cross (3-12), Lafayette (2-11) and Boston (2-12) is just brutal for a team that is trying to compete with the resumes of the ACC programs.
They draw Albany, which is going to be a really amazing game if you like offense and canine mascots. The Great Danes are led by their prolific Thompsons. Lyle and Miles are brothers and Ty is their cousin. All three rank 1, 2, and 3 in total points respectively. They are also the reason why Albany has the #1 offense in the country. Miles ranks #1 in the nation in goals per game and brother Lyle ranks #1 in assists per game. These Native American players are simply fun to watch and Loyola will have their hands full. I still like Loyola in this game though, as Albany's defense is just putrid (51st in the country out of 67 D-1 lacrosse programs). This should promise to be a high scoring affair though.
#4 - Penn vs. Drexel
ESPN commentator Quint Kessenich shook his head at this selection, and I somewhat agree with him. I had the Quakers down pretty far on my ranking sheet, despite winning the Ivy League tournament. They're a borderline Top-10 team that lost to Duke to open the season and also dropped games to Princeton (a bubble team that didn't get in) and Cornell (a bubble team that did). They did, however, beat Denver, but that wouldn't be the whole reason for a #4 seed. So what helped them? A #2 RPI and the luxury of being the last team that the Selection Committee got to see before they went to seeding the tournament. I'm not sure I agree with the seeding though. A #2 RPI shouldn't carry that much weight, but somehow, it did. This is a good team though, no doubt. They were the only Ivy to get past Harvard, and did so twice to get the AQ and the home game.
They draw Drexel, who stunned everyone by winning the CAA and find themselves in their first ever NCAA lacrosse tournament. The Dragons are led by Face Off Specialist Nick Saputo, who ranks #5 in the nation and a scoring offense that currently ranks above Penn. This game might be a little closer than advertised if Drexel doesn't have first-tournament jitters.
#5 - Denver vs. North Carolina
This might be one of the best games in the first round of games, and it's all at the expense of Notre Dame, in my opinion. Denver, the Big East Champion in their first season in the Catholic League, went 14-2 with wins over ND and ECAC Champion Air Force. However, they dropped contests to Duke and Penn, and suffered from the Big East being relatively weak this year. I think if the Irish were to have beaten the Pioneers in the regular season, we might be seeing a different #5 seed here. That said, Denver is taking their #4 scoring offense and #2 offensive efficiency to the tournament and face a familiar foe from last year in North Carolina.
Carolina played themselves into the tournament by virtue of playing in the ACC and getting the best of Harvard, Maryland, Johns Hopkins and Virginia in a four-game span that locked them in regardless of the rest of their season. However, they lost out on a seed when they dropped a double-overtime game to Syracuse that catapulted the Orange into the ACC tournament and the Tar Heels playing Virginia in a showcase game that Virginia won, making UNC's late-season resume that much worse.
Still, the Tar Heels have the #3 offense in the country and a top-10 defense, so they are nothing to slouch at. Still, Denver looks better at this point, but ACC teams are always a tough out, and the Tar Heels are sure to remember the Pioneers bouncing them last year.
#6 - Notre Dame vs. Harvard
The Irish get the #6 seed, which was near my projections. As I wrote earlier, I had them at 5 and playing Hopkins. The Irish went from unseeded bubble team to a middle-seed selection by virtue of winning the ACC Championship and a #5 RPI. Wins over UNC at Chapel Hill and Virginia didn't hurt either. I don't need to say much about the Irish. We know what they are. We have seen them all year and outside of Syracuse and Duke, the Irish are playing the best lacrosse in the country in my opinion.
They draw Harvard, who went 5-1 in the Ivy League to win the regular season championship, before falling to Penn in the finals. The Crimson are going to be a tough out for the Irish, and are efficient and like to put a lot of points on the board, meaning that Conor Kelly can't have a repeat performance of the Army contest.
Harvard was literally the last team in the tournament, as the Selection Committee was deciding between the Crimson and Hofstra. In the end, Hofstra's bubble-brutal losses to Marquette, St. Johns and Penn State killed their chances of locking in and their 3OT loss to Drexel in the CAA championship game solidified it.
#7 - Maryland vs. Cornell
This is the one I don't really get, but I sort of do at the same time. Maryland, the regular season ACC Champ, dropped all the way to 7 and draw a familiar foe in Cornell, who bounced the Terps in the first round of last season's NCAA tournament. Maryland beat Duke (#1 seed), Syracuse (#2 seed), Notre Dame (#6 seed) and Virginia (#8 seed) in the regular season, but still find themselves here. Why? A #9 RPI doesn't help, nor does going out in the ACC semis. In addition, the Terps are performing at their usual rate at this point in the season, something I opined on in my Maryland-Notre Dame preview. Perhaps the Selection Committee is wagging it's finger at Maryland for not getting the job done? Possibly, but it is likely due to a lagging RPI and the fact that the other teams are just simply playing better right now.
Cornell is always a tough tournament team, and got the best of the Terps last season in College Park. The Big Ten bound Fightin' Turtles will have to contend with the high-scoring Big Red and a top-10 offense that will be sure to test Goran Murray and the Maryland back line. It will also be important to see if Mike Chanenchuk's ankle will have healed, as he was clearly hobbled in their ACC semifinal game against the Irish.
#8 - Virginia vs. Johns Hopkins
I wrote in my preseason lacrosse primer that Virginia had an uncharacteristically bad season last year. The Cavaliers are normally a pretty solid program, winning the 2011 National Championship amongst other accolades. However, at 10-5, it had some folks questioning why the Wahoos are seeded, as they were last place in the ACC. Let's see why. They beat Syracuse (#2 seed), Loyola (#3 seed) and NCAA tournament teams Richmond, Drexel, North Carolina and Johns Hopkins. Virginia also has a #6 RPIbutwait Paul, you just said Hopkins. I did, and the Selection Committee liked their regular season matchup that much that they are having a rematch. In the regular season, the Wahoo's beat the Blue Jays in overtime in Charlottesville, so we will get to see if they can repeat that performance.
Hopkins was one of those teams that was always assumed to be in the tournament and really didn't do anything to dispel that notion after beating Albany and Maryland in the regular season to punch their ticket to the dance. Johns Hopkins has a top-10 defense that will try to avenge their regular season loss this time around.