The 2016 #BigBBQ brackets have been set. Once again, we profess our Notre Dame-homer bias and indicate our focus will be on potential Irish opponents. If you are looking for objective analysis, you will be disappointed.
Notre Dame opens on Saturday against Air Force at home and in primetime (7:30 ESPNU). We'll have a formal preview up later in the week, but in a nutshell, Air Force enters the tournament as the Southern Conference automatic qualifier. They hold the nation's longest win streak at 13 games which includes a win over Duke. Air Force and Notre Dame should be somewhat familiar with each other having played a preseason scrimmage in Loftus over the winter and will recognize them as a dangerous opponent that has a proven track record of winning close games. Early line has Notre Dame as a healthy 4 goal favorite. We don't see it as quite that high, but ND has the clear advantage.
If Notre Dame prevails, they will play the winner of Marquette (-0.5g)/North Carolina. First, Marquette getting a first round home game is the great lacrosse success story. Five years ago, Marquette was a club team. As we know from ND's overtime win last month, Marquette is a very good team led by the gloriously mulleted LSM Liam Byrnes, who received the Big East Player of the Tournament award. On the other side we have North Carolina, for which the Irish must be itching for the chance at revenge. The Irish dominated North Carolina for over 50 minutes only to suffer an uncharacteristic late collapse. Whomever they Irish get, they will be playing the game in an empty Ohio Stadium (someone forgot to tell the Buckeyes they were hosting the quarterfinals while they frittered away their season to a 7-8 record).
Lacrosse is no different than basketball in that there are several teams with legitimate gripes that they were not included. Rutgers, Harvard and maybe Villanova may have a legitimate complaint that they were excluded over Navy and Johns Hopkins. Within the bracket, a lot of folks are scratching their heads over Marquette's surprise #6 seed., especially in comparison to Syracuse's #8 as ACC Champions. With that said, there is little about lacrosse that the Orange Nation will not complain about.
The Irish have no excuse not to advance out of their bracket. The matchups are all difficult, but the Irish will be the clear favorites for any combination. They will be playing at home against Air Force, and North Carolina and Marquette are known quantities against whom they should match up well. Plus, Ohio Stadium may be largely empty, but it is more likely than not that whatever crowd shows up will be more pro-Irish than not.
Likewise, it appears to us that Denver has a fairly uncomplicated road to a 2015 semifinal rematch against ND. They'll play the winner of the Towson/Hobart play-in game and then the winner of Duke/Loyola. Denver's quarterfinal matchup is likely more complicated than Notre Dame's, but the Pioneers should be a notch or two better. They beat Duke comfortably early in the season in Kennesaw, and they appear to match up well against Loyola. Duke/Loyola sits as a pick 'em game.
If it were not for the fact that Brown (-5g) is actually very good, one might think the committee is actively trying to place an Ivy league team in the final four. Brown will play both its games at home if it wins as a quarterfinal host site. They should pummel the suspect defense of Johns Hopkins. JHU was likely one of the last teams included in the bracket, and they got the worst possible matchup for them. Having said that, if you like scoring, watch the game: there may be 40 goals scored. Yale should beat Navy, setting up a repeat of Brown v. Yale, with Brown at home having a solid edge.
The Maryland (-6g) bracket is in our opinion the toughest to call. Maryland is the default #1 seed as they managed to avoid losing late in the season. They are being sold as the "most complete" team, but they are interchangeable with anyone in the top 5. They'll face a play-in opponent. The opposing game is a rematch between Syracuse (-2.5g) v. Albany, that Syracuse won easily 16-7. The allure of this game is Big Game Blaze Riorden's last shot at glory. If big Blaze can stand on his head, like he has on very many occasions this season, look out. Without the Thompson brothers, Albany doesn't have its historical firepower, but as we know from Stanley Cup hockey, a hot goalie can make up for a lot. The quarterfinal game between Maryland and Syracuse/Albany will be the toughest to predict.
To worry fellow Irish fans, many have Notre Dame v. Air Force on upset watch. This probably has less to do with Air Force's ability to beat the Irish than it has to do with the fact that few have actually seen Air Force play, and that like the Irish, they play a lot of close games where anything can happen. In our opinion, Yale v. Navy stands as the better upset pick, although we submit neither is very likely.
In a perfect world, Notre Dame would face Denver in the national semifinal and get that monkey off their backs. Then they would face Brown setting up the dream Matt Landis v. Dylan Molloy matchup for all the marbles. That would indeed be a game to watch.
Also: The women's bracket was released with the Notre Dame women earning a first round bye. They'll face the winner of the Louisville/Northwestern matchup on May 15.
We are very interested any any tournament comments/complaints/grievances you may have.
Thanks to fellow SBNation site College Crosse for the pt. spread assistance.