I had a chance to talk with Syracuse play-by-play announcer, Brian Higgins, about Selection Sunday and the upcoming 2011 NCAA Lacrosse Tournament. Higgins gives his overall thoughts as well as some potential upsets, his take on the final four, and if Virginia is a better team without the Bratton brothers.
College Crosse: What's your overall opinion of the 2011 NCAA Tournament?
Brian Higgins: Overall I have no major complaints about this year's bracket. Syracuse and Cornell are the two best teams and were deserving of the top two seeds, but it's by no means a guarantee they'll meet for the title. I expect this tournament to play out much like the regular season, a lot of close games with probably a few unpredictable results.
Also, it's great Denver has a home game for several reasons. For one, they absolutely deserved it. And it could open up the path for a Quarter then perhaps the Final Four down the line in Denver.
CC: A lot has been said on our site and others about the selection process and the criteria. What do you look at most between strength of schedule, amount of wins, quality wins and/or RPI, etc?
BH: I think the committee used those numbers properly this year within their current formulas to pick the bracket. The main issue is since lacrosse plays about half the games as basketball, RPI and SOS can get massively affected across the board by just a few games.
The ACC Tournament is certainly the lead offender, but that spirals out. Penn knew that just by playing three of the ACC teams this year, their chances of making the tournament would vastly increase. Because they beat a completely different Duke team way back in February, it means they're in the tournament now. This year I think more emphasis needed to be placed on how a team finished, which perhaps would have put Colgate in over Penn, but all of the bubble teams were flawed.
CC: Potential first round upstets? A much different 2011 Johns Hopkins team, but can Hofstra upset them for the second straight year?
BH: Two first round games stick out. Obviously Hofstra-Hopkins, which is entirely a credit to the Pride. Their defense is legit, and [Jamie] Lincoln, [Jay] Card and the rest can really score. That said, Hopkins is a deserving three-seed and playing at home.
The other game is Virginia-Bucknell, because who knows what to make of UVA right now. If Virginia is mentally sharp and in the game, they win going away. If not, the #1 recruiting class goes home without a title.
CC: Is Virginia better without the Brattons?
BH: And we arrive at the wildcard of the whole tournament. Without being inside the Cavs locker room before and after the Bratton mess it's hard to say what's going on there. Obviously the post-Bratton destruction of Penn was encouraging, but can they do that four more times? The only thing we know for certain about Virginia is that they are less talented without the Brattons, but with all those top-10 recruits year after year there are more than enough other guys to make up for it.
More talented, no. A better team, quite possibly.
CC: Lastly, your Final Four and who has the hardest road to Baltimore?
BH: Final Four, I'll go reasonably chalk with Syracuse, Cornell, Hopkins and Duke. Though if any of Denver, Virginia, Hofstra, or Notre Dame make it to Baltimore I wouldn't be in the least surprised. The easiest roads, as they should, belong to Syracuse and Cornell simply because in theory their first round games are the easiest, and they're the two hottest teams right now.
Quarters on it's tough for everyone. The hardest quarter is the Hopkins, Hofstra, Denver quadrant. I wouldn't be shocked if any made it to Baltimore.