BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 29: The Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate goal against the Cornell Big Red during the 2010 NCAA Division 1 Lacrosse Semifinal Championship game on May 29, 2010 at M & T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Getting you ready for the 2012 college lacrosse season. What, the season already started? Drats.
It's a good thing that there aren't as many absolutes in college lacrosse like there were a few years ago. Just 10 years ago (and maybe even five), you could probably, in the preseason, predict 80 percent of the participants in the NCAA Tournament and likely nail down 60 percent of the actual seeds. Now, however, there is this great feeling of the unknown. This is exciting and refreshing, which should make the entirety of the 2012 season as good as any in recent memory.
Three leagues look to have the greatest degree of uncertainty: Big East, Patriot League, and ECAC. All look to have some kind of logjam at the top of the table, and that'll make the races for trophies in these conferences all the more fun.
There are a lot of "firsts" for the Big East this year: First year with a conference tournament (At Villanova? Sure, why not?); first year with an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament; and the first year that Syracuse may not decimate the league with dynamite.
When the league announced that it intended to sponsor men's lacrosse starting with with 2010 season, everyone that hadn't taken a tire iron to the skull at some point in their lives assumed that Syracuse would dominate the league from start to finish. There wasn't a refrain that the Orange would run through the conference with an unblemished record for all of eternity like many thought of Florida State football when it joined the ACC, but there wasn't much concern that Syracuse would ever be challenged year-in and year-out in the Big East.
Now, in 2012, serious questions about whether the Orange will continue its spotless effort abound. Notre Dame and Villanova are legitimate candidates to take home regular season and/or tournament trophies. Georgetown, mired in mediocrity the last few years and without an NCAA Tournament invitation since 2007, is lying in the weeds like a viper waiting to attack. The remainder of the league probably has a better shot at lottery winnings than to finish at the top of the table, but that doesn't diminish the fact that the Big East is as unsettled as ever.
These are crazy times down at Costello music.
For a while now, the Patriot League has kind of been THUNDERDOME!-light. If you had to come up with a name for it, it'd be PARTLYCLOUDYSKIESDOME! It doesn't have that violent chainmail-necessary feel that the Colonial Athletic Association has, but it's arguably as competitive with a similar degree of victorious confusion.
Three members -- Army, Bucknell, and Colgate -- all, at this point, have enough to win the league crown. Each have warts, but they also have patches of really nice complexion. Kevin Cassese is doing man's work at Lehigh -- despite the ass-reddening that Villanova gave the Mountain Hawks last week -- and Navy and Lafayette, despite their more substantial warts and overall poorer complexion, could cause some headaches in 2012 (although fairly unlikely).
With such a tight race at the top of the table, the Patriot League tournament should be a firework show with major implications. While the possibility exists that this could be a two-bid league for NCAA Tournament purposes, nobody is going to assume that chance is reality. The league this year should be straight nuts.
Entering the season, a bullet-point memorandum on the conference probably would have looked like this:
- Denver is the class of the league and is probably a national title contender.
- Ohio State, Loyola, and (maybe) Fairfield will be pretty good, in the conversation for an at-large invitation to the dance.
- Hobart is Hobart.
- Everyone else is just padding out the win-loss record of higher-tier predators.
Now, it's all decidedly gray in the ECAC. Ohio State could have the juice to take home top honors and Loyola, it seems, isn't messing around with Mike Sawyer and Eric Lusby. Fairfield might not have the kind of year it had in 2011, but it isn't in a body bag as of yet. It's a muddled mess -- delicious, like a mojito -- but there won't be a lot of clarity in the league until April starts to rear its head.
What do you knuckleheads think? How will these leagues shake out? Are there any other major unknowns lurking out there on the conference end (other than, you know, the complete mess in America East)? The comments, they are yours.