2012 NCAA Lacrosse Tournament: Champion Contenders and Pretenders (First Round Edition)

via images.majorleaguelacrosse.com

Eds. Note: From Harrison. Direct your ire toward him, not my inbox.

The bracket is set.

Some teams made it, while most teams are on the outside looking in. What is uncertain at this point is who is going to win the magical hardware on Memorial Monday. Unlike most years with a couple really dominant teams serving as the favorites, more than ever this season the tournament is wide open. Let's take a look at the field and separate those contenders from the pretenders once again as to who can win the title.

Contenders

Johns Hopkins
The Blue Jays are no stranger to the NCAA Tournament, having made the field 41 times in a row (although I still object to 2010). They are the team with probably the most talent in this tournament but instead of their offense, their defense has been carrying them all season. They are second in defensive efficiency and they also cause turnovers. The number two seed in the dance can add to their trophy case this season.

Virginia
Virginia has one of the best players in the game in Steele Stanwick. The reigning Tewaaraton Trophy winner has the ability to put Virginia on his back. Not only that but they have a great defense that uses several different schemes, and they get more possessions than their opponents. They could be the first repeat winners since Syracuse in 2008-09.

Loyola
The number one seed always has a chance to win it all. Despite recent history of the top team losing, they always have a chance to go the distance. The Greyhounds are no exception. Loyola is fourth in goals scored in the country and fifth in forced turnovers. Goals plus more possessions to get those goals equals a dangerous offense. Only allowing 7.67 goals per game is pretty great as well.

Massachusetts
The only undefeated team has a decent shot of getting back to the title game, the last of which was in 2006. Led by Will Manny's 75 points, UMass boasts a solid offense and a stingy goalie in Tim McCormack. They have the pieces and can prove they can beat inferior foes. The big question is how do they stack up against truly talented teams? Win four games and they prove they can. And they can.

Notre Dame
The class of the Big East all season, this team was one goal away from a national championship in 2010. Notre Dame wins in the most boring way possible. They hog the ball. They take their time and when 60 minutes of lacrosse are done you somehow have less goals then they do. An extremely tough defense and goalie John Kemp also help the cause. While you'll be bored watching them win it all, they definitely could.

North Carolina
UNC is 40-5 outside of the ACC under Coach Breschi, which seems crazy. But this is a team that plays at a fast pace and is careful with the ball. Their defense and goalie situation are a bit more unpredictable, but after all the object is to just score more than your opponent. They can do that, and that gives them a shot. They may not be able to stop other teams from scoring, but when your midfield unit is a solid as this one, you can ride that pretty far.

Duke
The folks from Durham really thrive at off-ball offense and are great at picking up ground balls. Their defense is pretty good as well. Their midfield and attack units can keep Duke in any game, and Dan Wigrizer is one of the best goalies out there right now. Duke has the pieces to be a contender, they just all have to be working. That will make the difference for Duke in this tournament. Either way, they could taste the glory like they did in 2010.
Pretenders

Denver
Denver would seem to be in the running to be a contender to hoist a trophy in this group, but they made the Final Four last year and have Bill Tierney at the helm. That makes them experienced. However, Denver lost a lot of close games this season and failed to find their killer edge. When Denver is scoring goals they are dangerous, but if they find themselves in a drought they will be in trouble fast. It would help if they could clear the ball as well. They could get to Championship Weekend again, but it isn't very likely.

Maryland
One of the big surprises of last May, Maryland is a different team this year, having lost the big time players that got them to the championship. They have been majorly inconsistent this season and, like Syracuse, you never know what team will show up. They can't seem to defend elite offensive players and were torched by Colgate to finish their regular season campaign. This is just a team hoping to get out of the first weekend, and they might not be able to.

Syracuse
Syracuse put in two solid performances in the Big East Tournament to earn the automatic bid and get into the tournament when they were decidedly not going to receive an at large bid. They looked like the Syracuse of old when they dominated both Villanova and St. John's. It appears a switch has been flipped for Syracuse as Bobby Wardwell in goal has settled in nicely and the Syracuse offense has awakened. Despite that, you have to think Syracuse will either run into a hotter team or mistakes will catch up with them. I think Syracuse could easily make the Final Four with their bracket, but the title game seems unlikely.

Colgate
Peter Baum leads the nation in points and is a Tewaaraton finalist. This team also does a lot of things well, like score a high number of goals, rides well, and they gobble up ground balls. But Baum is not enough alone. Colgate lacks the talent that other teams in their part of the bracket possess. It would stun the lacrosse world to see them win a couple games, let alone the whole thing.

Lehigh
It would not be shocking to see the Mountain Hawks (or, if you're old school, the Engineers) get to the second weekend of the tournament, but after that would be an astonishing feat. They may have some magic against the ACC left over from basketball, but magical runs rarely -- if ever -- happen in NCAA lacrosse. Lehigh has a stellar defense which could carry them far, but it would be monumental to see them at Foxborough.

Princeton
This was essentially the "last team in" when talking about at large selections. Other teams might have been more deserving like Penn State, but Princeton is in and the Nittany Lions are not. Either way, I can't see how the Tigers get out of the first round, let alone how improbable it would be to see them play on Memorial Day.

Yale, Stony Brook, Canisius
Yeah, no. Thanks for stopping by. Of note, Canisius is the MAAC representative and that conference has never won an NCAA Tournament game. Yale earned the Ivy League bid by winning the Ivy Tournament. So that's something. Stony Brook is 7-9 on the year, making them ineligible for an at-large bid, but made it to the show thanks to America East's automatic bid.

The criteria for this list was, "Would I be surprised, seeing the bracket, this team hoisting the trophy on Memorial Day?" For the teams up top, no. And let me say, my own bracket doesn't have some of them winning in the first round. However, it wouldn't be shocking. That's the magic of the bracket. It's wide open this year, and that's what makes it fun.
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