The Weekend in Stick: Tougher Than It Is (Part I)

Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE

"The Weekend in Stick": It's exactly what it sounds like -- a recapitulation of this weekend's most notable. No doink.

"Well there is no such thing as you,
It doesn't matter what you do,
The more you try to qualify,
The more it all will pass you by,
Some people like to make life a little tougher than it is,
Some people like to make life a little tougher than it is."
- CAKE, "Tougher Than It Is"

Let's get to the big stories from the weekend.

The League is Mine!
You can make a pretty decent argument that earning a conference tournament one-seed this season isn't as valuable as it may have been in the past given the competitive balance around the country, but the value of earning the top position in a conference -- outside of getting a fancy championship banner to hang on the wall ("This is high quality nylon!") -- isn't akin to a null set. The pole position still matters in a lot of ways, including psychological considerations and matchup concerns. Four schools locked up a preferred path to the NCAA Tournament this weekend, and everyone in their conference is chasing them from here on out.

  • UMBC 10, Albany 16: There isn't a bigger favorite in any conference than the Great Danes are in the America East. This doesn't mean that Albany isn't bulletproof as the league spins toward its league tournament (remember what Canisius did to Siena last season in the MAAC Tournament?), but the Great Danes' victory over UMBC assured Earth's non-robot lacrosse enthusiasts that the America East will go through Albany via Stony Brook, New York. What's more interesting about this result is the two consequences it created: (1) The Retrievers, Hartford, and Stony Brook are now in a three-way tie in the league with identical 2-2 records; and (2) No team other than the Great Danes have locked themselves into the America East Tournament (Binghamton and Vermont, each with 1-3 records, are still technically alive for postseason consideration). The league is, once again, a mess and Albany’s biggest problem at this point in the year is that it doesn’t know which team it may see on May 2nd.
  • Penn State 13, Delaware 6: Penn State can finish its THUNDERDOME! campaign with nothing less than a 5-1 record (the same record as Drexel, a team in which the Nittany Lions hold a head-to-head tiebreaker) following its drubbing of the Blue Hens in Newark. Even though Penn State has an unblemished league record, the upcoming THUNDERDOME! Tournament may be the most unsettled and interesting playoff in the country for two reasons: (1) The higher seed hosts each semifinal game and the highest remaining seed after semifinal play hosts the conference championship; and (2) While Penn State appears to be the strongest team in the conference based on what the Nittany Lions have done in THUNDERDOME! this year (and its current eight-game winning streak), Drexel and Towson have the pieces and construct necessary to win the whole thing and carry the conference's flag in the NCAA Tournament. Regardless, Penn State will invite all comers to the heart of Pennsyltucky and never have to get on a bus for these all-important games.
  • Cornell 13, Brown 7: Part One of Rob Pannell's master plan is complete: The Red's defeat of Bruno gave Cornell the Ivy League championship and the right to host the league's tournament at Schoellkopf Field. Part Two comes in just under two weeks when Cornell looks to earn a free pass to a May adventure after surviving what may be the strongest auto-bid conference in the country this year. Steve Mock is coming along as a workhorse for the Red, and the team's performance over the next two weeks could set the stage for Cornell's first NCAA title since 1977. Cornell isn't without fault, but they're in the conversation -- based both on their run through the Ivy League this year and their season in totem -- as Championship Weekend's toughest out.
  • Siena 8, Marist 9 (OT): I don't know whether this is overstating reality or not, but the fact that the Red Foxes locked up the MAAC's top tournament seed against the program that has dominated the conference's recent history means something important: Marist is the MAAC's driving force in 2013, and Keegan Wilkinson has a crew that can give the Red Foxes their first taste of the NCAA Tournament ever. Marist won't have the luxury of hosting the league playoff in Poughkeepsie (everyone is headed to Canisius for the conference tournament this season), but the Red Foxes will, more likely than not, enter that weekend with an unblemished league record and all the incentive in the world to avoid getting clipped by the mass of questionable outfits currently sitting under them on the table. Marist has been an exceptional story in an unexceptional conference this season, and everything is lining up for the Red Foxes to make a little history in 2013 if the momentum keeps driving in their favor.

Maryland Slips Past Yale in Controversial Fashion
The box score shows an 8-7 victory for the Terrapins with Mike Chanenchuk putting home the winning tally (a man-up goal) with just 13 seconds remaining in regulation, but that isn't the entire story. Christian Swezey of The Washington Post and Inside Lacrosse was on site for the game, and this is what went down:

Yet it was a sequence in the final seconds that caused controversy against the Bulldogs. The fourth-ranked Terrapins took an 8-7 lead on an extra-man goal by junior Mike Chanenchuk with 13 seconds remaining.

The No. 15 Bulldogs won the ensuing faceoff and with two seconds left sophomore Harry Kucharczyk took a shot from 10 yards from the middle of the field. What happened next is up for debate.

The ball appeared to hit a low goal post, then Amato’s foot, before bouncing away as time expired. Kucharczyk and most of the Yale players and coaches standing yards from the play raised their arms in the air, believing the ball had crossed the goal line.

But the referees said there had been no goal and the game was over.

Look: I understand the thought that games aren't won and lost based on an isolated play; Yale had around 31 offensive opportunities on the day (including the controversial possession at the end of the game) and scored on just around 23 percent of those opportunities. However, while referees don't dictate outcomes, their efforts still have a tangible impact on that game; you can assert that the impact of an isolated play is muted in the grand scheme of a 60-minute game, but a goal-no goal situation . . . that's a tough way to go out. (Check out the quote from Andy Shay in Swezey's story. That's all you need to know.) The decision of the officials also carries greater weight than simply determining whether a game goes into overtime or if Maryland wins in regulation: Yale now sits at 11th in the RPI with RPI top 20 wins over only Albany (13) and Pennsylvania (14) and an RPI strength of schedule ranking of seventh. That resume may or may not be good enough to slip into the NCAA Tournament field this season, but a victory over Maryland would have drastically improved the Elis' profile. Yale's margin of error the rest of the way is razor thin -- against solid competition -- without the win against the Terrapins, and whether the officials were correct in their decision to wave off an apparent goal is a driving factor to the Bulldogs' postseason hopes. That’s a lot of consequence partially tied to an official getting a call right or wrong.

Fairfield Drops Denver Because Of Course
The Pioneers have played one game in ECAC play – at Hobart, a 14-5 victory – that hasn’t been decided by a single goal. That’s . . . I don’t even know what’s happening right now. The Stags’ 10-9 overtime victory over Denver (the Pioneers’ fifth overtime game this season and third in a row) was somewhat shocking in many ways but none more so than the fact that Fairfield held Denver scoreless over the final 11:06 of regulation to pull square with the Pioneers, eventually getting the overtime winner from Sam Snow just 56 seconds into the extra period. That fourth quarter stretch from the Stags may prove important for a few reasons:

  • Fairfield hadn’t exactly established itself as a defensive force this season, entering its date with Denver ranked just 33rd in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. Keeping the Pios’ offense at bay – the number one ranked offense in the country – for almost an entire period is heartening for a Fairfield team that has been looking for some stronger play at a consistent rate. Denver had somewhere around five possessions over the final 11:00 of regulation – including a man-up opportunity – and got nothing out of the eight shots that it took in that stretch (the Pioneers also had three turnovers in that final block of play). The Stags locked themselves into the ECAC tournament with the win, but it’s how they earned the win that may set the table for Fairfield’s late-season efforts.
  • Look: This isn’t necessarily a “bad loss” for the Pioneers but it isn’t necessarily a “good loss” either. Fairfield is a decidedly average team, and Denver missed an opportunity to entrench itself as the conference’s strongest team. The Pioneers are still in a good position to earn the league’s top seed for its postseason playoff – Denver gets Michigan this coming weekend, and a win against the Wolverines splits the regular season championship with Loyola and assures the Pioneers of the conference’s top tournament seed – but it’s not quite the same as if Denver had run the table in ECAC play in 2013, the last season that rival Loyola will participate in the conference. The Pioneers aren’t an unstoppable bear on the hunt for humans, but they’re still in a manageable spot relative to its league peers (just not the same kind of position it would have been in had Denver taken care of business at home against the Stags).

Part II is here.

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