There are mega weekends of lacrosse and there's whatever the hell this weekend is. Code Red-type of game days often pop up this time of year -- it's not like conference tournament races haven't had value since the NCAA Tournament went to an automatic invitation model -- but this coming weekend, premised on the atmosphere of college lacrosse in 2013, is one of the biggest in recent memory. This isn't hyperbole, people: This weekend matters and it matters across the board.
I ran through the weekend's slate and tried to provide a little context to what's on the line. There around 20 games that impact either conference tournament constitutions or NCAA Tournament concerns (or both), and it's almost oppressive the volume of implications in just three days of play. To wit:
GAMES: Virginia-Maryland; Duke-North Carolina; Championship Game
- Virginia is looking to salvage its season; running the table in the ACC Tournament gets the Cavaliers above .500 -- the baseline consideration for NCAA Tournament inclusion -- and two wins (one against Maryland, the other against Duke or North Carolina) would look sharp on an NCAA Tournament resume. Virginia's May hopes aren't completely squashed after a victory over Bellarmine this past weekend, and opportunity lies ahead for the Wahoos.
- Duke is looking to fill out its NCAA Tournament resume with a few more quality wins to increase its postseason seeding situation (the Devils have two mega wins -- against Carolina and Loyola -- but little else in the significant wins department). Maryland is looking to generate some momentum; the velocity of the Terrapins seems to have stalled a bit since Maryland lost to the Tar Heels in Byrd Stadium back in March to knock the Terrapins from the ranks of the unbeatens. North Carolina is attempting to add a few more pelts to its bag to put the Tar Heels in the conversation for the NCAA Tournament's top overall seed and affirm that Carolina is ready to make the Championship Weekend run so many have expected from the program the last few seasons.
Patriot League Tournament
GAMES: Army-Bucknell; Colgate-Lehigh; Championship Game
- Lehigh is attempting to lock itself into the NCAA Tournament with the league's automatic invitation. There is a little bit of pressure on the Mountain Hawks to win the conference tournament this season as Lehigh enters the weekend as the top seed and host of the event after running the table in regular season Patriot League play.
- Bucknell, with a trip to the tournament championship, likely situates itself nicely as an NCAA Tournament at-large selection (despite the mind-bending loss to Mount St. Mary's), but the Bison have the opportunity to take their May future out of the hands of athletics administrators if they win the whole damn thing. Bucknell's resume is fairly strong at the moment, but an automatic invitation by winning the league has no warts.
- Army is a long shot to make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large selection -- the Black Knights' strength of schedule ranking just isn't going to cut the mustard even if Army beats Bucknell this weekend and Johns Hopkins next weekend -- and it appears as if the Black Knights' best opportunity to continue their season into May is to win the conference tournament. It's this weekend or nothing for Joe Alberici's team, and Army has enough to get it done if the Black Knights come correct.
- Colgate is looking to end the season on a high note after a year that has gone awry. The only way the Raiders duplicate last season's tournament inclusion is for Colgate to, somehow, knock off a combination of teams that, in the aggregate, beat the Raiders 36-22 this year.
NCAA Tournament conversations seem to center on the Jays' needing this game more than Loyola, but the Greyhounds aren't exactly entering this game with a sparkling postseason resume: Loyola has exactly one top 20 RPI win at the moment -- Ohio State (11). Loyola will have an opportunity to fill out its resume in the ECAC Tournament next week, but at the moment the Greyhounds aren't exactly sitting pretty for NCAA Tournament seeding purposes. This isn't just avenging the lone blotch on its record from a season ago for Loyola -- the Greyhounds need a win over their Charles Street rival if it wants to avoid an ugly first round matchup in college lacrosse's biggest event.
As for Hopkins, the story is clear -- the Jays desperately need a quality win, and beating the Greyhounds ahead of a season-ending date with Army gets Hopkins closer to the NCAA Tournament field.
Big City Classic
GAMES: Princeton-Cornell; Notre Dame-Syracuse
- This smelled like the biggest regular season event when the participants were announced. The day should deliver -- four teams, all within or hanging around the nation's top 10 (depending on the measures that you look at), squaring off with huge implications for conference and NCAA Tournament purposes. Hoo boy!
- Notre Dame-Syracuse: Depending on what happens with Villanova-Providence, the Big East championship (and the league's top seed for its tournament) could ride on the outcome of this game (if Syracuse beats Notre Dame and Villanova beats Providence, the Wildcats earn the Big East's top tournament seed; if Syracuse beats Notre Dame and Villanova loses to Providence, the Orange earn the league's top tournament seed; if Notre Dame beats Syracuse, the Irish earn the conference's top tournament seed regardless of the Villanova-Providence outcome). Both teams are likely locked into the NCAA Tournament at this point -- the Irish's cadre of wins (Duke, Lehigh, Pennsylvania, Ohio State, and Loyola) is as strong as any team's resume and Syracuse isn't lagging too far behind with victories over Army, St. John's, Johns Hopkins, Princeton, and Cornell -- but the outcome of this game could strongly dictate seeding potential for both teams when the bracket is announced in on May 5th: A win over the Orange at MetLife Stadium could lock up the NCAA Tournament's top position for Notre Dame regardless of what the Irish do in the Big East playoff; Syracuse is simply looking to climb the seeding ladder.
- Princeton has a boatload of consequences on the line: A win over Cornell moves the Tigers closer to the NCAA Tournament field with a huge RPI win to accompany its victories over Johns Hopkins and Yale. The Tigers need important wins, and a win over the Red just a week before potentially getting the opportunity to generate two more notable victories importantly differentiates Princeton from the mess of teams currently fighting for at-large positions. As for Cornell, the Big Red are going to the NCAA Tournament, but the team's resume at this point is a little flat. A victory over Princeton helps Cornell's situation, but it also provides momentum for an Ivy League run that could merit two more valuable victories. It may not matter where the Red are seeded in the NCAA Tournament -- Cornell is as dangerous as any team that will occupy the bracket -- but a strong seed could make the road to Championship Weekend a little more manageable for Ben DeLuca's charges.
Penn State, Drexel, and Towson are locked into the conference's postseason tournament (in that order), but the race for the league's final invitation to its playoff is a mess: three teams -- St. Joseph's, Hofstra, and Massachusetts are all fighting for that last position. Given the unsettled nature of the THUNDERDOME! Tournament -- lower seeds have a 10-8 record against higher seeds since 2007 -- simply getting into the conference’s postseason tournament may be the magic elixir necessary to salvage a season that, in whatever relevant way, went sideways. The games to focus on this weekend are Delaware-Massachusetts, St. Joseph's-Towson, and Penn State-Hofstra. Of the three teams jockeying for that last position, only Massachusetts will be favored in its game, and the Minutemen hold a head-to-head tiebreaker win against Hofstra. It's almost shocking that the Pride may see its victory over Notre Dame rendered useless, but unless Hofstra comes out and beats the Nittany Lions in Shuart and Massachusetts loses to the Blue Hens, that may be the case.
It's very simple: If the Hoyas beat a Brian Brecht-less Rutgers squad, Georgetown goes to the Big East Tournament; if Georgetown loses to the Scarlet Knights, St. John's goes to the Big East Tournament. The Hoyas have found a bit of a groove since facing Villanova in early April, and Georgetown could raise a little bit of hell in the league's postseason tournament if they can take care of business in New Jersey (which isn't an unreasonable assumption at this point). As for St. John's, elimination from the conference tournament likely extinguishes any hope the Johnnies may have at making the NCAA Tournament. Both situations would be hard for the Red Storm to swallow considering how well the team played against Yale, Notre Dame, and Syracuse this season, not to mention the step forward the Johnnies took from a season ago (a year in which St. John's played very well).
Great Lax State already broke down most of the considerations going into this weekend relative to the league's tournament constitution. I'm not going to reiterate Tim's work but rather highlight the game of note: Detroit and Canisius are playing a knockout game at Titan Field. Neither team is particularly impressive this season, but the MAAC doesn't always crown the most impressive team as its offering to the NCAA Tournament -- last season's Siena-Canisius final is all you need to know about how the MAAC operates.
America East Book Club of Doom!
Here's the deal: Only Albany is locked into the America East Tournament at this point; otherwise, everything remains a royal mess in the conference. The league is stronger than it was a season ago -- partly due to the fact that the Great Danes are a national menace this year -- but the anarchy in the league remains. Five teams -- Binghamton, Hartford, UMBC, Stony Brook, and Vermont -- are all in contention for the league's final three positions in its postseason tournament and there isn't a lot of clarity around which teams are best positioned to make a trip to Stony Brook. Hartford, Stony Brook, and UMBC all hold identical 2-2 league records (the Hawks have wins over UMBC and Binghamton and losses to Albany and Stony Brook; the Seawolves have wins over Vermont and Hartford and losses to Binghamton and UMBC; the Retrievers have wins over Vermont and Stony Brook and losses to Harford and Albany) and that's driving a lot of the anarchy as to what is going to shake out in that group relative to the 1-3 records that Binghamton and Vermont currently sport. The entire conference squares off against each other this weekend -- Hartford-Vermont; Binghamton-UMBC; and Albany-Stony Brook -- and the results in all those games carry nothing but consequence.
Putting aside the boardroom rivalry, this game is bigger than Yale and Harvard's future this season: If Harvard beats the Elis, the Crimson head to the Ivy League Tournament; if the Bulldogs drop John Harvard, Pennsylvania goes to the Ivy League Tournament. Harvard's only shot at the NCAA Tournament is probably by winning the league playoff, but the Quakers are in a weird situation: Penn's strength of schedule isn't going to significantly improve regardless of whether the Quakers get into the Ivy League Tournament, but the opportunity to get another important RPI win or two could cement the Quakers into the NCAA Tournament. Would the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee include the Quakers if Pennsylvania doesn't make the Ivy League Tournament? The Quakers are going to have a competitive resume regardless of whether the Quakers make the trip to Ithaca. That's a lot of considerations riding on one game in Cambridge.