The first three weeks of Bracketology were for fun. Now, the sorting process begins in earnest, as teams play themselves out of at-large contention and bodies of work come into sharper focus.
One team knows for certain it's going to the Big Barbecue: Lehigh, the Patriot League Tournament winner, gets the first AQ. Seven more will be awarded this week, as conference tournament play goes from jalapeno to habanero. We see the other seven AQs going pretty much as we have seen them throughout April: Albany (America East), Notre Dame (Big East), Penn State (Colonial), Denver (ECAC), Cornell (Ivy), Marist (MAAC), and Bryant (Northeast). Yes, we're aware that Notre Dame laid an egg against Syracuse on Saturday, but the Irish still have the best overall body of work in the field. We're also aware that Albany lost to Siena last week, but the selection committee will heavily discount that loss due to the absence of Miles and Lyle Thompson (both of whom came back with a bang against Stony Brook), and so do we.
Virginia is officially toast, ending its season at 7-8. UMass, Villanova, and Hofstra are out of at-large contention, because they can't have .500 records unless they win their respective conference tournaments. Princeton and Hopkins, with five losses, are as good as eliminated. It's fair to ask why the five-losses-and-out principle is waived for Duke; the answer is two-fold. First, Duke has better signature wins than either Princeton or Hopkins. Second, Duke passes the eye test in ways that neither Princeton nor Hopkins can match. How many teams, for example, have a potential 30-goal scorer (Josh Offit) on their second midfield? And how many teams left in the field have a Brendan Fowler at the dot? When he is doing his thing, Duke's defensive deficiencies become far less relevant.
Two games in the first round of conference tournaments have the feel of play-in games: Yale-Penn and Loyola-Ohio State. I like the Quakers, by the slimmest of margins, despite having lost to Yale in the regular season, because their overall body of work impresses just a bit more. Both the Greyhounds and Buckeyes have tournament resumes, so I have them both in the field for now, but the loser of that game could find itself in a precarious position if pre-tournament favorites in other conferences start to fall.
With all of that said, here's the latest look at the bracket:
(1) Notre Dame vs. Bryant
(8) Loyola vs. Lehigh
(5) Cornell vs. Albany
(4) Denver vs. Bucknell
(3) Syracuse vs. Penn
(6) Penn State vs. Duke
(7) Maryland vs. Ohio State
(2) North Carolina vs. Marist
Last Four In: Penn, Bucknell, Duke, Ohio State
First Four Out: Yale, Drexel, Princeton, Johns Hopkins
Next Four Out: St. John's, Army, Fairfield, Brown