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In Which Our Hero Takes on The Fool's Errand That Is Bracketology (v 1.0)

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There are two approaches to bracketbuilding. One is the “Bilas Index” approach: to try and identify the sixteen most deserving teams. The other is to look at the metrics the selection committee supposedly uses, and try to predict the field. In this exercise, I’m sort of splitting the difference: this is the If I Ruled The World bracket. It combines elements of both traditional and tempo-free metrics, plus the dreaded Eye Test. The argument against the Bilas Index approach is that it will always mis-predict the field, because in a typical year three automatic bids are going to teams with no plausible claim to be in the top sixteen.

2013 is going to be an unusual year in a couple of respects. First, two normal consumers of at-large bids, Johns Hopkins and Virginia, are on life support. The Bluejays need to win at least three of their four remaining games (at Maryland, Navy, Loyola, and at Army) to have a plausible claim. Virginia needs wins in both of its remaining regulat-season games (at Duke, Bellarmine) and at least one win in the ACC Tournament (its first-round opponent will be either North Carolina or Maryland) to have a plausible claim. Second, because of Albany’s unusual strength, the Great Danes could still be an at-large team if they lose the America East tournament. That kind of bid-stealing, fairly common in basketball, is virtually unheard-of in lacrosse.

The initial step in building a bracket is to slot in the eight AQs, the tournament champions of the America East, Big East, Colonial, ECAC, Ivy, Metro Atlantic, Northeast, and Patriot. As of today, my expectation is that the AQs will go to Albany, Notre Dame, Penn State, Denver, Cornell, Marist, Quinnipiac, and Bucknell.

That leaves eight at-large bids theoretically in play. The reality as of today is that assuming I’m right about the AQs, seven of the at-large bids are locked up by Duke, Loyola, Maryland, North Carolina, Penn, Princeton, and Syracuse. Two of these deserve some explanation. Duke has the metrics of a bubble team: a number 16 PWE, number 18 SOS (and plummeting, as its remaining regular-season games are Virginia, at Rutgers, and at Marquette), and a miserable number 42 adjusted defensive efficiency. Duke is in, at least for now, because it has two top-ten wins and passes the eye test. However, if the Blue Devils lose to Virginia and lose their first-round game in the ACC tournament, call a priest, because it will be time for the last rites. Conversely, the eye test and the polls say Penn is a bubble team, but the Quakers number three RPI, number one SOS, and number five adjusted defensive efficiency all say “lock.”

So who’s on the bubble, and who doesn’t get burst? As of today, I see four teams with plausible claims to the last spot in the field: St. John’s, Yale, Drexel, and Lehigh. Before the Red Storm lost to Georgetown, I would have said they had clearly the best resume of the group. Now, it’s much closer. Lehigh can stand the whole thing on its head by beating Bucknell this week. Are there other teams that could play their way into the bubble conversation? Sure there are. In addition to the aforementioned Bluejays and Wahoos, Bellarmine, Villanova, Ohio State, and Hofstra could dramatically change the calculation by running the table in the regular season and reaching their respective tournament championship games.

With all that as preface, here’s my first, very subject-to-change, prediction of the tournament field. In putting this together, I am ignoring the fact that I’m putting three teams on airplanes for first round games; when Denver, Notre Dame, North Carolina and Duke are seeded, that’s just unavoidable.

Maryland (1)

Quinnipiac (16)

Syracuse (8)

Princeton (9)

Denver (5)

St. John’s (12)

Notre Dame (4)

Penn (13)

Cornell (2)

Marist (15)

Loyola (7)

Bucknell (10)

Duke (6)

Penn State (11)

North Carolina (3)

Albany (14)

The one indisputable takeaway from this exercise is that the field has to expand. As bad as this is, it only gets worse next year, when the Atlantic Sun gets an AQ and we welcome one of Jacksonville, Mercer, Furman, High Point, VMI, or Richmond to the Big Barbecue.

Welcome your comments.



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