2014 NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Bracket Analysis: Snubs, Surprises, and Other Thoughts

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Running through the bracket with extreme prejudice.

The 2014 NCAA Men's Lacrosse Championship bracket is out (play-in games are included in brackets):

Quarterfinal: Newark, Delaware
(1) Duke v. [Air Force v. Richmond] -- Durham, N.C. (Sunday, 5:15 ET (ESPNU))
(8) Virginia v. (U) Johns Hopkins -- Charlottesville, V.A. (Sunday, 1:00 ET (ESPN2))

Quarterfinal: Newark, Delaware
(4) Pennsylvania v. (U) Drexel -- Philadelphia, P.A. (Sunday, 3:00 ET (ESPNU))
(5) Denver v. (U) North Carolina -- Denver, C.O. (Saturday, 7:30 ET (ESPNU))

__________________________

Quarterfinal: Hempstead, New York
(3) Loyola v. (U) Albany -- Baltimore, M.D. (Saturday, 12:00 ET (ESPNU))
(6) Notre Dame v. (U) Harvard -- South Bend, I.N. (Saturday, 2:30 ET (ESPNU))

Quarterfinal: Hempstead, New York
(2) Syracuse v. [Siena v. Bryant] -- Syracuse, N.Y. (Sunday, 7:30 ET (ESPNU))
(7) Maryland v. (U) Cornell -- College Park, M.D. (Saturday, 5:00 ET (ESPNU))

Siena travel to Bryant for a 4:00 ET game on Wednesday. Richmond is heading to Air Force on Wednesday for a 9:00 ET throw down.

The tournament should hold a lot of volatility and intrigue. From a high level, here are some thoughts about this year's bracket.

Snubs

There aren't too many arguments around teams left out of the bracket. The eight at-large selections to the field look pretty fair, especially considering the fact that those left just on the outside -- Hofstra, Princeton, Penn State, and Yale -- were somewhat soft bubble teams. The four exclusions from the tournament shouldn't create bile, but there is a lot of Randy Marsh-inspired "Aw, dammit!" in that group:

  • Hofstra: The Pride had a chance to play their way into the bracket but stumbled late against Drexel in the THUNDERDOME! Tournament final. The Pride were -- according to the committee chair -- the last team out and lost a resume toss up with Harvard. It isn't clear which team would win in a head-to-head meeting between Hofstra and Harvard, but the Crimson earned the nod over the Pride. It's difficult to have an NCAA Tournament decision turn on the result of a triple overtime death match, but that's the reality that Hofstra is dealing with.
  • Penn State: If the Nittany Lions had a shot at the THUNDERDOME! Tournament this could have been a different kind of day for Penn State. A 7-6 record ripe with lost opportunities against Loyola, Denver, Massachusetts, Drexel, and Albany ultimately defined the team's hopes for an at-large selection. It's a reasonable exclusion, but the eviction of Penn State from its league tournament left questions on the table as to the Nittany Lions' volition in May. If THUNDERDOME!'s petulance was designed to make Penn State's tournament hopes more difficult it succeeded in its pursuit (even though the Nittany Lions arguably didn't deserve the punishment they received).
  • Princeton: Out of sight, out of mind. What ultimately crushed the Tigers was a seven-day stretch where Princeton lost consecutive one-goal games against Yale and Brown and a mid-April one-goal loss to Harvard. Princeton's exclusion from the field is reasonable, but the Tigers' difficult losses ultimately dictated the team's empty May calendar.
  • Yale: Like Hofstra, it was all in front of the Elis: Beat Harvard in the Ivy League Tournament and the Bulldogs' situation changes a bit. Yale lost five games -- to Fairfield, Cornell, Pennsylvania, and Harvard (twice) -- by a total of six goals, but the Elis didn't have enough juice to make the NCAA Tournament. It was there for Yale to take and the Bulldogs tripped when they could have run.

Surprises

Surprises related to the composition and construction of the field turns -- almost exclusively -- not on whether the selection committee followed the criteria put before it. Rather, surprises associated with the bracket are built upon responses to what the selection and seeding criteria -- mandated by the NCAA -- requires the selection committee to do. (In other words, there's little lacrosse decision-making happening; this is decision-making built around soulless criteria). This year, though, one seeding surprise emerged:

  • (5) Denver: The committee seemed to deviate from their prior seeding and selection history with the seed the Pioneers earned. Denver's resume didn't look like a team destined for a home game in the first round: The Pios' had two RPI top 20 wins (Penn State (18), Notre Dame (5)), two RPI top 20 losses (Loyola (4), Duke (3)), a weighted RPI strength of schedule rank of 27th, and an RPI rank of seventh. There were other teams with arguably stronger resumes based on the NCAA's selection and seeding criteria. This is odd, especially as Anish Shroff asked the selection committee chair -- Jim Siedliski -- whether subjectivity went into the process. "Our eye test," Siedliski said, was based on "the whole body of work." Siedliski followed his statement with: "There really is no subjectivity to this." Yet, the selection committee seemed to go off the map with Denver's positioning in the bracket. This isn't to take anything away from Denver -- the Pioneers have top five quality -- but the team's seeding was an apparent deviation from form.

Other Thoughts

Et cetera:

  • Syracuse fans could flood Hempstead for a potential Orange quarterfinals game at Shuart Stadium. The Dome is about five hours from Long Island, and with the number of Syracuse alums in New York City, Hofstra could become a show for Syracuse. (If Cornell should advance past Maryland, an Orange-Red rematch in Hempstead could sink Long Island.)
  • North Carolina-Denver: That's a Championship Weekend-quality first round game. The 'Heels and Pioneers are legitimate national title contenders, and they'll bash their faces in right out of the gate.
  • Albany-Loyola: The 'Hounds drew the toughest card in the deck, but Loyola -- as much as any team in the bracket -- may be the best suited to deal with the Thompson Trio and the problems that the Great Danes present.
  • Harvard-Notre Dame: "We actually are Harvard" v. "We think we're Harvard."
  • Cornell-Maryland: This is a rematch from last year's tournament in name only. These are much different teams from a season ago.
  • Philadelphia is going to burn to the ground for Drexel-Pennsylvania. What an awesome opportunity for Philadelphia lacrosse. And the winner gets a manageable trip to Newark for the quarterfinals where they could fill up the building.

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