The Red Foxes -- the current leader in the MAAC with a 3-0 record, the team's three league victories coming against Monmouth, Canisius, and Quinnipiac (those teams a combined 4-4 against league competition) -- are positioned well to earn Marist's second bid ever to the NCAA Tournament. Unlike prior seasons, though, the Red Foxes are hurtling toward a May adventure without the pesky issue of navigating a conference that has historically ate its own young. This, combined with Marist's competence, has created a situation highly conducive for the Foxes to advance to a part of the year that the program has been precluded from participating in for most of its existence.
Take a look at how the MAAC stacks up compared to the Red Foxes at this point in the season:
|TEAM||RECORD||LAXPOWER RANKING||MASSEY RANKING*||KRACH RANKING|
* Through games played on March 29, 2015.
Not only is Marist a nationally-relevant machine this season -- each of the three examined measures slots the Red Foxes toward the top of the middle of the nation, identifying the Red Foxes as not only proficient but also dangerous -- but the Red Foxes are head and shoulders above the rest of the MAAC in 2015. This doesn't mean that Marist is assured of an unblemished run through the league and a guaranteed position in the NCAA Tournament -- there are few facts of reality more important than "The better team doesn't always win!" -- but it does signal that the Red Foxes are positioned well to garner an invitation to The Big Barbeque. Utilizing Massey's matchup tool, Marist has a relatively clear conference road in their windshield as it pushes out toward the horizon:
|OPPONENT||WIN PROBABILITY||MEAN SCORE|
The Red Foxes are a monster favorite in the league despite the fact that things could go sideways in the MAAC Tournament (even if Marist hosts the tournament as the conference's regular season champion). This presents the question, then, of what kind of force the Red Foxes could be should Marist find a place in the NCAA Tournament. Once again using Massey's matchup tool and layering in Inside Lacrosse's first bracket projection, Marist would be a 'dog in almost every matchup against projected tournament participants, but the odds aren't horrific against a handful of teams (all odds and projected scores are computed as if Marist were the road team):
|OPPONENT||WIN PROBABILITY||MEAN SCORE|
|at Notre Dame||4%||6.47-14.34|
|at North Carolina||10%||9.06-15.31|
The projections in that table -- again: these are based on games played through March 29, 2015 -- aren't fantastic, but the Red Foxes square pretty well against many programs with a higher profile than the MAAC's leader. There are tons of teams that would have their teeth kicked in by Syracuse, Denver, Maryland, Notre Dame, and the rest of the known quantities that are one part bully and two parts evil lacrosse scientist. But . . . a one-in-three chance against Navy and comparable win probabilities against Towson and Georgetown? Those aren't terrible odds, and certainly not odds that indicate that Marist is all that far away from the top third of the nation.
The Red Foxes are the crystallization of one of the most important developments in Division I lacrosse: While there is still a limited pool of programs that can conceivably win the national championship, the middle of the nation is stronger than it was a decade ago and are outfitted with enough tools to knock off established teams in the right circumstances. Joseph Radin, Colin Joka, Michael Begley, J.D. Recor, Dave Scarcello, and the rest of the Red Foxes' big contributors may not be able to play everywhere, but they're certainly good enough to play somewhere, and that place has grown into a legitimate enterprise that did not exist a short time ago. Teams like Marist are the catalyst not necessarily for absolute parity but rather for increased awareness and entertainment. The more that programs like the Red Foxes grow, the more that Division I lacrosse becomes a high-caliber pressure cooker of daily fun.