The most popular narrative in lacrosse this season is the rise of the Big Ten. Just three losses combined from the six teams certainly gives an impressive resume in a year where the ACC has struggled.
Yes, the Big Ten has a lot of wins, but a closer examination leaves a lot to be desired.
How can the Big Ten be the best conference in lacrosse with roughly four quality wins between the teams?
Penn State is the newest favorite team in the nation of lacrosse media and fans alike. The rise of the Nittany Lions is certainly fun, especially after the term “Penn State Lacrosse” became somewhat of a rallying cry thanks to the Super Bowl success of Chris Hogan.
Is Penn State worthy of the hype, though? Or what about Rutgers, or Ohio State, or 6-1 Michigan in their fourth year?
We’ve already seen Johns Hopkins get blown out by Princeton, one of the biggest surprises of the season to date. The 4-1 Blue Jays, led by Tewaaraton finalist candidate Joel Tinney, have some great wins, defeating North Carolina and Loyola.
Their other wins, UMBC, and a struggling Navy team, don’t paint a total picture of the Blue Jays, however. The loss to Princeton could have somewhat exposed Hopkins.
Still, their combined wins are against 10-11 teams. It’s not bad, but it’s not excellent, either.
That’s the top end of the conference, along with Maryland, and the Terps schedule has been even stranger.
Once again, Maryland topped Navy, who has really struggled out of the gate with their injuries. Victories over St. Joseph’s, Yale, and High Point leave them with a winning record against a combined 7-14 record of opponents.
Yale was supposed to be the class of the Ivy League but started out 1-3 this season, while St. Joseph’s and High Point aren’t exactly quality opponents.
The Terps’ one loss is to Notre Dame, where the Terps couldn’t put up more than four goals on the Irish.
Michigan has had the easiest schedule in the conference, which makes sense given the program is in just its fourth season. A 7-28 record of opponents doesn’t help their cause, especially with a bad loss to Notre Dame.
The Wolverines’ victories are over Cleveland State, Lafayette, Detroit Mercy, Bellarmine, Mercer, and Furman, all struggling or new programs.
Now, for the undefeateds.
While there’s no denying Rutgers is a lacrosse school, and their 5-0 start is exciting, their quality of wins hasn’t been the best, either. The opponent record is 11-13, but some of that isn’t the Scarlet Knights’ fault either.
Brown is off to a 1-3 start, and almost no one could have anticipated that. Army is off to a 4-1 opening to their season, but other than Syracuse, none of those victories are quality either (UMass, Lafayette, VMI).
It’s not a bad schedule, but as games get harder, especially with Stony Brook tonight, it bears watching how Rutgers does.
The Ohio State Buckeyes have seen an excessively easy schedule with a 5-26 opponent record against Furman, Detroit Mercy, UMass, Jacksonville, Marquette, and Bellarmine. Cleveland State is next on the schedule but it gets more difficult from there with three straight against quality teams like Towson, Denver, and Notre Dame.
Lastly, Penn State. 6-0, third ranked, Penn State.
The 12-19 opponent record is a bit deceptive because of 1-6 Furman, and a victory over 3-1 Penn was impressive. Once again, no one could have expected Cornell and Villanova to struggle as they have this season, so Penn State has the least egregious schedule.
Yet, with upcoming games against Cleveland State, Fairfield, Ohio State, and a flawed Harvard team, the Nittany Lions might not face a real test until Maryland.
By then, how far can the Penn State hype train go?
The Big Ten is certainly a good conference, but the best? Or have they just had the most opportunity to succeed with their out of conference schedules?
The ACC and Patriot League have had more difficult schedules, but how the Big Ten responds in conference play will determine if the conference has emerged as the best.