Bracketology 1.0: This is March
For some, conference play begins this weekend. The Patriot League and ACC are already underway with their conference seasons, and we'll be fully into conference play everywhere in a couple of weeks.
For most teams, conference play really begins their regular season. Everyone still has a chance of making the NCAA Tournament, even you 0-5 UMass Lowell. Make a run in conference play, get into the conference tournament, win two (or for some three) conference tournament games, and you have the conference's automatic qualifier.
That is unless you're the ACC, which has five teams and does not have an AQ.
10 out of the 11 Division I men's lacrosse conferences have automatic qualification status, the first time we've had double-digit AQs since 2016. That was the year the ACC was in the second year of a two-year grace period after going below six members thanks to Maryland heading to the Big Ten.
Since 2017 and outside the last two years (2020 cancellation, 2021 without the Ivy League), the NCAA Tournament has had 17 teams in the field, nine AQs and eight at-larges with one play-in game. This year, we're back to having two play-in games featuring the four lowest ranked automatic qualifiers as determined by the selection committee, regardless of conference RPI. The winner of one matchup will take on the #1 overall seed, while the winner of the other matchup will take on the #2 overall seed.
Maryland and Virginia have separated themselves as the top two teams in the conference. But Princeton, Cornell, Georgetown look like serious contenders to make deep postseasons run. Don't count out Penn as well, whose three wins have all come by a goal. They're this year's version of the 2017 Syracuse Orange who went 9-2 in one-goal games, including seven straight one-goal games where they won five straight during that stretch.
More questions will be answered in the coming weeks. The bubble will really start to form. Bid stealers might arise. The suspense is building.
Automatic Qualifiers 1.0
Since nine conferences have yet to play any conference games, we'll take the top team in each conference based off whoever has the highest RPI, with those numbers coming courtesy of LaxNumbers (all data prior to March 15). When we get deeper into conference play, we’ll revert to the team with the best conference record.
Due to their upcoming move to the CAA in July, Stony Brook is ineligible to compete in the America East Tournament. They have the best RPI in the conference at 16.
At-Large Candidates 1.0
Eight more teams will be picked to join the 10 automatic qualifiers and have to finish with at least a .500 record. This number has been the same for a while now. With the Ivy League off to a hot start, it's very reasonable to have three teams take up all eight at-large bids.
Who are the multi-bid conferences (and how many bids will they get)?
The easy answers are the ACC, Big Ten, and the Ivy League. Nobody else comes close. If Georgetown doesn't win the Big East, that seems to be the only other conference to get multiple bids with the Big East AQ being a bid stealer.
Those three conferences should get at least two at-large bids, leaving two open spots remaining. Virginia and North Carolina represent the ACC (which doesn't have an AQ), Cornell and Penn in the Ivy League (Princeton gets the AQ), and Ohio State and Rutgers in the Big Ten (Maryland gets the AQ). That's the entire top 10 in the RPI.
After that, the resumes look really unimpressive. It's also mid-March. Only two teams have wins against the RPI top 20: Brown (vs. #16 Stony Brook) and Duke (vs. #17 Richmond, @ #20 High Point). Conference play will certainly boost everyone's resumes, and hurt others.
What about Jacksonville?
Jacksonville took the college lacrosse world by storm after upsetting Duke in February. They also defeated Denver and crept into the top 10 before losing at home to Utah. Their other loss is at Johns Hopkins in their season-opener.
The Dolphins have UMass Lowell and St. John's left on their nonconference schedule before shifting to conference play. It would help Jacksonville if Duke goes on a roll in conference play and Denver can get wins over Ohio State, Georgetown, and even Villanova in the regular season. As for their SoCon foes, High Point has North Carolina this weekend and Richmond has Virginia in April.
If Jacksonville can get that help from their previous opponents and conference rivals and not have another loss in the regular season, they have a decent shot at an at-large if they don't win the SoCon.
Bracketology Prediction 1.0
Before I unveil what I have, here's the official pre-championship manual from the NCAA. The cliff-notes from the NCAA are below:
Results of the RPI:
Record against ranked teams 1-5; 6-10; 11-15; 16-20; 21+
Average RPI of all wins
Average RPI of all losses)
Results versus common opponents
Significant wins and losses (wins against teams ranked higher in the RPI, losses against teams ranked lower in the RPI)
Locations of contests
Input is provided by the regional advisory committee for consideration by the Division I Men’s Lacrosse Committee
Coaches’ polls and/or any other outside polls or rankings are not used by the committee
And here...we...go. Also a quick note: Barring a late change, first round games will be played on the campuses of seeded teams once again.
Last Two In: Brown, Johns Hopkins
First Four Out: Duke, Yale, Jacksonville, Harvard
I don't feel confident with the majority of the selections, but that's probably because again, it's March 15. There's lots of lacrosse left. Conference play hasn't begun. Teams can jump in or fall out.
Johns Hopkins at 4-3 doesn't look as good as Duke at 7-3. But the Blue Jay's strength of schedule (4) is much better than Duke's (28). Despite the Blue Devils having two wins against teams ranked 16-20 in the RPI, the Blue Jays don't have any (all are between 24 and 27). Duke is 2-2 against teams ranked between 21 and 30 in the RPI and 0-2 against common opponents (Jacksonville and Loyola). The two teams will share more common opponents with Delaware, North Carolina, Syracuse, Towson, and Virginia later in the season.
In my eyes, Yale and Harvard have more opportunities to beef up their resume over Jacksonville thanks to conference play. Jacksonville has to take care of their business but also is leaning on some help from teams they've already played and defeated.
I'll try to do this every week, or at least every other week to start since it's still early.