I'm a big supporter of the NCAA automatic bid process. Conference tournaments keep a team's quest for an NCAA bid alive. The actual NCAA bracket is home to 16 teams, but you could argue that the brackets extend two rounds wider, like this weekend in the Patriot League. For Lehigh to win the national title, it would have to win two games and capture the Patriot League championship, then win four in the NCAA tournament. Will it happen? Probably not. But could it happen? Yes. And that's fantastic. Twenty-eight Division I teams will have the opportunity to play postseason lacrosse. Sudden-victory lacrosse. Nothing better.
Here is my tournament bracket as of April 26. Virginia garners the top seed and will host the winner of the MAAC tournament in the round of 16. In the last three years, the MAAC winner has lost by scores of 19-8, 15-3 and 22-6. Virginia, if it survives and advances, will play in the southern quarterfinals on May 21 at Towson's Minnegan Field.
Hofstra, if it can win the CAA tourney, gets my No. 2 seed. I've got the Pride playing Stony Brook (if Stony Brook can win the America East tourney) on Long Island. Hofstra is a northern team -- think of the ticket sales if it was able to advance to the quarterfinal round at Stony Brook.
I'll slot Maryland at No. 3. The Terrapins will host interstate rival UMBC on May 13 or May 14. The winner will play at Towson on May 21.
Cornell, the Ivy League champ for the second consecutive year, picks up the fourth seed. The Big Red will host Denver, the Great Western Lacrosse League winner. The winner will play at Stony Brook on May 20.
I'll pencil in Princeton at No. 5. How about a Penn-Princeton matchup in the NCAA tournament? It's an existing rivalry and the schools are close in proximity -- it's got everything the committee looks for. The Ivy League will send three teams to the big dance.
Georgetown makes its ninth consecutive NCAA tournament as the No. 6 seed.
Johns Hopkins gets the No. 7 seed and will play UMass in the first round. Seems like these two teams meet every year in the playoffs. The winner travels north to Long Island for the second round. Can you smell a sellout -- Hofstra vs. Hopkins in the quarters?
The No. 8 seed goes to Syracuse, winner of two straight games in overtime. Navy is the Orange's opponent in the first round. The Carrier Dome hosts.
Ivy Action Recap
I got to watch tape of Dartmouth vs. Brown this week from Providence, R.I., and hadn't seen either of these schools yet. It's always fun to watch a team for the first time. I've always respected the Big Green's Nick Bonacci. When he played at St. Mary's in Annapolis, he was a winner. He quietly put up big numbers. There's nothing like a lefty feeder to set up right-handed cuts. Bonacci is having a stellar junior year with 22 goals and 29 assists. Against Brown, he showcased some nifty moves, turning the corner with confidence, using his left hand to set up right-handed moves. Off the field, he volunteers in a Special Olympics bowling league and is a member of the Big Brother/Big Sister mentoring program. Good kid. Great player.
Dartmouth is 6-6. They dusted Brown last weekend and led 10-1 at one point. Brad Heritage did most of the damage. He's a horse: At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, he can split dodge left- and right-handed. It's tough to pick up his shot on the run. He's found the net 24 times this spring on 70 shots. If I were a general manager of a Major League Lacrosse franchise, this is the type of player I'd be looking at. It will take Heritage a summer to get used to the end-to-end tempo of the MLL.
Thoughts from UMass-Georgetown
How about Rich D'Andrea? Georgetown's goalie played a perfect fourth quarter on Saturday. D'Andrea made seven fourth-quarter saves against UMass in an 8-6 Hoya victory. He stopped 15 shots overall. He started in 14 games last year (and 42 in his career) but lost the starting job to sophomore Miles Kass. Coach Dave Urick switched D'Andrea to long pole midfield. When Kass got hurt, D'Andrea filled in between the pipes. He has played in four games this spring, saving 61 percent of shots on goal. His style is unorthodox -- he flops, he splits, he drops. At times I've been critical of his play, so it was great to see him play so well at a crucial moment in the Hoyas' season. D'Andrea is a fifth-year senior graduate student, and you could really see how much his teammates were energized by his acrobatic stops.
I was equally impressed with UMass defender Jack Reid. Wow. This guy reminds me of a young Nicky Polanco: big, strong, rangy and able to change directions quickly. He is aggressive and likes to dictate his matchup. He's the best on-ball defender I've seen this year, and he will be taken high in the first round of the MLL Draft on May 31.
Sean Morris is as good as or better than advertised. Morris and Maryland's Joe Walters are locks for the Tewaaraton banquet. Morris dominated his matchup with Reyn Garnett so thoroughly that the Hoyas ended up covering him with Jerry Lambe by game's end. Georgetown was forced to make a similar switch against Navy's Jon Birsner three weeks ago.
I watched Virginia dust Bellarmine on Saturday in Charlottesville. It's hard to gauge how this will prepare the Cavaliers for the ACC finals on Sunday in Baltimore. Goals flowed easily. Virginia has the best mid-range shooters in lacrosse. Matt Poskay, Ben Rubeor, Kyle Dixon, Drew Thompson and Matt Ward stick their 10-yard shots. But this game may do the Cavaliers more bad than good. At times, they were sloppy with the ball and lacked genuine emotion. Their defense overplayed the ball. The Cavaliers' toughest opponent will be themselves and trying to stay sharp with only two games in a five-week period.
In its second year as a Division I program, Bellarmine is making strides. The Knights are 6-8 for Jack McGetrick and have played Duke, Notre Dame and Virginia -- very aggressive scheduling for a new team. Bellarmine is a Catholic, liberal arts university located in Louisville.
A game of momentum
Momentum swings were in full display Friday night in the Carrier Dome. Syracuse jumped out to a 6-0 lead over Albany. The Orange had a six-goal lead with 9:07 to go. But the Great Danes finished with a flourish to tie the game at 13. Brett Bucktooth scored the game-winner for Syracuse in OT; it was his fifth goal of the game. If Navy had an interior shooter like Bucktooth, then the Mids would have beaten Hopkins by three goals. 'Cuse has won two straight games in overtime and five overall. The Orange's defense has surrendered 36 goals in the last three contests.
Both the men's and women's ACC tournaments take place this weekend at M&T Bank Stadium, but the most exciting game of the weekend will be between Salisbury and Washington College -- The War on the Shore (faceoff Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET). They play for the Clark Cup, in honor of Dr. Charles B. Clark (1913-2003), a longtime educator who also served as head coach at both schools during his tenure. Clark was a true legend. He played midfield at Washington College in 1933-34, back when middies never came off the field. He's in the U.S. Lacrosse National Hall of Fame. I met him once in the mid-1990s. You've got to love talking to old-time coaches. I still hear stories about Coach Clark saying, "What do you boys wanna do? Go sit by the fire?"
With Coach Clark in mind, my coach of the year candidates are: Dom Starsia (Virginia), John Danowski (Hofstra), Jeff Tambroni (Cornell), Brian Voelker (Penn) and Jim Nagle (Colgate). They've all done great work this year.
The NCAA selection show will take place on May 7 around 8 p.m. ET on ESPNEWS. ESPNU will televise two first-round playoff games on May 13 and May 14. Which matchups do lacrosse fans want to see?
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