It's mighty convenient that basketball's Selection Sunday is right around the halfway point of the lacrosse season, because that's when I find it best to fire up my annual lacrosse bracketology series. Normally I post these on Sundays. For right now, Monday, because if you have to ask....
Of the various recurring things I do for this blog, I don't think I'm the best at any particular one of them .... except this. I reserve my bragging for things where I can really claim success, and no more so than here. The simple truth is you won't find more accurate lacrosse bracketology, anywhere. Not on any of the major lacrosse sites, or ESPN, or from anyone. This damn system works. Proof? I've done it for four years, and for the last three I haven't missed a single team in the tournament. If I say they're in, they're in.
Now for the admittance: that's not all that hard, because lacrosse has eight at-large bids, so I'm just getting eight teams right. But back to the crescendo: last year's final bracketology nailed the top five seeds in order. You don't get that kind of bang-on accuracy from Joe Lunardi.
Now that I'm done conducting my own brass section, some rules procedural:
-- The tournament is changed this year. Two new conferences - the ACC and Atlantic Sun - have autobids, bringing the total number of autobid conferences to 10. This necessitated a change I and several others have been predicting for years: tournament expansion. 18 teams instead of 16 now fill out the field, so the number of at-large picks doesn't change.
-- In case you're wondering, there's a two-year grace period to keep an autobid if you fall below the necessary six teams, so the ECAC still has one despite being a five-team conference. That won't matter next year when the ECAC disappears. There'll still be 10 conferences, though, as the Big Ten will begin play. (Interestingly, now that the ACC has six teams for a year, that should give us until 2016 to find a sixth and keep the autobid.)
-- The two play-in games will be filled by the four conference champions with the lowest RPIs. Automatically. Not conference RPI, meaning if some scrub-ass team in a good conference steals an autobid, they don't get to float out of the play-ins based on being in a good conference. Team RPI determines it.
-- When I do this weekly, I hand out the conference autobid to the team currently leading the standings; if there's a tie, the tiebreaker is the LaxPower computer rankings. That way, less future shuffling is necessary.
Here is 2014's initial bracketology look:
There's an error that I'm too lazy to fix: UMass should be atop the "last four in" list, not Yale. But there's a hairsbreadth difference between the two right now. Yale has somewhat stronger metrics in general, while UMass is driven largely by volume of wins, which is why Yale is hosting and not the other way around.
-- Most of those low-level autobids are not long for this gig. Looking at Rutgers, St. Joe's, and Air Force mainly. Denver has yet to play a Big East game while Rutgers and St. John's are tied at 1-0, the only BE teams to have won a game. Denver plays Rutgers this weekend and should make short work of the Scarlet Knights, after which we won't see them again this year.
Likewise, Air Force and Michigan are tied atop the ECAC, both having beaten up on Bellarmine. Ohio State gets their turn this weekend, and will probably replace Air Force, but the easy favorite in that conference is Fairfield.
It's really, really exciting to see St. Joe's make a bracketology appearance, because that is historically such a flogging-post program. The Hawks went winless in 2011. They've shaken off the doldrums in recent years, though, and sit at 5-2 already this year. Sure, they've been beating up on Richmond and Monmouth and Wagner. But a winning record for them is still a neat story.
It's pretty clear that Bryant is the class of the NEC, though. And keep in mind the point right now is more about the at-large teams, to give you a picture of where they've set themselves up with their chances here at the real beginning of the race.
-- On the other hand, High Point has a real shot at staying out of the play-in game. Depends on the ECAC champion, I'd guess. The ECAC is way down this year and not just for losing Denver and Loyola.
-- Cornell's grip on the #1 seed is surprisingly ironclad. If and when they lose, that will obviously change, but right now there is simply no other choice.
-- UVA is highly precarious right now, because the gap between the Hoos and the Loyola-Hop-Cuse cluster is pretty large and the gap the other way is quite small. Having beaten two of them is not enough to cover that difference. Those two wins could very well serve to keep UVA afloat most of the year, but another win over someone decent is likely going to be necessary to let us feel safe about getting a bid, and probably two more decent wins before we can host a game.
-- UNC is surprisingly far out of the picture, but that's what happens when you don't really have a great win yet and you started the season by beating up on worse-than-scrub teams. They'll have their chances - but they need to make good on them, too.
Here are the games to watch next week:
-- Cornell at Colgate: I suspect Colgate will hang out in the reaches of the bubble all season, and end up on the wrong side of it, unless they can get a signature win.
-- UMass at Fairfield: Fairfield almost certainly will need the autobid, but they could make it interesting by winning here. UMass, keep in mind, at this point has the CAA autobid, but doesn't need it.
-- Harvard at North Carolina: Two teams currently buried very deep in bubble-land, with a chance to change that.
-- Rutgers at Denver: I include this only because it's likely to hand the autobid over to Denver and open up an at-large for someone else.
-- Mercer at High Point: High Point has already beaten Jacksonville, the likely major threat in the Atlantic Sun. Both they and Mercer are 2-0, so a win here would essentially keep High Point in the A-Sun autobid slot all season, with only the tournament to present a real chance at knocking them out.
-- Albany at Penn State: Albany is a darling of the polls and computers right now, but they're 2-3 and therefore not in the at-large picture thanks to one-goal losses to Syracuse, Drexel, and Bryant. They have a tremendously ambitious schedule, but they're going to have to get a win somewhere, sometime, and stay above .500 in order to protect themselves from bid thieves in their own conference.
-- Cornell at Penn: Penn's at-large is very precarious, and in the competitive Ivy League, not making the four-team conference tournament is a real danger. Someone out of Cornell, Penn, Princeton, Yale, and Harvard has to miss it, and Penn is already 0-1.
-- Maryland at North Carolina: If the Ivy League tournament is tough to make, imagine the ACC tourney. UNC is already 0-2 - can they recover if they go 0-3?
-- Johns Hopkins at Virginia: Hard to say who needs this more right now. Hopkins has a better RPI because they don't have any schmucks on the schedule like, oh, say, Richmond and Mount St. Mary's. But they lack a signature win. Both teams, of course, have plenty of chances to grab one this year.
-- Syracuse at Duke: Cuse is in the same position as UNC conference-wise, but with that win over Hopkins to float their boat.
I have a project I'm working on that may post either tonight or tomorrow, so keep an eye peeled.