Last night was the culmination of both the Men’s and Women’s Lacrosse regular seasons as the NCAA brackets were unveiled. Now I’ll admit, it was a little nerve racking for all parties involve. On the Men’s side, it was wether or not we would be a host team or not. And on the Women’s it was whether or not they would make it into the field. But by the end of the night, both teams really got the ‘tradition’ bump when it came to the selections, helping each in different ways.
While the Men were pretty much certain of a bid with an 11-3 overall record, 6th place in the polls, 8th in RPI, and 7th in Strength of Schedule, it came down to where the committee would place them that was the biggest question. Virginia’s last 3 outings could have really moved them down the board a lot, but in the end, getting to 11 wins really helped them get to that 5th seed line. You also have to look at matchups. When you look at the matchups for the 1-4 seeds, all of their opponents were conference champions (Yale, Syracuse, Stony Brook, and Canisius). By that model, Virginia opponent in Princeton was either the last or second-to-last ‘at-large’ bid. The Tigers are a very experienced team, coming in with a 11-4 record, 10th in RPI, and 12th in SOS. In a 16 team field, it fall right into that last team in model. With the exclusions of Cornell and Penn State, it was evident that wins/losses combined with SOS made a huge impact. In all fairness, the Hoos were fortunate to have the opportunity to get, theoretically, the lowest ‘at-large’ team.
On top of that, the Hoos also were rewarded with a very good draw in their half of the bracket. If Virginia can get past Princeton at home, they will travel to Philly and play either Notre Dame or Yale. The last time the Hoos faced ND was in the first round of the 2006 NCAA tourney, the year Virginia went undefeated and won the championship and this is only Yale’s 4th tourney appearance and first since 1992. The Hoos have not faced them in a very, very long time, usually opting for Princeton or Cornell from the Ivy League to fill out their non-conference schedule. Needless to say, Virginia will have tourney experience on their side if they make it to the second round. I hate to predict past that, but you would have to think that #1 Loyola, #8 UNC, or Denver (sorry 6-7 Canisius) will be waiting in the National Semifinals. And, again, Virginia’s experience should help them in each of those matchups. Virginia paced Denver in the Semis last year, they are 1-1 versus UNC this season, and while Loyola is the ‘big dog’ (pun intended) this year, they are the NKOTB and that top line could be tricky if you haven’t been their before. Notice I didn’t say teams like Duke, Syracuse, and Johns Hopkins, the usual Cav Killers. They are all on the bottom half of the bracket. Again a great advantage for the the Hoos if they can make it that far.
The Women, conceivably, got one of the better matchups for their first round opponent as well. Virginia earned one of the last at-large bids, and will travel to #7 Duke for their 1st round matchup. The Hoos went down to Durham this year and pulled out a 14-12 victory in one of their 3 ACC wins of the season. So not only do the Cavaliers know their opponent, and know how to win, but also how to win on the road against them as well. Unfortunately, up next will undoubtably be the #2 seed Northwestern, the team that just clocked the Hoos in the 2nd half two weeks ago. But we will cross that bridge if we can get through the Blue Devils on Sunday.
All and all, playing a tough schedule, in a tough conference, and winning games really helped both teams last night. Now the Hoos need to use that experience and translate that into tourney wins.