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MLax: A First Guess at the Bracket

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Who will cut down the nets in 2015?
Who will cut down the nets in 2015?
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

With less than two weeks to go until Selection Sunday, there is so much chaos in so many conferences that trying to build an 18-team bracket is a fool’s errand. Let’s do it! It’s fun, and any number can play.

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Reminder: the field consists of 18 teams, ten conference champions who qualify automatically and eight at-large teams. The four AQs with the lowest conference RPIs square off in play-in games at the homes of the teams with the higher RPIs on May 6; the play-in winners move on to play at the number one and two overall seeds on the weekend. At-large selections are at the whim of the selection committee, but RPI and strength of schedule are heavily weighted in their deliberations, to the dismay of the members of the Church of Advanced Metrics.

So, deep breath, and here we go.

America East: Albany is the regular-season champion and tournament host. The Great Danes are favored, but Stony Brook has a legitimate chance at the upset if they can get past Hartford, Binghamton, or Vermont in the first round. Our pick: Albany.

ACC: All four teams are locks to make the tournament; the champion and runner-up (unless one of them is Duke) may very well be the top two seeds in the Big Barbecue. The only team with anything seriously at stake this weekend is Duke; a bad loss to Notre Dame could push the Blue Devils out of a top-eight seed and send them on the road for the first round. Our pick: Syracuse.

Big East: There is a lot at stake here, although Denver is a heavy favorite. The likely first-round matchup between Georgetown and Marquette knocks the loser off the bubble and gives the winner at least an outside chance at one of the four at-large bids that won’t go to ACC teams. Our pick: Denver.

Big Ten: Maryland was a heavy favorite until they almost got ambushed by Ohio State on Saturday. They are still the favorite, but less clearly; the Buckeyes have shown that they can play with the Terps, and Johns Hopkins knows that its only way in is via the AQ, so they will play desperately. Our pick: Maryland.

Colonial: Towson was a strong favorite until the Tigers got whomped by Hofstra on Saturday. They still have the league’s best resume, but this is a league known for carnage during Championship Week, and we still don’t know for sure who’s in the tournament. Our pick: Towson.

Ivy: Cornell, Princeton, and Yale are in. Brown is in if the Bears can handle Dartmouth. There’s very little to choose from among those four. I’m hoping for Brown, because they play entertaining, up-tempo lacrosse, but my head says otherwise. Our pick: Cornell.

Metro Atlantic: Marist is the regular-season champion, and Quinnipiac is the two seed; the other two slots remain up for grabs. The Red Foxes look like a solid favorite. Our pick: Marist.

Northeast: There’s very little to choose from between St. Joseph’s and Hobart. The Hawks get to host, by virtue of an overtime win over the Statesmen on Saturday. Bryant has enough talent to beat them both, but has underachieved this year. Our pick: Hobart.

Patriot League: Utterly impossible to handicap. Navy is the top seed and the host, but the Mids arguably have the least talent of the six teams in the field, and they rely heavily on freshmen. There are two players in the league with enough ability and leadership to carry a team for a week, and we’re going with one of them, John Glesener. Our pick: Army.

Southern Conference: Richmond has been dominant, while Mercer has lived dangerously, but both have made it through the league unbeaten so far; the Spiders and Bears play this Saturday. A hot goaltender can carry a team for a weekend, and we love Mike Nugent. Our pick: Mercer.

At Large: Start with one simple reality: barring a catastrophic collapse by either Duke or Virginia, the four ACC teams that don’t bring home the trophy from PPL Park are locks. In raw numbers, that means that 54 teams are competing for four at-large berths, which is silly on more levels than I know how to count. Albany is almost certainly a lock, regardless of what happens in the America East tournament.

e think the Ivy League runner-up (which we think will be Yale) is in, and Ohio State is in unless it gets walloped in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. Who are left as possible at-large teams: the Marquette-Georgetown winner, a third Ivy, and maybe Stony Brook or a fourth Ivy. The Colonial, MAAC, NEC, Patriot, and SoCon are one-bid leagues for sure.

So, with the firm expectation that we will be proven terribly wrong, here is our first prediction for the field:

  • (1) Syracuse vs. Mercer or Towson
  • (8) Cornell vs. Ohio State

  • (4) Denver vs. Army
  • (5) North Carolina vs. Brown

  • (3) Notre Dame vs. Georgetown
  • (6) Duke vs. Yale

  • (7) Albany vs. Virginia
  • (2) Maryland vs. Hobart or Marist

  • Last two in: Georgetown, Brown
  • First two out: Princeton, Stony Brook