When the NCAA Men’s Division I lacrosse bracket comes out, there is obvious discussion that takes place immediately after any bracket comes out: Who was snubbed? I mean, there have got to be some NCAA lacrosse tournament snubs, right?
And while the snubs are of course interesting and a worthwhile conversation, there is another conversation that rarely gets more than an offhand comment. Who is just not there, and not even a snub? For all the talk of bid stealing, there are also the teams that did not have a good RPI to help their at-large bid, and they did not win their conference Automatic Qualifier, either. So, this is to talk about the teams who packed up the locker rooms early and will be left to do nothing but watch the NCAA tournament like the rest of us and prepare for next year.
The best place to start is of course with last year’s tournament field. Some of these are snubs, some are not. But the teams that were working towards a Memorial Day in Foxboro last that are now home are Cornell, Villanova, UMass, Denver, and Albany. Interestingly enough, only Albany was seeded from that group a year ago. Albany, Denver, and Cornell all won their first game, with Albany making the historic trip to the semifinals. But what about this year?
What’s most notable about Denver’s absence is that this is the first year since Bill Tierney has been coaching there that the Pioneers are not in the postseason. Of those nine consecutive appearances, only two of them even resulted in a first round loss. That means not only were they consistently making the tournament, but they were consistently were winning games, too. From 2010-2018, the Denver NCAA tournament record was an impressive 14-8 with one National Championship and four other semifinals appearances. They had five losses on the year and even had a game with Ohio State cancelled due to weather. That likely would not have helped enough to get them in over Maryland, but it’s also not a great mark on the schedule. Against tournament teams, they were 2-3, which includes a split with Georgetown, a win over Towson, and losses to Notre Dame and Duke.
The Big Red were a team that was sitting squarely on the bubble. But their schedule gave them every opportunity to prove that they should have been in. This is also a team that is still in somewhat of a rebuilding mode after some rocky times. Their 2018 season was strong, but it came after a two year NCAA drought for 2016 and 2017. The two years prior were also first round exits, including that game against Albany, that of the Blaze Riorden throwing fakes and scoring like he will be an NLL forward some day. But this year, Cornell was another five loss team like Denver, and was 2-5 against tournament teams. That included wins over Towson and Notre Dame, but losses to Yale twice, Penn, Syracuse, and Penn State. All but the Penn game were losses of five goals or more.
The Wildcats may not have the longevity of some of the other teams in the list, so making the field a year ago as an at-large bid was especially impressive. 2018 was their first NCAA appearance since 2011, which is an incredible gap. But their 2019 season still offered some hope. Finishing the season 8-7, they were 1-4 against NCAA Tournament teams, with a win over Yale, but losses to Georgetown, Penn State, Penn, and Maryland. So while 2018 offered promise, 2019 did not live up to it.
The Minutemen we once a true DI powerhouse program, they were a fixture in the postseason from the 1980s through the early 2000s. Since then, things have slowed down. The 2018 season marked the first time since their 2012 #1 seed/first round exit that they were in the NCAA tournament again. 2019 took some momentum building, but it looked like they were going to be back in the NCAA tournament for consecutive years for the first time since 2005-2006, when they reached the finals. Being 1-2 against tournament teams, with both losses being in overtime, they secured the top seed in the CAA tournament. Sadly, an upset bid from Drexel is what finally ended their season for good. But they have youth on their side and 2020 will be another chance.
Oh, the Dane Train. The Danes had a number of questions entering this season. Their entire formula for the past several years has been high possessions with good goalies and elite offensive weapons. When you threw in gaudy faceoff wins, that gave the Danes everything they needed for a final four run a year ago, but they lost nearly all of it this offseason. So the biggest question was how they would cope. The answer was apparently not very well. This was Albany’s first time missing the NCAA tournament since 2012, when they were a runner up in both the America East tournament and regular season, finishing 5-11. This season, they finished 52nd in the country in faceoff percentage, 49th in points per game, and 44th in points allowed per game. Their 5-9 record included being 1-3 against tournament teams. Yale, Syracuse, and Maryland were the losses while UMBC was the lone win. They were also 0-2 against bubble teams UMass and Cornell.
NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Snubs
Outside of the teams left out from last year, some of which are snubs themselves, are the teams that almost made it in just based on this year’s work. Those one are High Point, Ohio State, and UNC. There are the three teams with a top 20 RPI who are not in the tournament, and not mentioned above. So why did they miss out?
The biggest case for High Point are obviously their wins over Duke and Virginia early in the season. But, they finished their season at 13-3 because of losses to St. John’s, Jacksonville, and eventually Richmond in the SoCon finals. With the exception of Richmond, those are some bad losses. An unlike Syracuse’s loss to Colgate, they did not have the strength of schedule to offset these. They played four tournament teams all year and beat each of them, although Richmond ultimately won the second meeting. But the major case to be made here is the inherent disadvantage small conferences are in. The essentially have to schedule their entire out of conference slate against ACC and Big Ten opponents to have a real shot at an at-large bid. But there are only so many of those games to go around.
The Buckeyes were another strength of schedule victim. Their early record was phenomenal as they started the season 7-0, including a win over Notre Dame. But they followed that up with going 1-4 in Big Ten play, beating Hopkins, but losing to the rest. Their schedule was good, not great, but they faltered because of their conference record more than anything. With no shot at the AQ, their out of conference resume was it. And that just didn’t have the weight needed.
The Tar Heels were one of those teams that at 8-7 have a tough argument to be included and are basically last place in the ACC because someone had to be. Against NCAA tournament teams, they were 3-6, mostly losing to their fellow ACC squads. They split with Syracuse, beat Duke, beat Marist, but lost twice to UVA, and once to Notre Dame. Their other losses were Hopkins and Notre Dame. Outside of them, their only loss was still a “good” one to Denver. The rest of their wins just didn’t have the weight to carry them up at all. If you could redo their schedule a bit to swap out teams like Mercer and Cleveland State for more established Patriot League or Ivy teams, it’s possible they could have fared better. But also, had they just won more of their ACC slate and made no schedule changes, none of that would have mattered.