Bracketology: How Geography Could Shape the Division I Men's Bracket

Bracketology: How Geography Could Shape the Division I Men's Bracket

TUE APR 18 2023 | PATRICK STEVENS | COLLEGE

Here’s a flight of fancy: Thinking geography has no chance of playing a larger-than-usual role in dictating matchups if this year’s NCAA lacrosse tournament field winds up with more far-flung participants than usual.

Limiting the first round to just two teams requiring air travel as a cost-saving measure is a long-standing guideline for the NCAA lacrosse committee. That’s why figuring out which schools are within a 400-mile radius of each other is a necessary skill to have around this time each year.

It isn’t a hard and fast rule. Just last year, three teams had first-round treks requiring flights: Ohio State (to Cornell), Vermont (to Maryland) and Virginia (to Brown). But the more geographic outliers there are, the more likely it is for a team to get shoehorned into a 400-mile window even if it disrupts the competitive balance of the bracket.

This is nothing new, but it’s already easy to see how things could get extra-tricky this season. Just consider …

* Notre Dame. If the Fighting Irish earn the No. 1 seed, they will host the winner of this year’s play-in game. There are a handful of Atlantic Sun teams (Bellarmine, Cleveland State, Detroit and Robert Morris) that could bus to South Bend if they got through a play-in game, though all are outside of the top three in the conference at this point. So could Marquette, were it to win the Big East tournament and find itself slotted low enough for play-in territory.

But chances are, someone is flying to face Notre Dame at Arlotta. Of the 11 first-round home games the Irish have played since, only two have come against teams that could bus in for the game (Detroit in 2013 and Marquette in 2017).

* The Atlantic Sun’s top tier. League leader Utah isn’t located within 400 miles of any other Division I program. Air Force, the current third-place team, is that close to only one (Denver). The only programs within that proximity to second-place Jacksonville are league foes Mercer and Queens.

If any of them win the A-Sun, it will require a flight. It would come as no shock if the A-Sun winner winds up heading to Notre Dame if the Irish don’t wind up as the No. 1 seed.

Denver. The Pioneers (7-4) remain in the hunt for an at-large berth. Their chances of getting a home game probably hinge on winning out (Providence, at Marquette and the Big East tournament). If they’re unseeded, they’ll be flying somewhere.

* Vermont. It’s not as obvious as the sport’s outposts in the Midwest and the Rockies, but Vermont’s campus is a fairly far-flung locale for Division I lacrosse purposes. Per Google Maps, it’s 447 miles from Vermont to Penn State and 477 miles for the Catamounts to get to Johns Hopkins.

Among the places with a top-20 RPI team that the Catamounts could plausibly hop on a bus to reach: Cornell (279 miles), Penn (382), Princeton (332), Rutgers (327), Syracuse (231), Villanova (390) and Yale (271). Of those, however, only Cornell, Penn and Yale are current top-10 RPI teams.

If Vermont wins the America East, an Ivy League destination could very well be in its future — especially if Notre Dame can’t be paired with the A-Sun champ and Denver works its way into the field as well.

* North Carolina. The Tar Heels don’t have an Ivy League school within 400 miles (at 406 miles, Penn is close to the cutoff). Penn State is even farther away. And there are three ACC schools near-certain at this point to host a first-round game.

That effectively limits North Carolina’s potential first-round bus trips to Georgetown, Johns Hopkins and Maryland — unless the NCAA chooses to allow a first-round conference matchup in a league that doesn’t qualify for an automatic bid. That hasn’t happened since Maryland played at North Carolina in 2011.

This doesn’t make for a guaranteed mess. Denver and North Carolina could miss the tournament. Vermont might not win the America East. A compact tournament field (plus Notre Dame and the A-Sun winner) isn’t an impossibility. But it’s far from a sure thing geography won’t shape the bracket when it’s unveiled in less than three weeks.

On to this week’s rundown … 

AUTOMATIC QUALIFIERS (9)

Johns Hopkins (10-4) Big Ten

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

26+L

4

3

0-1

1-2

6-3

Cornell (9-2) Ivy

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

26+L

5

17

0-0

2-1

3-1

at Harvard (30)

Georgetown (7-3) Big East

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

26+L

7

15

0-2

0-3

2-3

Vermont (7-4) America East

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

26+L

15

26

0-0

0-0

1-1

at Harvard (30), Brown (31)

Utah (8-4) ASUN

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

26+L

17

25

0-1

0-1

0-4

Army (9-2) Patriot

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

26+L

21

43

0-1

0-1

1-1

Delaware (9-3) CAA

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

26+L

29

48

0-1

0-1

0-3

Saint Joseph's (8-4) A-10

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

26+L

32

38

0-2

0-3

0-3

Drexel (42)

Mount St. Mary's (8-6) MAAC

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

26+L

48

66

0-0

0-0

0-0

6 losses of 26+

Johns Hopkins can earn the top seed in the Big Ten tournament with a victory at Maryland and a Penn State loss to Rutgers. The Blue Jays will play host to the event next month, regardless of seed. … Cornell got a bit of an RPI bump by dealing Army only its second loss of the season. The Big Red’s seeding ceiling might be at No. 4 or No. 5; it’s going to be difficult to dislodge any of the top three at this point. …

Georgetown survived its trip to Marquette, beating the Golden Eagles in overtime. The Hoyas get trips to Loyola and St. John’s this week. … Vermont jumped 10 spots in the RPI over the last week. The Catamounts beat Bryant to all but assure the America East tournament will be played in Burlington. Their RPI will likely slip a few spots after they play 0-10 UMass Lowell (RPI 65) on Saturday. …

Utah is averaging 20.7 goals in Atlantic Sun play. The Utes can clinch the top seed in the A-Sun tournament with a victory Saturday night over Cleveland State or with a Jacksonville loss to Air Force. … If Army was going to have a serious shot at an at-large bid, it needed to beat Cornell. After a one-goal loss to the Big Red, it looks like it’s Patriot League title or bust for the Black Knights. …

Delaware’s postseason fate is also tied to winning its conference tournament. The Blue Hens can lock up hosting duties for the CAA tournament with a defeat of Drexel on Saturday. … Saint Joseph’s can clinch the top seed in the Atlantic 10 tournament by beating UMass at home on Saturday. …

Mount St. Mary’s has won seven in a row and now sits alone atop the Metro Atlantic. The Mountaineers can brings the league semifinals and title game to Emmitsburg if they win at Siena to close out the regular season on Saturday.


AT-LARGE (16 TEAMS/8 SLOTS)

Duke (11-2) ACC

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

26+L

1

4

2-1

3-1

6-1

at Jacksonville (27)

Notre Dame (8-1) ACC

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

26+L

2

10

1-1

3-1

6-1

Virginia (8-3) ACC

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

26+L

3

2

2-2

2-3

5-3

Maryland (8-3) Big Ten

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

26+L

6

5

1-1

2-1

6-2

Penn State (8-3) Big Ten

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

26+L

8

8

2-0

4-1

6-2

Marquette (38)

Yale (6-4) Ivy

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

26+L

9

11

0-1

0-3

2-4

Penn (5-5) Ivy

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

26+L

10

7

0-2

2-3

3-4

at Brown (31)

Rutgers (8-4) Big Ten

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

26+L

11

13

0-1

0-2

3-3

Denver (7-4) Big East

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

26+L

12

14

0-1

0-3

4-3

at Air Force (33)

North Carolina (7-5) ACC

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

26+L

13

9

1-2

1-2

2-5

Villanova (9-3) Big East

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

26+L

14

24

0-0

2-1

2-2

Brown (31)

Princeton (5-5) Ivy

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

26+L

18

18

0-0

1-3

1-5

Syracuse (8-5) ACC

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

26+L

19

6

0-3

0-4

3-5

UMass (7-4) A-10

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

26+L

22

23

0-0

0-1

1-2

at Richmond (28)

Loyola (6-5) Patriot

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

26+L

24

19

1-1

2-1

2-2

Navy (40)

Jacksonville (11-2) ASUN

RPI

SOS

T5

T10

T20

26+L

27

49

1-1

1-1

1-2

The top of Duke’s resume is basically set. The Blue Devils swept Virginia and also picked off Penn. They have an open date this week before wrapping up the regular season against Syracuse and Merrimack. … Notre Dame’s head-to-head victory over Duke remains the reason the Irish are slotted as the No. 1 seed in this week’s exercise.

No matter what it does over the next three games, Virginia probably isn’t going to climb to the No. 1 seed. Two losses to Duke will do that. … After some skittish play at times the last three weeks, Maryland turned in its best game since winning at Virginia. The Terrapins smothered Rutgers for three quarters on the way to an 11-8 victory.

Nobody has more top-10 RPI victories than Penn State. The Nittany Lions have knocked off Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Yale and Penn and are just about out of ways to play themselves out of the postseason barring both a total collapse and multiple bid thieves emerging next month. … Yale’s RPI and strength of schedule numbers are great, it has no bad losses and its victories over Denver and Villanova give it an advantage over a couple other borderline tournament teams. The Bulldogs close the regular season with Albany and Harvard on the road. …

Penn blasted Harvard in Cambridge to even its record and return to this exercise. The Quakers’ profile hinges on its victories over Georgetown and Yale. One thing to keep in mind: Penn isn’t going to get much help the next two weeks even if it beats Dartmouth (RPI 37) and Albany (35). … Rutgers is 0-for-2 against the top teams in the Big Ten. A loss at Penn State on Friday is going to leave the Scarlet Knights a lot of work to do in the league tournament. …

Denver dropped two spots in the RPI after its victories over Towson (RPI 51) and St. John’s (60). But the worst thing that happened to the Pioneers was Penn getting back on the board by getting to .500. … North Carolina might have been able to let its victory over Johns Hopkins carry its profile if it had defeated Syracuse for a second time. It didn’t, and while it is right at the edge of the field now, it probably needs a split with Notre Dame to harbor realistic at-large hopes.

Villanova handled matters at Providence with ease. The Wildcats have another game where they have little to gain and a lot to lose with Marquette coming to the Main Line on Saturday. … Princeton has clinched an Ivy League tournament berth, which is more than can be said for anyone else. Any NCAA at-large hopes for the Tigers are pinned on beating Cornell at the end of the month. …

Syracuse’s resume improved over the weekend, and not just because it beat North Carolina. With Princeton and Vermont jumping into the top 20 of the RPI, the Orange went from no top-20 victories to three. Still, Gary Gait’s team needs to do some damage against Virginia and Duke in the next two weeks. … UMass still has just one top-20 victory, though it’s a different one than last week. Army moved out and Vermont moved in. Either way, the Minutemen almost certainly need to win the A-10 to get in. …

Loyola isn’t going to be able to coast into the field on the strength of its victories over Maryland and Johns Hopkins. And if it loses to Georgetown on Tuesday, that should effectively finish off the Greyhounds’ at-large hopes. … Jacksonville will continue to warrant a mention thanks to its victory over Duke, but the numbers make it clear the Dolphins’ path to the postseason is winning the A-Sun tournament.

BRACKET

A few notes worth remembering …

* First-round conference matchups will be avoided, which can lead to some movement for the unseeded teams.

* This year marks the first season of Atlantic 10 play, while the Northeast and Southern conferences no longer sponsor the sport. That means the number of play-in games will be reduced from two to one, and the two lowest-ranked automatic qualifying teams will participate. The rankings will be determined by the committee and not specifically by the RPI.

* Just to reiterate: Limiting air travel remains a priority for the NCAA, so this won’t necessarily be a 1-through-16 bracket. Historically, the NCAA tries to bracket the field so only two teams must travel more than 400 miles for a first-round game, though it isn’t a completely inflexible rule.

* Quarterfinal hosts Albany and Navy would be funneled into their home sites if either reaches the NCAA tournament.

* This exercise is an attempt to project what the NCAA committee would do based on its history and on this season’s results to date. It is not an attempt to predict future results or suggest what the committee should do.

Albany, N.Y.

(1) Notre Dame vs. ATLANTIC 10/Saint Joseph’s-METRO ATLANTIC/Mount St. Mary’s
(8) Penn vs. BIG EAST/Georgetown

Albany, N.Y.

(5) Penn State vs. Yale
(4) Maryland vs. PATRIOT/Army

Annapolis, Md.

(3) Virginia vs. ATLANTIC SUN/Utah
(6) BIG TEN/Johns Hopkins vs. North Carolina

Annapolis, Md.

(7) IVY/Cornell vs. AMERICA EAST/Vermont
(2) Duke vs. CAA/Delaware

Last three included: Penn, Yale, North Carolina
First three on the outside: Rutgers, Denver, Villanova
Moving in: Mount St. Mary’s, Penn, Vermont, Yale
Moving out: Bryant, Denver, Manhattan, Rutgers
Conference call: ACC (4), Big Ten (3), Ivy (3) 

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