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NCAA women’s lacrosse tournament preview 2018

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Syracuse made it, but so did quite a few other teams...

2017 FIL Rathbones Women's Lacrosse World Cup Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

If you’re a lacrosse fan, whether it be men’s or women’s, then you know that this is one of the most exciting times of the year. Now that the selections are finished, what is the path that Syracuse must take if they move through the tournament?

The 2018 NCAA women’s lacrosse tournament features 27 teams with 14 automatic qualifiers and 13 at-large teams. The two lowest rated AQs will have a play-in game on Wednesday for the right to face the seventh seed. The top six seeds get first-round byes while the seventh and eighth seeds do play in the 1st round. All of the first round games will be on Friday. The winners of those games will play Sunday in the second final round.

1. Maryland (18-1): It comes as no surprise that the Terrapins are once again the top seed in the tournament. The only loss came to North Carolina in overtime way back in late February. Since then, the Terps have reeled off 16 straight wins. It’s been an impressive run for a team that was considered to be in a rebuilding year. This is a pretty young squad that is hitting its stride and will only get better in the years ahead. They are currently averaging over 16 goals a game and are led on offense by Megan Whittle who has almost four a game. They get a 1st round bye and will face the winner of Denver/High Point. Regardless of who they face, I expect that Maryland will advance into the quarterfinals next weekend.

High Point (17-2) vs Denver (12-6): The Panthers are no strangers to big games. The Big South AQ upset a good Towson team last year in the 1st round before falling to Maryland in the next game. They beat Duke and Notre Dame this year, lost to North Carolina by four goals and came close to upsetting a James Madison team before falling by a pair. They also average 16 goals a game. The Pioneers are in their first NCAAT appearance since 2014 and got in by way of an at-large bid. Denver plays a stingy defense that has given up over 11 goals only three times this year (Florida twice and Stony Brook). If High Point gets hot like they did last year, they could cause Denver some problems.

8. Loyola (15-4) vs. Fairfield (13-6): I was a little surprised that Loyola was picked to be the eighth seed as I thought that might go to Northwestern. This is one of two 1st round games where a seeded team will play. The Greyhounds got in as an at-large bid and were runners-up in the Patriot League Tournament. Loyola had a pretty strong resume of non-conference wins and one of those four losses came as an overtime loss to Florida. The Stags received the Metro Atlantic AQ qualifier with a win over Canisius. This is by far the toughest contest that Fairfield has faced all year and I think the Greyhounds will prove too much to handle.

Navy (16-3) vs.Johns Hopkins (10-8): The Blue Jays were likely one of the last teams into the tournament with an at-large bid. This one will set up a very interesting second round matchup with a likely Loyola squad as both of these teams have beaten the Greyhounds this year. The Midshipmen have one of the more prolific offenses (3rd) in the country with over 17 goals a game. They are led by Jenna Collins who has almost four goals a game. I felt that Navy had to win the AQ in the Patriot League to get in and they did just that on Sunday with a pretty easy win over Loyola. The Midshipmen went all the way to the Final Four last year before falling to eventual national runner-up Boston College. Could they repeat that experience? I think Navy has the edge in this one.

5. Stony Brook (19-0): The Seawolves remain the only undefeated team in the 2018 campaign and are favorites to get to the Final Four. Stony Brook is 2nd in the country with 18.26 goals per game and have two players (Courtney Murphy and Kylie Ohlmiller) in the top five individual scoring with each getting over four goals a game. They are also the top scoring defense in the country, giving up less than seven goals per game. The Seawolves rampaged through the America East this year en route to that conference AQ. However, it would be a mistake to underestimate Stony Brook because of its easy conference schedule. They have plenty of non-conference wins over Stanford, Denver, Northwestern, Towson, Johns Hopkins and Penn State. Stony Brook just missed the Final Four last year with a 13-12 quarterfinal loss to eventual national champion Maryland. I think they’ll get through their second round matchup to move on to the quarterfinals next weekend.

Penn (13-4) vs. Penn St. (10-9): Stony Brook will face the winner of the battle of Pennsylvania. Oddly enough these two teams did not face each other in the regular season. The Quakers received an at-large bid with their runner-up status in the Ivy League Tournament. Penn State also received an at-large bid being the runner-up in the B1GT. PSU won their first seven games of the year and polled in the top ten for much of the season. However, they finished 6-4 with losses twice to Princeton, Maryland and Northwestern. Penn State had a more dramatic route to the 1st round. A one-goal upset heartbreaker to Michigan in the final regular season game (the Wolverines scored two goals in the last 6 seconds of the contest) threatened to derail the Nittany Lions’ NCAAT hopes. However, the Nittany Lions came back and won a 21-16 shootout over Northwestern in the opening round of the B1GT to salvage their season. Both teams have been hot and cold as of late, but I think the Nittany Lions get the slight edge in this one.

4. Boston College (19-1): The Eagles won the ACC regular season title, but were upended by North Carolina in the ACCT final for their only loss of the season. Sam Apuzzo, who averages 3.95 goals a game leads a BC offense that averages almost 16 goals a game. They’re also good on defense, giving up less than 10 a game. One has to wonder if the ACCT final loss to UNC was a blessing in disguise. The Eagles struggled a little bit in the final stretch of the regular season and it should enable them to refocus for the upcoming NCAAT. It’s a very balanced team with a strong offense capable of making quick strikes and a aggressive defense that relentlessly swarms. They have a good chance of moving on to the quarterfinals to face Stony Brook next weekend.

Princeton (12-5) vs. Syracuse (9-9): This one has the distinction of being the only first round contest that is a regular season rematch. Syracuse won in a 17-16 barnburner on March 29 at Princeton. Princeton made it in to the NCAAT by way of the Ivy League AQ while the Orange made it in as an at-large bid. The Tigers have improved quite a bit since the last meeting, having won six straight and eight out of their last nine games. This includes a pair of good wins against Penn and an 11-10 loss to Maryland which the Tigers led for a good portion of the game (the Terrapins won in the last minute). Conversely, Syracuse has gone 2-5 since the Princeton game, which includes a good win over Loyola, but also a pair one goal losses to Virginia Tech and Boston College. Syracuse did well in the draw circle in the regular season game, but both teams had a lot of turnovers and fouls. I think the draw battle will be similar so it’ll come down to who makes the least mistakes. If SU can get good clears and pass well (which has been an issue all year long), they could wind up with another win.

6. Florida (16-3): The Gators won both the Big East regular season and tournament title (the latter giving them an AQ). It is their final year in this conference (they compiled a 31-1 Big East record in four years), as they will be headed to the American Athletic Conference next year. Florida sports the fourth best scoring offense in the country (almost 17 a game) and are on a 10 game win streak. They were knocked out of the NCAAT second round last year by USC. This year they face the winner of Colorado and Jacksonville. If they can win that game, it’ll be the first time in three years that Florida has advanced to the quarterfinal, a streak they most certainly will want to break.

Colorado (13-5) vs.Jacksonville (16-3): The Buffaloes were the runners-up in the Pac-12T but won the regular season title. That and several good non-conference wins were enough to get them an at-large bid to the tournament. The Dolphins are in the tournament by courtesy of the Atlantic Sun AQ. Jacksonville is the highest scoring team in the county with 18.47 goals per game (only less than 13 goals in two games this year). They will be facing a strong Colorado defense which gives up only 9.26 goals a game (tied for 10th in the country). I think Colorado’s stronger schedule has prepared them better for this game and I think they’ll advance to play Florida in the second round.

3. James Madison (18-1): The Dukes wound up with the Colonial AQ with a comparatively easy 16-10 win over Towson in the final. That game was supposed to be one of the more interesting games in the overall conference finals given their thrilling 17-16 OT regular season win over the Tigers the weekend before. James Madison is one of the few teams that has given North Carolina a black eye (a 15-14 double overtime win at the beginning of the season) and their only loss was 15-12 to top-seeded Maryland. This is a team that can certainly hang with the best teams in the country, and this seed is pretty well deserved. The winner of the Stanford/Virginia first round matchup will have its hands full with this JMU squad.

Stanford (15-4) vs. Virginia (9-9): The Cardinal got into the tournament by way of the Pac-12 AQ, though they could very well have made it in as an at-large as they were behind just Colorado for the regular season title. Stanford started out slow at 3-3 before finishing 12-1 (only loss was in overtime to the Buffaloes). Stanford is another strong defensive team, sitting at 10th in the country giving up only 9.26 goals a game. The Cavaliers received an at-large bid and finished 4th in the ACC. Given that they finished 1-7, a lot of women’s lacrosse fans were perplexed as to how they got into this tournament. However, I’d like to add in their defense that Virginia did play a very strong schedule and finished in the top half of what is arguably the toughest conference in women’s lacrosse. That said, the Cavaliers are going to have to play a lot more consistent to beat Stanford and could wind up with a quick exit otherwise.

7. Towson (15-4): The Tigers received an at-large bid while playing runners-up to James Madison in both the Colonial Athletic Association regular season and tournament. Their only losses have been to the Dukes twice and Loyola and Stony Brook. Add in wins over Florida, Johns Hopkins, Penn State and Georgetown as well as a top 10 poll ranking all year and its not surprising that they pulled a seed. As with the 8 seed, Towson will play a first round game. However, they’ll have to wait for Wednesday’s play-in game between Wagner and Mercer to see who they face.

Wagner (13-5) vs. Mercer (9-10) (play in game): Under 3rd year head coach and former Orange offensive star Katie Rowan, the Seahawks are in the NCAAT for the second time in three years thanks to their AQ in the Northeast Conference. Wagner won their tournament in dramatic fashion with a come from behind 12-11 double OT victory over top-seeded Bryant. The Bears are the Southern Conference champions and are one of the more unusual stories in the tournament. They have the distinction of being the only team that finished below .500. However, they knocked off the top seed Detroit Mercy in the SCT first round before blowing out the 3rd seeded Furman (who had their own upset over 2 seed Central Michigan) in the final to get a ticket to the dance. The winner of this game has an uphill battle in the first round against Towson.

Northwestern (13-5) vs. Richmond (16-3): The Wildcats likely missed out on a seed when they lost to Penn St. in the B1GT first round. They were widely considered to be an at-large lock long before the seeds came out due to several good wins and a strong strength of schedule. Northwestern is generally considered to have a deliberate style of play, but they can actually be quite explosive on offense. This is a team that has the ability to make the NCAAT quarterfinals. The Spiders finally broke UMass’ dominance of the Atlantic-10 with a 12-11 OT win to secure the AQ. Both teams have pretty solid defenses but I think the Wildcats might be too much for Richmond.

2. North Carolina (15-3): The “Carolina Way” has taken hold once again as the Tar Heels fill in the number 2 spot. Since losing to Boston College 17-11 on March 24, North Carolina has reeled off nine straight wins to finish out the pre-NCAAT season. The Tar Heels were officially the first team to enter the NCAAT with their 14-11 revenge win over the Eagles in the ACCT final to secure the AQ. North Carolina threaded their way though a tough schedule and is the only team to have beaten both Maryland and Boston College. I think the Tar Heels are peaking as they seem to have taken care of some early issues on both offense and defense. This team is definitely a favorite to make the Final Four in a few weeks.

Virginia Tech (13-6) vs. Georgetown (12-6): The Hokies, under 2nd year coach John Sung have had a meteoric rise over the last three years. They have gone from the basement of the ACC two years ago to finishing 3rd in the regular season and made it to the ACCT semifinals. This effort, plus some big wins, enabled Virginia Tech to get an at-large spot in the NCAAT this year. The Hoyas also received an at-large bid with their second place finish in the Big East regular season. A couple of good wins plus a key head to head win over Johns Hopkins enabled Georgetown to make the NCAAT for the first time since 2014. This could be a tight one with the winner having to face a Tar Heel buzzsaw.