Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Sour Grapes

TigerBlog wrote last week about the NCAA men's lacrosse selections and said very clearly that his thoughts should not be construed as sour grapes.

Now, after watching the first weekend of the tournament, TB is back with something that is a little closer to the sour grape department.

The eight teams remaining in the NCAA tournament include two that Princeton beat (Yale and Cornell, who is the interest of full disclosure also beat Princeton) and two others that Princeton lost to be one (top five seeds Syracuse and North Carolina).

Cornell blasted Maryland in the opening round in a game that was never close. Yale, down big at the half, thundered past Penn State in the second half.

What does this tell you? That the Ivy League was pretty good this year.

Loyola lost a tough first-round game to Duke, falling in the second OT after a great performance by Greyhounds goalie Jack Runkel, who made 22 saves. The key moment of that game came in the final minute of regulation, when on the face-off after Duke had tied the score, Loyola coach Charlie Toomey called timeout when his face-off man Blake Burkhart reached the box - and a split-second before Burkhart shot and beat Duke goalie Kyle Turri, only to have it waved off.

It wasn't easy for Toomey, who led the Hounds to last year's NCAA championship, to have to explain after the game what happened, but he absolutely 100% made the right call. Burkhart had one goal on the year, and had he shot wide, Duke would have probably gotten the ball back with plenty of time to clear and score.

As the chair of the committee said, the Greyhounds were the last team in, while Bucknell was the first team out. TB presumes that Princeton and Penn were the second and third teams out.

The logic for including Loyola was that the Greyhounds had a top five RPI win, which as TB detailed last week, was against Ohio State back in March when OSU was ranked 16th (in the polls, not in RPI).

Bucknell was left out because it did not have a top five win, though Bucknell did beat Cornell when ranked second in the polls (not in RPI, which hadn't been released yet). In fact, Bucknell's win over Cornell would have been a top five win had Princeton not beaten Cornell in the Ivy tournament semifinals, but it dropped out of the top five after that and knocked Bucknell out of the tournament.

In truth, Princeton's chance to get in the NCAA tournament was to win the Ivy tournament, and the Tigers were tied with Yale 6-6 in the third quarter of the final.

The team's at-large chances disappeared when Lehigh beat Bucknell in the Patriot League final and Towson upset Penn State in the ECAC final.

And going by the selection criteria, yes, Princeton should not have gotten an at-large bid, so this isn't really a situation where TB feels that Princeton was done in by the committee.

No, it was the criteria.  That's the problem. The criteria are black and white, with no room for gray area. And choosing a field should be all about the gray area of deciding Team A had a better year than Team B.

How to do that? Well, if it's done relying on RPI, then nothing distinguishes wins in April and May from wins in March and even February, and losses by one goal and 15 goals are treated equally.

Bucknell's claim to an at-large bid was a four-day stretch in March when it defeated Cornell and Albany. Of course, a win over Cornell was something Princeton also had. And Bucknell beat Cornell in the snow on a Tuesday in early March in a game in which Cornell's Steve Mock didn't play.

Loyola's big win was Ohio State, followed by Fairfield (a solid win) and Johns Hopkins (a team Princeton also beat, only back when JHU was playing better). And the Ohio State win to TB gets a big asterisk, as Ohio State beat Loyola 18-11 in the ECAC tournament three days before the selections.

Anyway, TB's point is that he saw nothing last week to convince him that Princeton wasn't one of the eight best teams in the country that didn't get an automatic bid.

Unfortunately, the team didn't get its chance, and it made watching the first round a bit unsatisfying.

TB's pre-tournament Final Four picks were North Carolina, Syracuse, Cornell and Duke.

When he gets to Lincoln Financial Field a week from Saturday for the Final Four, he'll be very surprised if it's not Cornell-Duke in one semi and far less surprised if it's Yale-Denver in the other.

Denver can score with anyone and can win enough face-offs to have enough possession to outrun the Tar Heels in a game that TB figures will have more than the 33 goals in the Denver-Albany game last weekend.

Yale could definitely impose its will on Syracuse by winning face-offs and dominating possession time. The Cuse won just one face-off against Bryant last week, and while Yale doesn't figure to win 22 of 23 like Bryant's Kevin Massa did, it's still a big advantage for the Bulldogs, who are playing great right now.

Oh, and in case you couldn't guess, TB is rooting for Denver to win the title.

Still, Carolina - woefully underseeded at No. 5 - is TB's pick to win it all. And why is that?

Carolina is the best team that TB has seen this year.

Princeton lost to Carolina by one. At Carolina.

Sour grapes.

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