Monday, May 4, 2015

Outside Looking In

The sun rose in the east yesterday morning, and the glare nearly blinded TigerBlog as he drove up route 1 on his way to Providence.

The glare was pretty bad as the sun set as well, perhaps not quite as bad as it had been in the morning but still nasty, as TB made his way back.

It was a long day for TigerBlog, one that began with such great promise and then transformed into one of frustration, a fading hope and then ultimately greater frustration and then just sadness.

TigerBlog went to Providence for the championship game of the Ivy League tournament between Princeton and Yale. The winner of the game was guaranteed an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament; the losing team figured to be in a group of four teams for three at-large spots.

It would have been four teams for four at-large spots had Johns Hopkins cooperated by losing to Ohio State Saturday night in the Big 10 final. Instead, Hopkins won that game.

The result? A bid stolen, as Hopkins would have been out with a loss.

There are eight at-large NCAA tournament bids and 10 automatic bids in men's lacrosse. Of the eight at-large bids, four were guaranteed to ACC teams - even Virginia, who was 0-4 in the league and didn't reach the ACC tournament.

Maryland was a lock for one as well, even after Ohio State defeated the Terps in the B1G semifinals.

So that left three spots, for four teams - Cornell, Brown, Ohio State and the Ivy tournament runner-up. And someone had to be on the outside looking in.

Unfortunately, that turned out to be the Tigers. There wasn't much that separated Princeton from Yale on this day, or on the first time they met. Princeton defeated Yale 11-10 in the regular season, and Yale won 11-10 yesterday.

The Ivy final again was a showcase of the ridiculous, sublime skills of Princeton's Zach Currier. Again his numbers - one goal,  eight ground balls, one cause turnover, 11 for 25 facing off - don't begin to explain the impact he had on the game. He was everywhere, with his rabid tenacity and insistence on making every loose ball a personal challenge.

Princeton, for all of its great players in the 26 years TB has been watching, has not had another player quite like Currier.

It was Currier who got Princeton the ball back after Mike MacDonald's goal with 27 seconds left, giving the Tigers one last chance to tie. Unfortunately, there would be no equalizer.

As TigerBlog said a few times on the radio during the game, there was a case to be made for and against each of the four.

Ohio State? Great wins over Denver and Maryland but awful losses to Detroit and Rutgers.

Cornell? Wins over Albany and Yale but didn't reach the Ivy final and was 1-2 in its last two.

Brown? A win over Cornell and Princeton, but a very low strength of schedule.

Princeton? Wins over Cornell, Yale (regular season) and Johns Hopkins but losses to Brown, as well as Lehigh and Stony Brook.

When the selections came out, Princeton was the odd team out.

The selection show didn't get off to a good start when Notre Dame got the top seed over Syracuse. That meant head-to-head was playing a role. When Cornell got the eighth seed and a home game and Ohio State got the trip to Duke, that left only one more at-large spot - for either Brown or Princeton.

The opponent would be Denver. The bracket revealed ... Brown.

TigerBlog was extremely disappointed. He can't imagine how the players and coaches felt.

The committee chair is Heather Lyke, who went from Ohio State to become the Director of Athletics at Eastern Michigan two years ago. She was on the selection show for a post-bracket interview, and she said the committee weighed head-to-head strongest.

She also, though, said Cornell got a home game for the entirety of its body of work.

So did Princeton get shafted?

Yes, the Tigers lost to Brown, on March 29, 10-8, at home.

If head-to-head was all that matter, then yes, Brown should have been in over Princeton.

But how about Princeton and Cornell? Each with a win over the other, Princeton on a neutral field. If head to head mattered, Brown destroyed Cornell 15-6. Perhaps Brown should have been above the Big Red?

No, the entire body of Cornell's work included a win over Albany (in February in an ice storm in Dallas), as well as a win over Yale. So in that case, more than just head-to-head was involved.

Then there was the case of Team A vs. Team B.

Team A had a four-goal win over Cornell, a 16-15 win OT win over Johns Hopkins and a six-goal win over Penn.

Team B had a one-goal win over Cornell, a 16-15 OT win over Johns Hopkins and a six-goal win over Penn.

Team A? Princeton. Team B? Virginia, winless-in-its-league Virginia, by the way.

It's not easy to pick an NCAA tournament field.

TigerBlog would have had more respect for the outcome if Lyke had gone on TV and said "hey, the committee had it come down to Princeton and Brown and we thought Brown was the better team after watching both all year."

That's not how it works, though. The criteria is what is in play. Some years it's quality wins. Some years it's RPI. This year, it was head-to-head.

Maybe it's all sour grapes. As TB said, there were four teams for three spots and someone had to be on the outside looking in. TB didn't want it to be Princeton, of course.

He wanted to see Mike MacDonald and Kip Orban get a shot at ending their spectacular careers in the NCAA tournament.

He wanted to see the Tigers play at Denver, or Duke, or Carolina.

It wasn't to be.

TigerBlog thought Princeton was an NCAA team. The committee thought otherwise.

Only their vote mattered.


CU77 said...

In hockey, at-large selection and overall seeding is done by a strict mathematical formula, the "pairwise comparison". So going into the final weekend, everyone knows exactly what it will take to get into the NCAA tournament. I wish lacrosse would do the same.

But you can't put too much blame on the committee this year. All three polls out this morning (coaches, media, laxpower) have Princeton below Cornell, Brown, and OSU.

TigerBlog said...

Cause and effect?