Tonight’s the night. For the first time ever, the NCAA Tournament field for both men’s and women’s lacrosse will be announced together. The joint Selection Show will air at 9:00 p.m. ET on ESPNU. Another historic moment is possible as both the Rutgers men’s and women’s lacrosse teams are on the verge of making the NCAA Tournament in the same year for the first time ever.
Sunday, ESPNU will exclusively present the first-ever joint NCAA Division I Men's & Women's Lacrosse Championships Selection Special— ESPN PR (@ESPNPR) May 6, 2021
May 9 | 9p ET | ESPNU, ESPN App
More: https://t.co/IThXMpJldX | #NCAALAX | #NCAAWLAX pic.twitter.com/d18kSHX4xB
It has been a different type of season due to COVID-19, resulting in the Big Ten not playing a non-conference schedule and other leagues playing fewer out of conference contests than normal. Metrics like RPI will be utilized less so because of that.
In an article from Patrick Stevens of US Lacrosse Magazine on Saturday, Men’s committee chairman Tim Leonard discussed the challenges with selecting this year’s NCAA Tournament field.
“In years past, the RPI, strength of schedule — particularly out of conference strength of schedule — those things had a lot of weight,” Leonard said. “This year, I’m not even really sure when we’re really going to start using the RPI as a comparison criterion. It won’t be right out of the gates like we normally do just because it’s so skewed this year more than normal. It just isn’t going to be as accurate as we’d all like.”
The selection committee on the men’s side is leaning more heavily on the RAC to help, which is a regional advisory committee that includes one coach from each conference.
“They have been tremendous,” Leonard said. “The coaches have probably been more engaged on the RAC calls than ever before, at least in the time I’ve been on the committee. They want to make sure this thing gets done right. I think the committee has been more engaged with the coaches. Not that we’ve ever not been, but I think we’re all realizing that we need, ‘Hey, tell us about the eye test.’ In years past, we tried to eliminate as much subjectivity as possible and just make it all as objective as possible. There’s going to be a lot of subjectivity involved this year, and that’s just the reality of it.”
Whether that is good for Rutgers men’s lacrosse remains to be seen. On the men’s side, the 16 team field is an even split of eight automatic qualifiers and eight at-large bids.
After Thursday’s loss to Johns Hopkins, the Scarlet Knights no longer control its own destiny. They avoided disaster Saturday night when undefeated and top seeded Maryland came from behind to defeat Hopkins and win the automatic bid to the NCAA’s. If the Terps had lost after trailing 9-6 in the second half, it would have likely spelled doom for RU.
Instead, Rutgers is still alive and likely in need of one more conference favorite to win on Sunday. In fact, it’s already happened. As a reminder of how different this season has been, Loyola withdrew from the Patriot League Final on Sunday morning due to COVID-19.
Sunday morning news in men's lacrosse. Loyola has withdrawn from the Patriot League tournament because of a positive virus test among its Tier 1 personnel.— Patrick Stevens (@D1scourse) May 9, 2021
Lehigh wins the league's AQ, and Loyola "will evaluate its ability to be availability for NCAA Championships competition."
Lehigh winning win the Patriot League automatic qualifying bid against Loyola (MD) helps Rutgers. That could be all head coach Brian Brecht needs to see his program end a 17 year NCAA Tournament drought. However, it is still possible that Loyola could still bump Rutgers out with an arguably better resume that includes wins over Army (projected in), Big East champion Georgetown and Navy (projected out) twice. Not being able to play Sunday works against Loyola though as they lost a chance to make a final argument to the selection committee.
One key difference between the two teams is that RU has the eighth best adjusted efficiency rating this season while Loyola is 16th per Lacrosse Reference. But analytics might not sway the committee as much as the eye test due to the unprecedented circumstances this season.
Inside Lacrosse’s article from Sunday morning listed Loyola as having the 13th best resume, while listing Rutgers as having the 10th best resume. They project Rutgers in the field playing no. 7 seed Syracuse, while they have Loyola left out.
In Saturday’s US Lacrosse Magazine’s bracketology, it does list Rutgers as the last team projected in the NCAA Tournament field facing no. 6 seed Denver and has Loyola as the last team projected out do the big dance.
On the women’s side, the field has expanded to 29 teams and is comprised of 15 automatic qualifiers and 14 at-large bids. It’s the largest women’s lacrosse NCAA Tournament field ever.
As is the case on the men’s side, the top eight seeds are decided by the selection committee with the rest of the field being strategically placed due to merit and geography.
With an odd number of 29 teams in the field, the top three seeded teams will receive a bye to the second round. The 13 winners in round one will comprise a second round of 16 teams along with those three teams that earned a first round bye.
Despite a 6-8 record, Rutgers women’s lacrosse appears to be on the right side of the bubble. They have beaten five ranked foes this season. In US Lacrosse Magazine’s bracketology article earlier this week, they said “Johns Hopkins (8-6) and Rutgers (6-8) won their opening games in the Big Ten tournament before falling in the semifinals and should feel fairly confident about their inclusion in this year’s tournament.”
US Lacrosse Magazine currently projects Rutgers as the fourth to last team in the NCAA Tournament field. They project a first round matchup against Towson with the winner to face projected no. 2 seed Syracuse.
This is an incredibly difficult year to predict how the NCAA Tournament Selection Committees will make decisions other than knowing the importance of the eye test will carry more weight than normal.
For Rutgers men’s lacrosse, they have a potent offense led by three of the best players in the country in Adam Charalambides, Connor Kirst and Kieran Mullins. However, they technically haven’t beaten a team with a winning record and they struggled on national television in the loss to Johns Hopkins on Thursday. Even so, you’d like to think this talented team has proven themselves enough to make it. The idea of the Big Ten only having one team make the NCAA Tournament, even in a perceived down year for the league seems unlikely. However, it wouldn’t be shocking based on the recent past in being left on the wrong side of the bubble that it could happen to Rutgers once again.
For Rutgers women’s lacrosse, having beaten Penn State, Johns Hopkins and Maryland for the first time in program history bodes well for their chances. Each of those schools are projected to make the NCAA Tournament field. RU is looking to go dancing for the first time since 1999 and just the second time in program history.
It could be an historic day for Rutgers with both men’s and women’s lacrosse teams potentially ending NCAA Tournament droughts roughly two decades long in the same season. It would be a big statement for the athletic department in a year many different programs have made major progress. We’ll find out if both lacrosse teams will live to play another day later tonight. As Tom Petty sings, “the waiting is the hardest part.”