How Rutgers can earn an at-large bid to NCAA Tournament
Following an upset victory over No. 4 Ohio State, the Rutgers men's lacrosse team has positioned itself very well for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Despite this, nothing is guaranteed, so I present a rooting guide for fans hoping to see Rutgers in the NCAA Tournament come May.
First things first, the No. 12 Scarlet Knights (10-4, 2-3) will find out their fate on Sunday, May 7th during the NCAA Selection Show, scheduled for 9 p.m. on ESPNU.
The NCAA Tournament features a 17-team field. There are 9 automatic bids given to the winners of the following conference tournaments:
America East, Big East, Big Ten, Colonial (CAA), Ivy League, Metro Atlantic (MAAC), Northeast (NEC), Patriot League and Southern.
The Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) does not have an automatic bid.
The two lowest-ranked teams of the 9 with automatic bids, as determined by the committee, will play in a play-in game, which narrows the field to 16 teams. The other 8 spots are at-large bids given out by the committee.
Per the NCAA's official website, any at-large team must have a winning percentage of above .500 to be considered.
Now that the rules are out of the way, there are a few things that can happen during conference tournament play that can solidify Rutgers as an at-large team.
The first involved defending National Champion North Carolina. The Tar Heels sit at 7-7 and will play Notre Dame (3 RPI) in the ACC Championship game Sunday, April 30th. If UNC (9) wins, it would all-but guarantee a spot in the Tournament, as the ACC is widely regarded as the top conference in the country and the committee would not be able to argue against putting in the defending National Champions who would then have a top-10 RPI. However, if the Heels lose, they drop to 7-8 on the season and per the NCAA's rules, are not eligible for an at-large bid. Root for Notre Dame.
Next up is the Big East Conference and Denver (7). The Pioneers are a household name and have quality wins over Duke (10), Notre Dame (2) and at Towson (12). Even with a loss in their conference tournament, they will have a bid. But if they lose, that would give the Big East two bids when you count the conference champion. Denver has a better resume than Rutgers and would get the at-large bid over the Knights if it came to that. But if the Pioneers win the Big East, Rutgers clearly has a better resume than any other team from that conference. Root for Denver.
Now it's time to look at the America East Conference. Albany (8) is the clear favorite to win the league, but Binghamton (18) and Stony Brook (27) are quality teams as well. If they were to beat Albany, Binghamton or Stony Brook would earn at an at-large bid with that win. If the Great Danes were to lose in their conference tournament final, it would be hard to keep them out, with just two losses by a combined 2 goals to Syracuse (1) and Maryland (3). Rutgers does have a better resume, but Albany is more of a household name and would have a great shot as an at-large bid. To avoid the headache, root for Albany.
The CAA, Ivy, MAAC, NEC, Patriot and Southern conference are all near-locks to be one-bid conferences, meaning only the winners of those tournaments would make the NCAA Tournament.
UPDATE: UNC beat Notre Dame and effectively clinched an at-large bid.
As things stand on May 1, these would be the 8 at-large teams, in order of RPI, in the NCAA Tournament, assuming Maryland wins the Big Ten Tournament as the No. 1 RPI team:
- Syracuse (2)
- Notre Dame (3)
- Penn State (4)
- Johns Hopkins (5)
- Ohio State (7)
- UNC (9)
- Duke (10)
- Rutgers (12)
Obviously the ACC being a 5-team league and not having an automatic bid makes things more difficult.With Rutgers as the last team in, there is no more margin for error in the Big East and America East conferences.
Once again, if Denver (6) loses the Big East Tournament, the Pioneers would most certainly get in over Rutgers. But if Albany (8) loses to either Binghamton (18), Stony Brook (27) or UMBC (28), it will come down to a very tough decision between Rutgers and Albany, though the Knights have a strength of schedule ranking of 9, while the Great Danes have an SOS of 30, something that could give Rutgers the edge if it came down to those two. Additonally, Albany best win is against Binghamton (18), with the Knights have better wins over Ohio State (7) and Army (17).
Taking that information into consideration, Rutgers has a much better resume than Albany.
In the CAA, with Towson (11) and Hofstra (13) one higher and one lower than the Knights in RPI, it has cemented itself as a one-bid conference and Rutgers should not have to worry about that tournament, as the winner is in and the loser is out.
Denver lost it's Big East semifinal game to Marquette. This means that the Big East will be a two-bid league, with Denver and the conference tournament champion making the tournament. This is a severe hit to Rutgers' chances at an at-large bid.
The Knights are down, but not out. Per the NCAA's RPI Rankings released on Sunday, Rutgers is No. 12 and Duke is No. 10. The Blue Devils lost their first round game in the ACC Tournament to Notre Dame and still have one more game left on their schedule -- a unique non-conference game against Boston University (16) on Sunday at 1 p.m.
If Duke loses, it could drop in the RPI one or two spots. Additionally, Rutgers should root for Ohio State to beat Maryland in the Big Ten Championship game on Saturday. If the Buckeyes win against the No. 1 team in the RPI, Maryland, they will obviously move up and the Knights' win over them looks ever better and could even bump Rutgers up a spot in the RPI with a more quality win and increases strength of schedule. With such small decimals separating teams in the RPI, every detail matters.
On Saturday afternoon, Army (17) upset Notre Dame (3). While this doesn't directly affect Rutgers, Army will move up in the RPI. The Knights' victory over the Black Knights earlier in the season will look better and will likely go from a top-20 win to a top-15 win. That is also a win Duke doesn't have, so it's a small win for Rutgers.
So if Duke loses to Boston and Ohio State wins the Big Ten, Rutgers could find itself at No. 10 in the RPI with the Blue Devils potentially at No. 11. Then it becomes a toss up. But at this point, a toss up is as good a chance as the Knights will get.