As we come down the home stretch of the regular season, the tournament picture becomes more clear with every game. With a ton of intense action this past weekend, some teams took great strides forward, while others came to the realization that the tournament is not a possibility for them.
There were a lot of close games that came down to the wire, including some Top-10 teams that barely escaped with victories.
Let's take a look at my updated Top 10 in Division-I:
10. Penn State
Penn State is playing excellent lacrosse right now. Their last three games have been wins over Bucknell, Villanova, and Drexel, who are all worthy opponents. This win streak puts the Nittany Lions in the Top 10 this week, but I am not sold that they will stay here for long.
The Tigers have lost three games by a total of three goals. Nevertheless, they are without a win against a Top-10 opponent, and still have to navigate through some tricky games. Rutgers and Dartmouth shouldn't be a problem for them this week, but a fluke loss would be devastating. Harvard and Cornell are still on the horizon, with the Crimson being a talented team capable of the upset, and the Big Red proving themselves as one of the best teams in the nation.
Duke has beaten Harvard and High Point in its last two games. The Blue Devils are quietly playing good lacrosse, but need to be careful as they take on a frustrated Virginia squad this week. UVA will be looking for a big win, and Duke is susceptible to upsets within the tough ACC conference.
Loyola drops this week due to lack of a quality opponent. The Greyhounds were able to beat up on Fairfield, but upcoming games against Denver and Hopkins will show their true colors. Also, with strong opponents coming late in the season, Loyola will be tried and true heading into the postseason.
Syracuse looked impressive in a big 13-12 win against Princeton Saturday evening. Syracuse is playing better since its loss to Villanova, and its improved faceoff play won the Orange the game against the Tigers in the fourth quarter.
Their off-ball movement is scary on offense, making them a matchup problem for many teams in the Big East and elsewhere. Coach John Desko will look to make a strong playoff push this year with his talented core of veteran talent.
Denver needed overtime to take down Bellarmine last night, which shows its vulnerability late in the year. The Pioneers have quality wins on their résumé, and will have an opportunity to prove themselves in their next game against defending champion Loyola. Denver drops this week, but a win over the Greyhounds would propel it forward once again.
Who is the best team in the country?
UNC, after beating Hopkins and Virginia back-to-back, is a serious contender for a national title. The Tar Heels' defense is playing better, but their offense can outscore anyone in the country. With their win over Maryland earlier this year, they have the toughest of the ACC wins already in hand. Look for the Heels' talented roster to strut its stuff in the ACC tournament.
3. Notre Dame
Notre Dame has beaten Marquette and Providence on short rest since its loss to St. John's. Although not tested in terms of a tough schedule, Notre Dame has handled business in the big picture. The Irish's recent tournament success and the skill of their defense keeps them ranked high due to their reputation for winning big games when they matter.
Cornell had to rally from behind to beat Harvard in Cambridge this weekend. Steve Mock had himself a day, while Rob Pannell managed the game well and made key plays down the stretch. Cornell remains the top-dog in the Ivy League and will look to win the regular-season title and therefore host the conference postseason tournament.
After a shocking loss to UNC a few weeks back, the Terps have rebounded to defeat Virginia and Navy and now find themselves atop the polls. Maryland is loaded on offense, led by a first-line midfield group that is a matchup nightmare. With senior goalie Niko Amato holding down the fort, the Terrapin defense has improved and will look to lead UMD to the ACC crown.