Once again, nobody predicted what happened last weekend across the national lacrosse landscape. The No. 1 ranked team fell once again, and others made the most of opportunities to lock in an NCAA tournament birth.
As we head into the final few weeks of the regular season and look ahead to postseason play, there is still a lot to be determined. Some of the biggest names in college lacrosse are on the outside looking in at the moment but have key games that could improve their chances for an at-large tournament ticket.
Let's take a look at my new top-10 rankings in Division I lacrosse. As always, these are based on total-season resumes and will most likely look very different as selection Sunday comes closer.
10. Johns Hopkins
Head coach Dave Pietremala finally has the Blue Jays playing better, and they are certainly heating up at the right time. Their losses to Princeton, Syracuse, Alban and UNC are looking better as those teams are all in the hunt for tournament appearances. The Blue Jays are now 8-4 and have big games against Loyola and Army to further boost their tournament resume. Even if they win both games, there is no certainty that they will be playing any postseason games.
Loyola has three losses at the hands of teams that are all ranked in the top 10 this week. Even so, its weak schedule has produced very few quality wins, and its preseason ranking has kept it among the elite this year. The defending champions were helped by Denver's loss to Fairfield last weekend, but they are not a lock for the ECAC automatic bid. Their regular season finale against Hopkins will give them a great chance at ending the season with their most impressive victory thus far.
8. Penn State
Penn State is on fire. Since dropping three straight early on, the Nittany Lions have reeled off eight straight victories to land them at 10-3. With a victory against Hofstra next weekend, the Lions could lock in a bid to the NCAA tournament. If they continue their hot play, contenders should be cautious of Penn State's ability to make a playoff run.
My jaw dropped last Wednesday when I saw that the Orange had lost to Hobart. It was a terrible loss for a team that seemed destined for a really high seed in the brackets. Syracuse was able to rebound with a narrow victory over Georgetown last weekend, which was a big win in conference play. I stand firm that the Orange are one of the deepest and most talented teams in the country, but the loss to Hobart certainly made them look vulnerable to poor play. Syracuse has been playing down to its competition and must pick it up as it looks to make noise in the NCAA tournament.
Just another typical Duke season. The Devils are notorious for slow starts to their season, and 2013 was no different. Since starting the season at 2-4, Duke has won nine straight games in impressive fashion and seem to have forgotten how to lose. With the ACC tournament coming up, a strong performance could land Duke atop the rankings at the end of the season.
Denver was the most recent victim of the No. 1 jinx in lacrosse this year. The Pioneers were stunned by the Fairfield Stags last weekend, dropping them significantly in the rankings. Denver is a fast team, but can play inconsistent lacrosse in big moments. Denver has been involved in many close games, showing that it sometimes has trouble putting teams away late in games. As it looks ahead, it must be able to shut the door against quality opponents if it wants to avoid an early exit in the tournament.
4. North Carolina
UNC may be the most talented team in the country. It has climbed up the rankings since a slow start to the year, and now finds itself in the talks for a top seed in the tourney. The ACC tournament should be one of the more exciting postseason playoffs, with three teams all legitimately vying for a No. 1 seed. UNC is done with regular season play, and must now prepare to play the big boys with a lot on the line.
Cornell's victory over Brown last weekend locked it in as the Ivy League's regular-season champion. With this crown comes the opportunity to host the Ivy League tournament in two weeks. The Big Red are lethal on offense but have lost close games to Bucknell and Syracuse this year. The Big Red will take on Princeton in the Big City classic this weekend, giving them the opportunity to improve their seeding in the league tournament and the NCAA brackets.
Maryland narrowly escaped with a one-goal victory over Yale last weekend. Early in the year, the Terps looked unstoppable, but recent losses to Hopkins and UNC have put a kink in their armor. Maryland will finish up the regular season against Colgate before embarking on an adventure in the ACC tournament. If Maryland can win the league tournament, it will almost certainly be the top seed on selection Sunday.
1. Notre Dame
I'm still not completely sold on Notre Dame, but you cannot deny that it has handled business this year. It is 10-2 with a lot of quality victories, but its losses came to St. John's and Hofstra, who are not exactly the cream of the crop. The Irish defeated a talented Villanova squad in South Bend last weekend, preparing them for a huge showdown with Syracuse in the Big City classic. This Big East clash will determine the league champion, so there will be a lot on the line in Met Life Stadium on Saturday.