Analyzing Every Conference Race Entering The Final Week of March

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics)

As we head into the final week of March there may be no greater sign that we are witnessing a season unlike any other than the vast range that is the number of games each team has played up to this point. While Bellarmine has played the most amount of games (9) and teams like Duke and North Carolina have played eight games, UMass and Navy only have two games under their belt while Marist and Quinnipiac – both members of the MAAC – have only played once.

But despite the disparity in the number of games played that we see across the college lacrosse landscape, we are starting to see conference races start to shake up and the hierarchy within most conferences start to show itself.

Here is an early look at each conference race as we head into week eight of the season – the final week of March:

ACC

The ACC opted for a six-game conference schedule this season and will not hold a conference tournament. Instead, the regular champion will be crowned the conference champion. Remember, the ACC no longer has an NCAA auto-bid because they only have five teams. So as far as the NCAA Tournament is concerned, there are no real implications. However, we honestly could should see all five teams make the tournament this season as the conference is STACKED, as expected. All five teams are currently ranked in the top 10 of the most recent Inside Lacrosse Media Poll. North Carolina and Duke are No. 1 and No. 2, which Syracuse sits at No. 4, and Notre Dame and Virginia are currently ranked No. 6 and No. 9.

Currently, only three of the conference’s five teams have played at least one conference game. North Carolina and Syracuse are each 1-0 in conference play while Virginia is 2-0, having lost of each of the aforementioned teams.

Conference play really ramps up this week as it is mostly conference play from here on out for the majority of teams in the conference. Duke opens ACC play against Syracuse on Thursday night and Notre Dame opens their conference slate on Saturday against Virginia. Some teams will play each other more than once, such as North Carolina and Duke who will play three times, so that could certainly shake some things up.

America East

Coming into the season, the top four teams were expected to be UAlbany, Stony Brook, UMBC, and Vermont. And through the first three or so weeks of conference play that is exactly what we have seen as those four teams have asserted themselves amongst the top of the conference.

Vermont currently sits atop the conference with a 3-0 in conference record and is ranked No. 15 in the nation. Their three conference wins have come over UMass Lowell, UAlbany, and NJIT. UMBC sits in second place in the conference with a 3-0 overall record and 2-0 conference record, beating Stony Brook and Hartford. UAlbany and Stony Brook are each 2-1 in conference play.

Binghamton (1-1), UMass Lowell (1-2), Hartford (0-3), and NJIT (0-3) sit at the bottom of the America East and are on the outside looking in as far as the conference tournament is concerned.

Certain teams will play each other twice, such as Vermont and UAlbany and UMBC and Stony Brook, so while the top four teams look to be pretty clear cut there is certainly going to be some shake-up of the order before we reach the end of the regular season.

Big East

Dare I say, the Big East may be the most predictable conference in the nation. Denver (4-0) and Georgetown (3-1) sit atop the conference and are the clear-cut top two teams, just as everyone expected coming into the season. Villanova (3-1) and Providence (2-3) sit as the next two in the standings while St. John’s (0-4) and Marquette (0-4) are at the bottom and on the outside looking in, as far as the conference tournament is concerned.

The Big East is another one of these conferences that opted for a different conference schedule format this season and has each team playing each other twice. Denver beat Georgetown in their first meeting last week and their second meeting is in late April. So while the top two are clear, we could possibly see the bottom two teams, as far as the conference tournament picture is concerned, flip flop or even change from now until the final week of the regular season.

Big Ten

The Big Ten is playing a double-round robin conference-only schedule this season which makes it a bit harder to judge the conference and its teams against the rest of the country. But it is certainly not a debate as to who the top team in the Big Ten is. The Maryland Terrapins are 5-0 and currently ranked No. 3 in the nation. They are, without a doubt, head and shoulders the best team in the conference. Behind them sits Rutgers with a 4-1 record, having only lost to Maryland. The two meet for a second time this weekend.

At least the top seed in the Big Ten Tournament, which will include all six teams this year, looks to be set in stone. And if Rutgers, even if they lose to Maryland again, continues their current path they have likely locked up that second seed. But 3-6 could change a lot between now and the end of the regular season. Johns Hopkins and Ohio State are 2-3 while Michigan and Penn State are each 1-4. Johns Hopkins’ two wins came over Michigan and Penn State while Ohio State has wins over Johns Hopkins and Michigan, who earned their lone win of the season over Penn State last week. Penn State’s lone win is over Ohio State.

With each team entering the back half of the season this weekend, get ready for more craziness out of the Big Ten as those teams currently sitting in that 3-6 spot continue to eat each other alive.

CAA

The CAA is a bit difficult to gauge at the moment. UMass is the consensus best and most talented team in the conference, but due to COVID issues, they have only played two games. While both were against conference opponents, only one counted as a conference game. Delaware is currently sitting atop the conference with a 3-0 conference record and 6-1 overall record after escaping Towson this past weekend. Drexel is 1-1 in conference play while Fairfield and Towson are 0-2. Hofstra has been on a COVID pause the past two weeks and thus has yet to play a conference game, but they have a 3-1 overall record.

While it does look like UMass, Delaware, and Hofstra are the three best teams in the conference at this point, the conference will be easier to judge and get a full picture of once Hofstra gets back on the field. And the only thing that standings matter for this year is seeding, as all six teams will make the conference tournament this season. And in three of the past five CAA Tournaments, three No. 3 or No. 4 seeds made the title game. So who knows what craziness could happen this year.

MAAC

In the MAAC, it is too early and difficult to get the full picture right now. The conference is playing an eight-game conference-only schedule that includes one non-conference game against a conference opponent. They are only three weeks into their season.

Currently, Monmouth and Manhattan sit atop the conference with 2-0 conference records while Canisius and Detroit Mercy have 1-1 records in conference and St. Bonaventure and Siena are 0-2. The preseason favorite and consensus top team in the conference, Marist, has been on a COVID pause for the past two weeks and has yet to play a game that counts towards their conference record yet. The Red Foxes hold a win over Detroit Mercy in their lone game. Quinnipiac is also in the same situation, having only played and lost to St. Bonaventure. Things will become clearer over the next few weeks when Marist gets back in action and we see more games be had across the conference.

NEC

Through the first few weeks of conference play, the NEC has been arguably one of the more exciting conferences to follow and watch. LIU has shocked a lot of people as they currently sit atop the conference with a 3-0 conference record, which includes and win over preseason favorite Hobart. Saint Joseph’s also has a 3-0 record in conference play while Bryant had a 2-0 in the NEC. Hobart is 2-1.

Sitting outside of the top four at the moment is Merrimack with a 1-2 conference record while Mount St. Mary’s, Sacred Heart, and Wagner are all currently winless in conference play. However, with the conference electing for an eight-game round-robin formant for conference play each team will play one team twice. That format could create some shakeup as the season progresses and create some pretty good series this season.

Patriot League

As usual, the Patriot League could be described, fairly simply, as a mess. The conference has split into two divisions, North and South, for the 2021 season with each team playing two divisional opponents twice and two cross-division games.

Currently, Lehigh sits atop the South with a 2-0 conference record that includes a program-first win over Loyola, who sits in second in the division with a 2-1 record in conference play. Bucknell sits at the bottom of the division with an 0-2 conference record with Lafayette is 0-1 in conference play and had a bye week last week due to Navy being on a two-week pause. Navy has yet to play a conference game but had looked very much like a team that can make some noise in their two non-conference wins.

In the North, Army West Point is the only undefeated team with a 1-0 record in conference play due to them also being on a COVID pause. Boston U. sits seconds in the North with a 2-1 conference record while Colgate (1-1), and Holy Cross (0-2) are the last two in the division.

Certainly, due to Army and Navy having to take multiple week pauses it is a little hard to get a full grasp of the Patriot League at this point, but it is looking like who we thought would be at the top is sitting at the top at the moment with Loyola and Lehigh looking good. Also, Army and Navy have, essentially, passed the eye test in the games they have played in thus far but it’ll be interesting to see how they looking coming back after time off.

SoCon

Alongside the ACC, the SoCon has played fewer conference games than any conference so far this season. However, the teams expected to be at the top are already there for the most part and that shouldn’t change. The only real thing that will be worth following is what the final seeding for the conference tournament will be and if a team like Mercer or Bellarmine could jump up and grab that fourth seed

Richmond, who is the consensus best and most talented team in the SoCon, sits atop the conference with a 2-0 SoCon record while Jacksonville and High Point are behind the Spiders with 1-0 records in conference play. Mercer and Bellarmine are each 0-1 in conference play while VMI is 0-2. Air Force opens conference play this weekend against Bellarmine.

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