The 2019 NCAA men's lacrosse tournament is just around the corner, with 17 teams attempting to rattle off the necessary number of wins to get to the top of their sport at the collegiate level. This year's tournament field is one of the most wide open in recent memory, with there not being much to separate the teams at the top of the tournament and the teams looking to take them down en route to a title.
The Favorite: Penn State
Penn State is the top seed in this year's tournament, following a 14-1 season that saw them run the table in Big Ten play. The Nittany Lions averaged over 17 goals per game on the season, scoring 13 goals or more in every game they played this season. They have the nation's top goals per game man in Mac O'Keefe, who is scoring a whopping four goals per game on the season. O'Keefe is likely to be a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award for the best college lacrosse player this season.
But Penn State, despite being the favorite, has to watch out for the rest of the field. If they can avoid upsets in the first two rounds of the tournament, Penn State may have to face sixth-seeded Yale in the semifinal round. Yale was the only team to defeat Penn State this season, with Yale's significant advantage claiming faceoffs being a cause for concern for the top seed.
Faceoffs could be a concern for Penn State no matter who they play, as they are winning draws at a rate just over 58% for the season. Elite teams generally capture faceoffs more consistently than that, and the Nittany Lions' lack of ability to play make-it-take-it lacrosse could prevent them from going on scoring runs against some of the tougher teams in the bracket.
Legitimate Title Contenders: Virginia, Yale and Duke
Outside of the top seed in the tournament, there are plenty of teams that could go on a run and win this tournament. Chief among those teams is Virginia, a team that is coming into the event on red-hot form after a dominant run through the ACC this season. The Cavaliers went 13-3 this season, with losses coming against Loyola, Duke, and a High Point team that many thought should have been admitted into the tournament.
The Hoos went 3-1 in conference play this season to lock up the top spot in the ACC Tournament, which they won with a semifinal win over North Carolina and a 10-4 win over Notre Dame in the conference championship game. Virginia's 14 goals per game put them in a tie for sixth in the country in goals per game average.
Yale comes into the tournament as the fifth seed in the bracket, but has proven that they can beat any team in America. The Bulldogs lost twice to Penn this season, who they could see in the quarterfinals if both teams advance past the first round. One of those losses came in the Ivy League championship game, which greatly impacted Yale's seeding. But Yale gave number one Penn State their only loss of the season, and average a second-best 15.2 goals per game. Their explosivity puts them on the short list of legitimate title contenders.
Duke's seeding may be the shock of the tournament field, given that the Blue Devils failed to reach the finals of the ACC Tournament. But Duke handed Virginia its only loss in ACC play, and their nine goals allowed per game make them incredibly difficult for opposing offenses to deal with. Duke's forcing about eight turnovers per game, and starting goalie Turner Uppgren is 57th in the nation with 9.2 saves per game. Those numbers together signify that Duke doesn't allow a lot of good looks at goal. If Duke can continue to play well defensively, they could end up justifying their seeding after all.
Other Contenders: Penn, Notre Dame, Loyola
Penn has shown that it can beat elite teams this season after they beat Yale twice, vaulting them into a top-four seed in the tournament. They will get another crack at Yale in round two, and the Quakers will hope that attacker Adam Goldner can outperform a 3.57 goals per game pace that puts him third in the nation in that category.
Notre Dame hasn't been great this season, going 8-6 overall and 2-2 in conference play. But the Fighting Irish got to the ACC final and looks like it could be getting hot at the right time. They will have to avoid turnovers if they want to make a run in this tournament, though, as the Irish have a -22 turnover differential on the season.
Loyola also has a sharpshooter leading their attack, with Kevin Lindley ranking second in the country with 3.8 goals per contest. But it's Loyola's ability to defend with its back against the wall that could make it dangerous in this tournament. The Greyhounds successfully defend nearly 80% of their man-down situations, keeping opponents off of the scoreboard despite conceding a man advantage.
Whether or not another team can make a surprise run to championship weekend remains to be seen, but these seven teams are likely to have the biggest say in who plays for the national championship in Philadelphia.