This is what the past 16 weeks have led up to. This is what all of the blood, sweat and tears have been shed for. It's May and that can only mean one thing - the NCAA tournament is here.
This week we'll look at Round 3 of Maryland-North Carolina, give the tournament field a quick overview and look back at last week's Colgate game, plus a few more tidbits.
Round 3 - Terps vs. Tar Heels
By now these two teams know each other as well as any two teams in the tournament can, as this will be the fifth meeting between Maryland and North Carolina in the past two seasons.
There won't be any surprises. Both teams know the other's personnel and what they want to do with them.
Heck, by now the fans know the key match-ups: Young vs. Flanagan, B. Schmidt vs. Bitter, M. Schmidt vs. Galasso, Holmes vs. Keenan, Farrell & Jesse Bernhardt vs. Dunster and Holman, Amato vs. Rastivo ... and on and on.
Motivation isn't going to be a problem for either team.
The Terps still feel the sting of UNC coming into Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium and heading back to Chapel Hill with a win.
Carolina will be looking for a little payback after Maryland scored five goals in the fourth quarter to earn a 7-6 win three weeks ago in the semifinals of the ACC tournament.
But even more than that the motivation is getting to play another week.
At this time of the year there are only 16 teams left and all those teams are guaranteed is one more game. Eight teams will have their seasons end this weekend and the thought of being one of those eight is enough motivation for everyone to leave everything they have on the field.
Apparently ESPN thinks this is the most compelling first-round match-up since the network put the Terps and Tar Heels into its prime 1 p.m. slot on the main network. In case you're wondering, ESPN is currently available in 98 million homes.
ACC Rematches in the NCAA Tournament
To say that the pairing of Maryland and North Carolina raised some eyebrows on Selection Sunday is a bit of an understatement.
I've been doing this (and working in college athletics in general) for long enough to know that anything can happen, but even to me it seemed a bit odd to pair conference teams against each other in the first round.
That got me thinking ... when was the last time two ACC teams met in the first round of the NCAA tournament?
The answer was pretty easy to come by thanks to the All-Time Championship Tournament Records and Results and it was 1998 when Duke defeated North Carolina, 16-14. That was back when the tournament was only 12 teams and I wouldn't be surprised if geography had a lot to do with matching up the Blue Devils and Tar Heels.
The last time Maryland played an ACC opponent in the first round of the tournament was all the way back to 1994 (which means that some of the freshmen on this year's team were two years old at the time). The Terps were unseeded and traveled to Durham, N.C., to play No. 8 seed Duke, which came away with a 14-9 victory.
Overall this will be Maryland's 10th game against a fellow ACC school in tournament play. In the eight previous games the Terps are 4-4.
Now you may ask, "But, what about third meetings between ACC schools?" I've got that answer too.
Since the ACC began holding a men's lacrosse tournament in 1989, ACC teams have met for a third time on six occasions in the NCAA tournament. The only other time a third meeting between ACC schools happened in the first round of the NCAA tournament was 1992 when Maryland topped Duke, 13-11.
Overall there have been six third meetings between ACC schools in the NCAA tournament. You don't have to go back that far to find the last time it happened - just last season Duke and Virginia met for the third time in the Final Four in Baltimore.
It's not even that long ago that the Terps have met an ACC opponent for the third time in the tournament. Just three years ago in the 2008 quarterfinals in Annapolis, Maryland played Virginia for the third time.
Former Champs Meeting in the First Round
The Maryland-North Carolina game is also unique in the fact that it pits two former champions against one another in the first round.
This Sunday's game will be just the 10th first-round meeting between former champions since the tournament's inception in 1971. That's only counting meetings between schools that had already won championships at the time of the game.
The last time that two former champs met in the first round was 1999 when Syracuse defeated Princeton, 7-5.
This will be Maryland's third game vs. a former champion in the first round. The Terps (who won the 1973 and 1975 titles) previously played Virginia (1972 champs) in the first round in 1978 (a 15-10 Maryland win) and Johns Hopkins (1974, 1978-80) in 1981 (a 19-14 win for the Blue Jays).
If you expand things to include teams that have ever won an NCAA title (which is only Maryland, Johns Hopkins, Virginia, Cornell, Princeton, Syracuse, North Carolina and Duke) regardless of when the teams won their titles, championship teams have only played each other 17 times in the first round.
A Quick Look at the Field
There's no question about it; this is a very strong field. Big time teams and big time players will be competing for the sports biggest prize.
Let's look at the field by the numbers:
1 - Four conferences were one-big leagues: America East, ECAC, MAAC and Patriot.
2 - The Ivy League and CAA each got two teams into the field. From the looks of things, Hofstra was the last at-large to get in, while Penn was next. Cornell and Delaware earned the Ivy's and CAA's AQ, respectively.
3 - The second year of the Big East, which doesn't have an AQ, finds the conference getting three at-large spots, including two of the top four seeds in No. 1 Syracuse and No. 4 Notre Dame. There could be a mini ACC-Big East challenge for the right to go to the Final Four.
4 - 2011 marks the fifth straight season that all four ACC teams make it into the NCAA tournament. The only other teams to make the tournament every year since 2007 are Hopkins, Cornell and Notre Dame. From 2007-10 the four ACC schools are 13-3 combined in the first round of the tournament.
Selecting the field, which is made up of six AQs and 10 at-large selections, probably wasn't that challenging, outside of the last two at-large teams. The seedings and pairings are another story, but Patrick Stevens of the Washington Times wrote up a nice piece for his D1Scourse blog on the Maryland-North Carolina pairing: Explaining the unexpected Maryland-Carolina matchup .
One thing that always comes up before and after the bracket is announced is the "two-flight rule" that many blame for some of the pairings. Well, Stevens spoke with tournament selection chairman Dermot Coll about that: Flight limits: The lacrosse committee issue that isn't any longer (sort of).
There are other issues with the bracket that many in the lacrosse world will argue over and question, but you're not going to get that here. It doesn't matter if it's the basketball tournament or the women's volleyball bracket, there will always be something that someone can argue about.
The one thing to keep in mind is that there is nothing anyone can do about it right now. The bracket is finished and it's not going to change. For 16 teams it's time to go to work and play whoever is on the line next to your team's name.
The Colgate Game
I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this one for some obvious reasons.
But, I wanted to take a few minutes and point out that this game was the result of a couple of factors.
First, there's no way to quantify how hard Colgate played last Saturday. The Raiders were a team that was playing for it's season and it showed. Colgate knew the only shot it had at getting into the field of 16 was to beat Maryland. While even that didn't get them in, Coach Jim Nagle's Raiders showed they are a talented team that will be a factor in the years to come.
Second, there were too many self-inflicted wounds for the Terps. It wasn't just one thing; there were multiple things that compounded upon each other. I'm not going to point any fingers are any one guy or one part of the team (that's not what this blog is about and that's not who I am), but rest assured there was plenty to go over in self-scout film this week.
The highlight of the game came before the opening whistle when 17 seniors were recognized for their contributions to the Maryland men's lacrosse program. The 2011 senior class has compiled a 42-21 (.667) record during its time in College Park and brought the Terps their first ACC Championship since 2005. They have also helped Maryland to four NCAA tournament bids.
I wanted to thank everyone for catching my error in last week's blog in regards to the Terps' 2011 uniform combos. I mistakenly wrote that Maryland a different helmet-jersey-short combination in each of the team's first 11 games.
The correct information is that Maryland wore 10 different combinations in its first 11 games. The black-white-black combo was first worn vs. Bellarmine and then repeated against St. Joseph's.
Maryland did wear its 11th different combination in the Colgate game. The Terps rocked the black-white-white look for the first time this season.
I'm not 100% certain, but I would expect the team to come out Sunday wearing the black-red-black that it wore in wins at Virginia, vs. UNC in the ACC semis and at Duke in the ACC finals.
That does it for this week's edition of the blog. Game notes for the North Carolina game be posted on Thursday.
I hope to see a lot of red, black and purple in the stands at Fetzer Field on Sunday.
If you can't make it down to Chapel Hill then be sure to catch the game on ESPN at 1 p.m.
Be The Best!