Like clockwork, another year has rolled around and the Stony Brook women’s lacrosse team has a case that the NCAA Tournament selection committee gave the Seawolves a raw deal with regards to their playoff fate.
Despite currently owning a 12-game winning streak and being ranked among the top six in the national polls throughout the whole season, Stony Brook was given the eighth seed in the tournament for a second straight year. This means that in order to reach the Final Four for the first time in program history, the Seawolves likely will once again have to advance past an undefeated North Carolina team, the number one overall seed, in the quarterfinals to do so.
As always, the Seawolves played a difficult non-conference schedule this season to bolster their resumé and ameliorate the negative effects of being forced to play America East teams. Stony Brook earned six wins over teams that either made the tournament or were listed as the first four out — Florida, Princeton, Johns Hopkins, Vermont, Arizona State and Yale. Of those, all but Arizona State and Vermont were nationally ranked at the time of the Seawolves’ victories. Vermont only made the NCAA Tournament because the America East barred Stony Brook for the automatic bid, which the Seawolves have claimed each year since 2013.
Puzzlingly, Stony Brook went on the road to Gainesville in March and beat the Gators 14-13, yet Florida earned the No. 7 seed over the Seawolves even with the head-to-head disadvantage. In the committee’s earlier revealed top 10 ranking as of April 28, Florida and Stony Brook were No. 6 and No. 7, respectively.
Both dropped a spot because Loyola Maryland — seeded No. 9 two weeks ago — leapfrogged them and Duke to secure the No. 6 seed in the tournament. That choice was a confusing one. Loyola Maryland and Florida waltzed through their conference playoffs without facing an opponent of note, as would have Stony Brook if allowed. What changed since then that raised Loyola’s stock so much?
Like Stony Brook, Loyola beat Florida, Princeton and Johns Hopkins and lost by one goal to No. 5 seed Syracuse. The Greyhounds have a better win percentage, but because they scheduled one less top-five opponent than Stony Brook.
After comparing Loyola’s, Florida’s and Stony Brook’s resumés, it’s difficult to see how the committee landed on that exact order. The Gators lost to both the Seawolves and the Greyhounds, yet are sandwiched in between them in the seeding. Florida has the best win, beating Syracuse while Loyola and Stony Brook both lost to the Orange, but it also has the worst loss, as Loyola was the lowest-ranked defeat on any of the three teams’ schedules.
Stony Brook arguably has a better resumé than it did last year because of the Florida win, but the Seawolves were given nearly the exact same treatment that they got in 2021 — a No. 8 seed, a date with the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) champion at home in the first round (Towson last year, Drexel this year), and likely Rutgers in the second round. The 2022 Scarlet Knights are even stronger than in 2021, having beaten a Northwestern team that Stony Brook lost to. If the Seawolves advance out of their pod unscathed as favored, the reward is a date with undefeated No. 1 North Carolina yet again.
No road to the Final Four is easy, but Maryland and Boston College, who the Seawolves would have faced with the No. 6 or 7 seed, are slightly less daunting draws.
The NCAA selection committee has a long history of underseeding Stony Brook, seemingly as punishment for being in the America East. In 2017, the Seawolves were 18-1 and ranked fourth in the national polls, but were saddled with the No. 8 seed partially because of New York’s state-sanctioned travel ban to North Carolina. In 2018, they were 19-0 and the number one team in the country for almost the entire season only to be seeded fifth. Then last year, a 9-7 Duke squad was placed above the 14-2 Seawolves.
As glorious as Stony Brook’s 60 straight wins over conference opponents was, having to schedule mediocre teams without an alternative dragged down its strength of schedule in comparison to the other schools which earned national seeds. This year, not being allowed to play those two extra games could have given the Seawolves an extra boost. Evidently, it did not.
The Memorial Day weekend appearance seems to be the one thing left for Stony Brook to accomplish in order to prove that the program belongs at the top with the Atlantic Coast Conference and Big Ten powers that rank above it, but the NCAA Tournament selection committee has consistently refused to do the Seawolves any favors in that department over the last decade.