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Northwestern lacrosse releases 2015 schedule

And it's pretty brutal.

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern lacrosse announced its schedule for the 2015 season Friday and it's tough as usual. Eleven of NU's 16 opponents made the 2014 NCAA 20-team tournament, five of them made the elite eight and three advanced to the Final Four, where the Cats ultimately fell to No. 1 Maryland.

Here's the schedule. I've included some quick reaction at the bottom.

Feb. 7: @ USC

Feb. 14: vs. Virginia

Feb. 19: vs. Duke

Feb. 21: @ Marquette

Feb 28: @ North Carolina

March 7: vs. Colorado

March 22: vs. Syracuse

March 26: vs. Maryland

March 29: vs. Louisville

April 2: @ Michigan

April 5: vs. Penn.

April 10: @ Rutgers

April 12: @ Stony Brook

April 16: @ Notre Dame

April 19: vs. Penn State

April 25: vs. Ohio State

Reaction:

- Northwestern plays the No. 1 (Maryland), 2 (Syracuse), 3 (UNC), 6 (Virginia) and 8 (Notre Dame) seeds from last year's NCAA tournament. That's a pretty brutal slate of opponents. The Cats were the fifth seed themselves last year. For the Cats to claim one of the all-important top four seeds in the 2015 tourney and have home-field advantage through the elite eight, they'll have to win the majority of these games.

- There's a notable exclusion from this year's schedule. Last tournament's fourth seed, the Florida Gators are missing from Northwestern's schedule for the first time in five seasons. The former ALC foes developed one of the fiercest rivalries in the sport over the last few years, but now that ALC has disbanded and Northwestern has joined the new Big Ten Conference, it appears as if this rivalry will come to an end.

- The first half of Northwestern's schedule is daunting and will tell us a lot about Kelly Amonte Hiller's young team. With another stellar freshmen class ready to debut, the Cats have the talent to compete with anyone, but it'll take time for them to gel.

- Obviously NU will be tested right away against Virginia and North Carolina, but the March 22-29 three game home stand will tell us the most about this season's prospects. By then the Cats will have had six games to break in those electric freshmen and develop proper team chemistry. Syracuse, Maryland and even Louisville are three NCAA tournament-ready teams that have caused trouble for NU in the past. These games will be a true litmus test for the Cats, and will go a long way in determining whether or not they are capable of making yet another Final Four run in 2015.