Abandon all hope ye who enter this bracket.
Northwestern in a lot of ways should feel lucky that it snagged the 8-seed in the NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Tournament. According to Inside Lacrosse, RPI, and the coaches’ poll, Northwestern is No. 9 in the country. But, what's its prize for picking up the 8-seed?
A potential Elite Eight matchup with world-beaters Maryland.
But before Northwestern makes it out to College Park, the Wildcats have to handle business in their half of the regional.
Northwestern’s first round opponent will be the Louisville Cardinals, a team Northwestern dispatched with relative ease earlier this year, beating them 12-10 at Lakeside Field. Louisville may not be an elite program, and if Faye Brust (45 goals, 10 assists on the year) is again held out due to injury, Northwestern should, in theory, move on. But beware of Louisville’s draw control specialist Kaylin Morissette. Averaging over 10 draw controls per contest, the junior leads the nation in draw controls with 178 on the year. Northwestern’s leader? Sheila Nesselbush with 59. Northwestern is going to have to crank up the defensive intensity to overcome what will in all likelihood be a sizable disadvantage in the draw circle.
In the second round, Northwestern will get either Ohio State or Notre Dame, again, both teams that Northwestern has beaten this season (16-6 and 10-9 respectably). Northwestern clearly will be rooting for Ohio State, even if the Buckeyes found a way to beat Maryland in the Big Ten Tournament. When the Buckeyes visited Evanston, they had no answer for a surprisingly low pressure Northwestern defensive look and were beaten by halftime. Notre Dame, meanwhile, almost, and probably should have, beaten Northwestern this year, giving up a lead late to let the Wildcats win.
The bottom line is that Northwestern will not, in all likelihood, have a "gimme" game the whole tournament. Louisville and Notre Dame both have reached the top ten this year, and Ohio State has the best win of any team in the country by beating Maryland. If NU makes it through, it will be no small achievement.
But Maryland still lurks in the top half of the bracket. It's the same team that stomped NU 16-5 under the lights at Lakeside Field; the team that has only lost one game (albeit its last game) in more than a full calendar year. Maryland is really good, and a hiccup against Ohio State doesn’t change that. For Northwestern to make its 11th-straight Final Four, it is going to have to go through the Terrapins on the road. Maybe Northwestern can find the chink in the armor Ohio State found. But looking at it on paper, Northwestern’s ridiculous streak of Final Fours is in jeopardy.
The battle starts today.
You can catch the first and second round on the radio through WNURSports.com, or NUSports.com will provide video streaming.