ALBANY — Coaches hate looking beyond their next game. Generally, they refuse to do it.
But Scott Marr was willing to do it, at least for a moment, after the No. 1 University at Albany men’s lacrosse team’s 11-10 comeback win Saturday in College Park against No. 2 Maryland, a team the Great Danes trailed 10-6 heading into the fourth quarter.
The context: How much securing that unlikely win could potentially mean down the road for the Great Danes, a program whose ability to schedule non-conference games against high-ranked opponents hasn’t progressed in equal measure to its ability.
“When your schedule is what it is,” said Marr, trailing off before regrouping. “Right now, we have two top-five wins. That’s great for us going into the [NCAA] tournament. We’ve never really had that before.”
And, at the moment, UAlbany doesn’t have it anymore. When Marr spoke immediately after Saturday’s game, he was correct; UAlbany’s wins against Maryland and Syracuse were against top-five teams in the RPI . . . until Syracuse lost to Marr’s alma mater Johns Hopkins — and his son, Kyle — and dropped, for now, from the top five.
Why that’s significant is because it helps illustrate the thin margin UAlbany still operates within despite its rank as the nation’s No. 1 team, a distinction which likely becomes a unanimous one when the newest coaches and media polls are released Monday.
“They’re certainly outstanding for sure,” Maryland head coach John Tillman said in response to a question about if UAlbany is the team to beat in the country. “I think they’re in the conversation.”
But while teams — like Maryland — from power conferences are able to make sure they constantly stay in the national conversation because of the impressive schedules they are able to put together, UAlbany pretty much has to be perfect. In all likelihood, no other win the Great Danes can earn this regular season has the chance to end the season as a top-five win other than the ones they’ve already secured against Maryland and Syracuse. Vermont — UAlbany’s opponent next Saturday — and Yale are the only teams left on the Great Danes’ schedule that could potentially break into the top five . . . and, of course, the catch-22 there is that it’s a near-certainty those teams would have to beat UAlbany to actually achieve that status.
That leaves 5-0 UAlbany, which is No. 1 in the RPI, needing to continue to win — and to root for successful Maryland and Syracuse seasons to help buoy the Great Danes’ resume in case UAlbany falters during its remaining nine regular season games or fails to win the America East tournament and the automatic NCAA bid that accompanies that championship.
“But,” Marr said, “if it does work out that we continue to play the way we’ve been playing a win a lot of games, then, yeah, [beating Maryland] will have implications for us to be a higher seed than [No. 8], where we were last year.”
After toppling No. 2 Maryland, JD Colarusso & TD Ierlan followed the company line about it being just another win.
Scott Marr? After No. 1 UAlbany’s win, he was willing to admit that wasn’t the case.
— Michael Kelly (@ByMichaelKelly) March 11, 2018
UAlbany, despite a 14-2 regular season mark, was slotted at No. 8 for the 17-team 2017 NCAA tournament and rewarded for its season — which didn’t include any top-five wins — with a first round game against then-defending national champion North Carolina. When the Great Danes won that memorable contest, they advanced to play soon-to-be national champion Maryland in what became their season-ending game.
It’s possible — perhaps likely — if UAlbany had slipped up last year in its conference tournament that it could have simply missed playing in the NCAA tournament. After this year’s wins against Maryland and Syracuse, UAlbany already seems a virtual lock to gain entry into the NCAA tournament unless it suffers multiple unexpected regular season losses and fails to win its conference tournament . . . and that’s why next Saturday’s 3 p.m. game at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium against Vermont is a super-important game for the Great Danes.
A conference loss against Vermont removes much of UAlbany’s margin of error for the remainder of the regular season, but also severely hampers the Great Danes’ chance to play the America East tournament on their home field.
“We’ve got to win next week against Vermont,” said Marr, who tried during the offseason to bolster this year’s schedule, but couldn’t find any high-level takers for a game.
— Daily Gazette Sports (@dgazettesports) March 10, 2018
And, really, it’s hard to blame a program for not wanting to sign up for a matchup with these Great Danes. UAlbany boasts the nation’s best offense, a top goalie and faceoff specialist, and a veteran defense. When the Great Danes haven’t demolished their opponent this season, they’ve put together a pair of incredible comebacks that have only added to their aura.
“To have that in the back of your mind,” Marr said, “is a positive thing for us.”
But the Great Danes can’t rely on their ability to come back like they did against Cornell or Maryland. A loss can be sustained, but a couple defeats leave No. 1 UAlbany without much, if any, of the breathing room it earned with its wins against Maryland and Syracuse.
That’s life for the Great Danes, the nation’s No. 1 team — and one that can’t afford a bad week at the wrong time.
“We,” Marr said, “have to continue to win.”