Northwestern Lax faces an uphill climb in the Big Ten Tournament

Photo credit: Jeffrey A. Camarati

Photo credit: Jeffrey A. Camarati

Northwestern lacrosse doesn’t do second place.

They certainly don’t do third place.

But after finishing behind both Maryland and Penn State, Northwestern finds itself as the 3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, missing out on a first round bye. In order to claim the inaugural conference title, Northwestern will have to win 3 games in 4 days out in Piscataway, New Jersey.

Northwestern will take on the Michigan Wolverines in their first game of the tourney on Thursday. This will not be a game. NU stomped on Michigan 17-8 in Ann Arbor earlier this season. The Wolverines are 5-11, haven’t won since March 20th, and at one point this season lost to No. 4 Florida 21-0.

Michigan’s propensity to run the “Don’t Score Goals While Giving Up Goals” style of play has cost them at times.

Where it gets interesting is after that. Northwestern is staring down the sights at a rematch with Penn State, a team that beat Northwestern 14-10 at Lakeside Field in a game that wasn’t really that close. But Penn State may be dealing with some injury problems. Stud goalie Emi Smith had to leave the Nittany Lions last game against Maryland with an injury, and Kelly Lechner, who scored 4 on Northwestern earlier this year, missed the entire Maryland game. With no news publically available about the severity of the injuries, Northwestern may or may not face a Penn State team hamstrung by fitness concerns. Without Smith and Lechner, Penn State are vulnerable.

Waiting after the Nittany Lions is the class of the Big Ten: Maryland. The Terrapins last loss came April 5th. Of 2014. The defending national champs haven’t lost yet, and they’ve detonated teams all year. They beat No. 5 Florida by 10. They beat No. 11 Penn by 5. Perhaps most importantly for Northwestern fans, the Terrapins shellacked NU 16-5 in Evanston under the lights.

They’re in another league.

It would be a monumental upset if Northwestern found a way to knock off the Terrapins, who NU would play in the finals when if they won their first two games. Maryland is a death star with sticks. Nobody in the country can touch them right now.

While the team is no doubt still shooting for a conference title, fans should keep an eye on Northwestern’s postseason seeding. The Wildcats are currently sitting at 9th in the Coaches’ Poll and, thanks to their absurd strength of schedule, 6th in the RPI. The top 8 seeds in the NCAA tournament will host a game, something Northwestern is flirting with missing out on. A secondary concern would be avoiding Maryland in the bracket for as long as possible. If NU falls in the first or second round of the Big Ten Tournament, it would be no surprise if they would have to travel to their first NCAA Tournament game.

It’s hard to remember a time where a second place finish is the expectation for Northwestern lacrosse. Of course, in 2013, NU looked like the second banana in the ALC after losing to Florida 22-4 in the regular season. All NU did that year was beat Florida 8-3 in the ALC Championship game. If there’s one thing NU lacrosse’s dominance has taught us, it’s this:

Never bet against the Wildcats.

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