by Jac Coyne | MCLA.us
LA CROSSE, Wis. – Judgement Weekend is the best.
Many of the top Division II teams in the country converge on one place for a series of games that helps illuminate the polls and give the selection committee some good seeding data.
The location is Nashville for the second straight year and it features the current Nos. 1, 2, 5, 6, 8, 9 and 15 teams in the nation.
Music City Judgement II officially started yesterday, Thursday, when No. 6 Grand Valley State took down No. 9 Florida Gulf Coast, 11-7, and it will continue today, Saturday and Sunday.
As intriguing as it is for fans and the selection committee, these events are hugely important for the teams that are involved.
“There's a couple of reasons why I think it's important,” said Brian Gross, coach of No. 2 St. Thomas. “One, it's the most budget-friendly way. With this many teams sharing the costs of facilities, officials, etc., events like this are really affordable for the number of games and level of competition.
“Two, it puts the national spotlight on D-II for the weekend. Every game is an intriguing matchup, some of which are likely previews of postseason games.”
“We want to play the toughest schedule possible, and getting a big weekend in allows us to do that budget wise,” said Joe Venturella, coach of No. 8 Dayton. “It also allows us to see the best competition from other conferences, in person, before the national tournament.”
For Minn.-Duluth co-coach Alex McNamara, the timing of Judgement plays a key factor in its utility.
“Most importantly, being in early March, you get a true understanding of your team for what to focus on going forward,” said McNamara. “Our team concepts really begin to take form and it is great baseline for understanding team depth and personnel.”
What's the most intriguing D-II game at Nashville Judgement II this weekend? #mcla19
— MCLA Tournament '19 (@MCLA_Tournament) March 5, 2019
For teams like St. Thomas, Dayton, Minn.-Duluth and the rest of the UMLC cabal, they are going to get ranked opponents in their own conference on a weekly basis. It’s a huge reason why all six are near locks to return to Salt Lake City already.
The other teams coming to Nashville jumped at the opportunity to strengthen their schedule.
“Being all the way in South Florida, we have to get as many top games as we can in a short period of time,” said FGCU coach Mike Dubbelde. “If we can get at-large eligible and play three of the top 10 teams in D-II in one weekend, it helps our budget and boosts our strength of schedule when it comes time for tourney consideration.”
“It was huge for us last year to get our feet wet early in the spring against the best competition in order to not feel overwhelmed as we worked towards our first trip to nationals,” added Brendan Frobel, coach at No. 15 Central Conn. State. “Scheduling the best competition, whether we win or lose, is paramount to our progression as a team.”
In addition to budgetary and strength of schedule concerns, Judgement also provides a dry-run, of sorts, for nationals.
“We do treat this weekend as preparation for nationals, and that's been invaluable for us,” Gross said. “To be successful at nationals, you have to be able to prepare for high-level competition on short turnarounds. A weekend like this gives us the opportunity to refine our pregame processes and also helps our players prepare for the physical toll that nationals takes.”
“We look at the tough games back-to-back as both a prep for both nationals and our cross-conference weekend in Michigan later on this year,” Venturella said. “We have to learn how to play deep into the bench and recover quickly between games. Learning how to play the tough games is as important as anything else we can do.”
"We view this more as a mid-term grade to see where we are," countered Kennesaw State coach Alex Gavilla.
So why aren’t other teams in other parts of the country trying to use this same formula, even if the rankings are likely to be a little lower?
There geographical gap between teams certainly expands the farther west one travels, and it takes a lot of organization and dedication to make it work.
But, boy, is it worth it.
“It’s no coincidence the teams that show up to Judgement Weekend also tend to make their way to the national tournament,” Dubbelde said. “Committing to playing three or four games in a long weekend is a testament to the dedication of the programs. That same dedication to playing the best competition often translates to being a winning program that strives to win a national title.”
It’s pretty easy to jump to catastrophic conclusions after defending D-I national champion Michigan State lost all three games on its trip to SoCal. It’s startling to see a team that was running so smoothly at the end of last year struggling to finish games.
I’m a little less concerned. The Spartans likely played themselves out of any chance for the top seed in the tournament, but two of those losses came to the No. 6-tied teams in the country.
While taking nothing away from Arizona’s accomplishment, that was Sparty’s third game in four days against a fresh squad. MSU doesn’t get a discount, because that’s how they chose to schedule it, but am I surprised they lost? Not really. I wouldn’t have been surprised even if they won the first two.
The biggest silver lining is there is plenty of meat left on the Spartans schedule to get them a Top 4 seed if they get the right wins. There are four Top 11 opponents still left, so I’m not ready to bury State yet.
My Five Predictions
No. 17 Clemson (5-1) at No. 9 Colorado (3-1), 7 p.m. – Friday
I like this game because it’s another team – Clemson in this case – shedding its regional label and challenging themselves with a big trip to face quality competition. As such, good for the Tigers. Keep it going.
In terms of choosing this game, I feel Colorado is made up very similarly to Liberty. The Flames took Clemson down earlier this year, 14-8, so I’ll take a goal away for playing at altitude. Buffs, 14-7.
What is the most intriguing D-I game left on the schedule this week? #mcla19
— MCLA (@MCLA) March 6, 2019
No. 2 South Carolina (5-0) at No. 6t Chapman (3-2), 1 p.m. – Saturday
This is a rematch of one of last year’s national semifinals that Chapman took, 16-9. The Panthers have played a loaded schedule that has handed them a pair of losses (to the current No. 1 and No. 3 teams in the country), but seemed to have figured some things out.
The Gamecocks have four ranked wins already and will have some revenge motivation when they arrive in Orange. On a neutral field, I’d probably take South Carolina, but the Panthers are cruising at home. Chaptown, 15-13.
View this post on InstagramOn our way to Nashville! Stay tuned for updates on our games against Grand Valley, Dayton, and Minnesota Duluth
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No. 1 Minn.-Duluth (2-0) vs. No. 9 Florida Gulf Coast (0-1), 1:30 p.m. – Saturday
Go back and take a look at the FGCU-St. Thomas quarterfinal game last year. That thing was close, as the Eagles took the Tommies to the wire. A lot of the key pieces are back, which makes this a promising year.
Scheduling plays a factor in this one. It’ll be FGCU’s third game in three days, and the weekend opener for the Bulldogs. If this was more of a level playing field in that regard, I could see taking a flyer on the Eagles, but the deck is stacked. UMD, 9-6.
View this post on InstagramThe #2 Tommies will strap their boots on tight as the team heads down to the Music City for three top 10 games this weekend! #rolltoms Friday, 3/8 vs #6 Grand Valley 2:30pm Saturday, 3/9 vs #5 Kennesaw State 4pm Sunday, 3/10 vs #8 Dayton 12:30pm All games at Vanderbilt University!
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No. 5 Kennesaw State (7-0) vs. No. 2 St. Thomas (1-0), 4 p.m. – Saturday
Whenever the Tommies are in the mix, you have to do some real intellectual gymnastics to somehow make them an underdog or pick against them. The cold, calculated approach that Brian Gross has instilled in his outfit is as unnerving to its opponents as it is to those contemplating picking against them.
This was a long-winded way of saying I’ll take the Tommies, although I do think this is the best version of Kennesaw State we’ve seen to date. UST, 13-8.
No. 14 Montana (1-3) at No. 11 College of Idaho (1-0), 12 p.m. – Sunday
This game got put off a week because of alleged travels issues from Nampa to Missoula. Not wanting the game to be canceled because they understood the importance of the contest, the Grizzlies opted to travel to COI. This is a repeat of last year’s PNCLL title game and likely a preview of this year’s edition.
The Griz are on a three-game skid thanks mostly to a trip to UMLC country, but this is a good team. The Yotes can score, which always makes them dangerous. Montana’s experience so far will be the difference. Griz, 11-10.
View this post on InstagramTomorrow. #MCLA19 #MCLA #SELC #volslax #govols #auburn #bama #alabamaweekend #roadtrip
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Slides & Rides
Georgia Tech and UConn are playing as the lead-in to the Yale-Michigan game at the Atlanta College Lacrosse Classic on Sunday. Live stream available through link…Arizona now has wins over No. 18 Santa Clara and No. 1 Michigan State. Not only will that get the Wildcats into the poll, but keep them on the committee’s radar. BYU up next on March 16…winner of the Cal Poly-Santa Clara tilt will pretty much lock up a WCLL tourney bid…New Hampshire ends its hibernation with a visit to Elon on Sunday...Nevada's Christopher Tatro is coaching his last home game with Nevada on Saturday. Thanks to him for all his time and effort with the Wolfpack.
Western Washington against Western Oregon used to be a monster. It’s lost a little bit of flavor of late, but one to keep an eye on…Colorado Mines opens up the season this weekend. What does Drew Larson and the Orediggers have in the cupboard this spring?...Same with Columbus State, who comes out of the gate with a divisional game against Coastal Carolina...Minn.-Duluth has control of the_mcla Snapchat account this weekend. Stop by and check it out.