Despite being ranked No. 1 in both the USILA coaches’ poll and the Inside Lacrosse media poll, the North Carolina men’s lacrosse team received the fifth seed in the NCAA tournament.
The Tar Heels will open their playoff run against No. 11 seeded Lehigh—a team that beat them in a one-goal game last year during the regular season.
Because the Tar Heels were ranked at the top of both polls and third in RPI, many expected that the team could get seeded no lower than a four seed in the NCAA tournament.
Though UNC was awarded a puzzling fifth seed, the Tar Heels aren’t complaining about the draw.
“That doesn’t really effect us in any way,” Junior R.G. Keenan said. “We’re just happy to have the opportunity to go out and play.”
“We know how good we are.”
Senior captain Marcus Holman said he doesn’t think UNC ended up with the short end of the stick, and added that, considering criteria such as strength of schedule and RPI, the Tar Heels can’t complain about their placement.
“The four teams in front of us had better numbers than us,” Holman said. “We really don’t have an argument when you look at those numbers.”
For the Tar Heels, the seeding isn’t an insult— it’s motivation.
Though the Tar Heels found a way to climb the rankings throughout the season to eventually land the top spot in both polls, UNC has played like its had something to prove all season long.
“Nobody has given us a chance all year,” coach Joe Breschi said. “You can certainly embrace that and do with it what you will.”
Keenan was an All-American last year, but UNC hasn’t been able to duplicate the same success at the face-off X this season.
Though Keenan has been a constant for the Tar Heels, his level of performance has been anything but.
Keenan knows that he’ll have to step up in the postseason if the Tar Heels are going to make a deep run.
“This has been an up and down year,” Keenan said. “Giving the ball to our offense is so important. We know how good we are there. I’ve just got to do my job.”
In UNC’s three losses this season Keenan had a combined 26 face-off wins in 58 tries, giving his team possession less than 45 percent of the time.
When the Tar Heels won this season, Keenan controlled about 55 percent of his face-offs and occasionally joined in on the scoring. In 12 wins this season, Keenan recorded four goals on fast break opportunities as a result of his face-off wins.
“Anytime you look at the face-off X, it’s such a key part because it’s possession,” Breschi said. “Both offenses are very good so you’re going to try to give yourself, unless it’s 50-50, more possession than your opponent.”
If Keenan can successfully get the ball to the offensive end, there’s no doubt that Tar Heels have their opponents exactly where they want them— on their heels.
When the Tewaaration Trophy Finalist list was revealed, it came as no surprise that UNC’s All-ACC senior was one of the five names.
Holman saved his best year for last, but to get the Tewaaraton Trophy, it may take a full team effort.
“Truthfully, it’s just as much a team award as it is an individual award,” Holman said. “In the past, guys that have won the award have had great team success.”
The Tewaaraton Award is given to the most valuable player in the nation, but more often than not, the selection committee decides that MVP status is strongly correlated with tournament wins.
“He’s going to have great games,” Breschi said. “It’s really going to be determined based on how far we go as a program in the NCAA tournament.”
Breschi said that there are different ways to interpret the meaning of a most valuable player award and that it’s ultimately up to the committee to choose which interpretation to use.
“It’s a committee that makes the final decision whether it’s a team award for the hottest team,” Breschi said. “Or the overall best player.”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.