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Oct. 31, 2018 — The start of the carnival

Today, with the blowing of a whistle in Oxford, Ohio, and the familiar click of mulberry on plastic, the final stretch of NCAA Division I field hockey heading to Selection Sunday will occur as conference tournaments from Boston, Mass. to Palo Alto, Calif. will wind towards their conclusions.

At the end of the road, nine Automatic Qualifier (AQ) slots await, with eight at-large bids for the non-winners of these conference tournaments.

There has already been one AQ claimed, as Harvard has won the Ivy League with a game to spare. But the at-large scenario within the league could be determined by a pair of rivals located about 45 miles apart.

So, here’s our sub-optimal look at the five days (or, realistically 10 when you factor in the Big Ten play-ins last weekend) that will shape the rest of the season:

AMERICA EAST
Favorite: Stanford
Dark horses: Maine, Albany, Pacific
How many should get in: 1
How many will get in: 1
The skinny: The Cardinal have been the story in America East play this year, and have the nation’s leading scorer in Corinne Zanolli. There is a cluster of three teams in the America East all around the 0.56 percentile in Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), but I think only the champion of the tournament gets into the big dance.

ATLANTIC COAST
Favorite: North Carolina
Dark horse: Wake Forest
How many should get in: 4
How many will get in: 5
The skinny: It’s a matter of time before the ACC is supplanted as The Toughest Conference In The Country, but this year, it’s still the case. Indeed, even though they are in the headwaters of the national championship race, there are three good teams teetering on the edge of a .500 record — Virginia (8-8), Wake Forest (9-8), and Syracuse (8-7). Five ACC teams are hovering between 10th and 19th in RPI, and in tomorrow’s quarterfinal round, two games will feature two pairs of teams which are ranked right next to each other in RPI; Virginia vs. Boston College (13/14) and Louisville vs. Wake Forest (17/18).

ATLANTIC-10
Favorite: St. Joseph’s
Dark horse: Massachusetts
How many should get in: 1
How many will get in: 1
The skinny: Meet St. Joseph’s University, the best team in Philadelphia, the ancestral home of USA Field Hockey. Since a 6-3 loss to Duke in mid-September, the Hawks have rolled off 12 straight victories, including seven clean sheets. Yet, after all this work, it is entirely possible that they, like the rest of the A-10 teams in the tournament, face a lose-or-go-home scenario.

BIG EAST
Favorite: Connecticut
Dark horse: Liberty
How many should get in: 2
How many will get in: 1
The skinny:  Connecticut is in no matter what it does. Liberty, in its fourth season as a Big East member, gave UConn fits in losing 3-2 to the Huskies in 2016. The teams should meet again in the final, and if UConn wins again, Liberty may not have the non-conference resume, especially with a 2-1 loss against Longwood.

BIG TEN
Favorite: Maryland
Dark horse: Ohio State
How many should get in: 5
How many will get in: 3
The skinny: Is the Big Ten the Next Great Conference in Division I field hockey? Five of the top 12 teams in RPI are from the Big Ten (Maryland, Rutgers, Iowa, Michigan, Penn State). And this is how competitive the league is: two of these teams aren’t even playing this week, since Rutgers and Penn State lost in overtime to Ohio State and Iowa, respectively. I think this fact will cost the Knights and Nittany Lions come Selection Sunday. And, lest we forget, Ohio State next year welcomes in a cast of recruits which could reshape the entire league. But that’s for another time.

COLONIAL ATHLETIC
Favorite: Delaware
Dark horse: William & Mary
How many should get in: 1
How many will get in: 1
The skinny: National champions two years ago, the Blue Hens are the top seed in the CAA, and the only other team in the conference semifinals with a better than .500 record is William & Mary. Only the champion of this tournament will make the NCAA field.

IVY
Winner: Harvard
Dark horse: Penn
How many should get in: 2
How many will get in: 2
The skinny: Harvard has already clinched first place in the league by virtue of tiebreakers against both Penn and Princeton. But at noon Saturday at Bedford Field, the two second-place teams in the league will take on each other. However, I do not see very many scenarios which will allow the Quakers to get into the tournament as an at-large alongside Harvard. That’s because Princeton’s key wins all came in a six-day span in early September, with consecutive wins over Wake Forest, Penn State, and Duke. Penn, for its part, has just one win over a ranked team this season, and that was against a Wake Forest team way back in August.

METRO-ATLANTIC
Favorite: Monmouth
Dark horse: Rider
How many should get in: 1
How many will get in: 1
The skinny: Monmouth is the host and the highest-rated team (31st) in RPI. Only the champion will make the NCAA Tournament.

MID-AMERICAN
Favorite: Miami
Dark horse: Kent State
How many should get in: 1
How many will get in: 1
The skinny: Miami is the host and the highest-rated team (34th) in RPI. Only the champion will make the NCAA Tournament.

PATRIOT
Favorite: Boston University
Dark horse: American
How many should get in: 1
How many will get in: 1
The skinny: Boston University is the host and the highest-rated team (26th) in RPI. Only the champion will make the NCAA Tournament.

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