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April 22, 2021 — Who’s going to be in? Who’s going to be out?

Today, the conference tournament season for NCAA field hockey truly gets into gear with one championship and six pairs of semifinal matches to be played.

As we discussed earlier this week, the Division I bracket will be released this Saturday evening. There will be 12 teams in the tournament — nine conference champions and three at-large bids.

We know that Miami University is in the tournament through its regular-season record. We also know that no Ivy League team will be playing.

I think that six out of the seven tournaments being played will be of the highest stakes, in that only the champion will take the AQ bid to make the NCAA Tournament.

The only exceptions are the usual suspects: the Big Ten (which is playing its semifinals this evening) and the ACC (which is hosting a special one-game playoff tomorrow afternoon).

Here’s the thing. The usual punditry will say that the ACC, being the best league in the country, will send three teams to the tournament, and the Big Ten will send two.

I’m not so sure. Here’s why.

This year’s Division I field hockey data is not just from the spring season, but from the games the ACC played last fall, leading to UNC winning the conference tournament. As such, when the NCAA Tournament Committee looks at the last five or six games leading to the end of the season, the ACC teams which played well last fall will be judged more by the spring record.

As such, I think Louisville may be on the bubble. I say “may,” because that turns on whether Wake Forest wins the ACC playoff tomorrow against North Carolina. UNC, I think, is in the NCAA Tournament no matter what it does, while Wake, coming in with a record of 6-10, must win the game to make the tournament. If it does not, Louisville will take an at-large bid. Louisville is one of the highest-ranked ACC teams in Ratings Percentage Index (fifth) and strengh of schedule (eighth), but they were 4-2 in their last six games of the spring.

On the other hand, the Big Ten have seven of the top eight slots in FieldHockeyCorner.com’s Average Computer Ranking, which is 50 percent based on goal differential and 50 percent based on wins and losses. In addition, there are some very strong teams in the last four of the Big Ten tournament — top-seeded Michigan, the No. 2 team in the nation this week; an Iowa team which was the No. 2 in the country two weeks ago; a Northwestern team which was No. 4 two weeks ago; and an Ohio State team with U.S. international Mackenzie Allessie on it. Yhese four teams are extremely strong, and if Ohio State is able to win the AQ, that’s going to upset the Big Ten’s apple cart.

The identities of the three at-large teams will likely be determined in a 20-hour period beginning this evening. And a field hockey debate for the ages could ensue.

Let’s see what happens.

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