In SLC D-I, the real playoff races might be for No. 3 seed

Ryan Barman, UCLA
UCLA is trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011.

With about a month left in the regular season, it’s a good time to take a look at how the playoff races are shaping up in the Southwest Lacrosse Conference’s two divisions.

It’s hard to see anyone besides Chapman or UC Santa Barbara winning the North. No one else has in eight years, going all the way back to the pre-SLC days, when UCLA and UCSB tied for first place in the Western Collegiate Lacrosse League in 2006.

Likewise, it’s hard to see anyone knocking of Arizona State in the South, though the Sun Devils did fall to Grand Canyon late in the season last year to give the Lopes the South title. The two face off again April 19 in a game that likely will determine the top two seeds from the South.

If the top spot or two already appear to be spoken for, the real battle then, is for the third and final playoff berth (assuming the SLC uses the same playoff format as in years past). If that’s the case, UNLV and UCLA appear to be the best candidates to claim that berth out of the North, while the University of San Diego is in surprisingly good position in the South.

Here’s a look:

Brandon Edgell, UNLV
Senior attack Brandon Edgell leads the UNLV offense.

Division I
SLC North
UC Santa Barbara (9-2, 3-0): Back-to-back division games April 5-6 against Claremont and at UCLA could set the stage for the annual showdown with Chapman for the division title April 19.

Currently ranked No. 9 in the MCLA coaches poll, the Gauchos own wins over currently ranked teams Sonoma State (No. 12), Cal Poly (14), Stanford (18) and Cal (25) but have lost to current No. 7 Grand Canyon and No. 16 Westminster. They play at BYU today.

Chapman (5-4, 2-0): The Panthers stacked their schedule early — LaxPower has Chapman’s schedule as the second-toughest in the nation in its strength of schedule ratings — and paid for it, losing four of their first five. All four were to teams currently ranked in the Top 25, though — Colorado, Boston College, Arizona State and Sonoma State — and Chapman has won four in a row since, including a 6-5 win over defending champion and current No. 6 Colorado State last weekend.

The Panthers still have eight games to play, including four in the SLC North and three more non-conference games against ranked opponents — at No. 11 Texas and No. 19 Texas State this weekend, and at No. 14 Cal Poly on April 13. And then there’s the closer — at UC Santa Barbara on April 19.

UNLV (5-6, 2-1): Five of the Rebels’ six losses have been by two goals or less (the other was 23-5 vs. Arizona State), and four of them have been to teams currently ranked (a fifth was to San Diego State, which has been listed among “others receiving votes” all season). UNLV faces more ranked teams this week: at No. 2 Colorado, at No. 6 Colorado State and against No. 15 Davenport (Grand Rapids, Mich.) in Westminster, Colo.

After that gauntlet, it’s three consecutive division games that should determine playoff viability, though all are on the road in the L.A. area — at UCLA (April 4), at Chapman (April 6) and at Loyola Marymount (April 13). The UCLA game is key, because the Bruins are neck and neck with the Rebels for the third playoff spot.

UCLA (5-4, 1-1): All four of UCLA’s losses have come against teams currently ranked in the Top 25 — No. 18 Stanford, No. 14 Cal Poly, No. 9 Chapman and No. 25 Cal.

The Bruins finish with four straight division games, starting with the visit from UNLV on April 4. UCLA has lost to the Rebels only once in the four seasons since UNLV moved up from Division II. The winner of that game has the inside track on the No. 3 seed, though UCLA still has to play UCSB, LMU and USC.

Chris Malone, Arizona State
Coach Chris Malone and the Sun Devils are undefeated entering SLC play.

SLC South
Grand Canyon (8-2, 2-0): The Lopes, currently ranked No. 7 with losses only to Colorado State and Chapman, won the SLC South last year, upsetting Arizona State 14-13 in the second-to-last game of the regular season. This year might come down to the same scenario — the teams meet at ASU on April 19.

Arizona State (10-0, 0-0): The No. 1-ranked Sun Devils have saved all their division games for last. Starting Friday, they finish at San Diego, at Arizona, home vs. San Diego and home for the big one against Grand Canyon on April 19.

San Diego (6-4, 1-1): The Toreros own an important win over Arizona from back in February, which will be key in determining the No. 3 seed from the South. If you assume a loss to Arizona State this Friday (no one has beaten the Sun Devils so far), then San Diego would have to beat San Diego State on April 18 to finish 2-2 in the division and own tiebreakers over Arizona and SDSU. Barring other upsets, that should be enough.

Arizona (9-3, 0-1): The early loss to USD hurts, because the No. 13 Wildcats still must face rival No. 1 Arizona State and No. 7 Grand Canyon. Unless they can pull off an upset in one of those games, they’re looking at a 1-3 finish in the division, at best.

San Diego State (7-3, 0-1): The Aztecs have four non-conference games to prep for a tough back-to-back weekend in Arizona on April 11-12 — at Arizona on Friday night and at ASU on Saturday afternoon. An upset victory in one of those games likely would mean the No. 3 seed would come down to the winner of the San Diego at SDSU game on April 18.