There are two things people don't seem to understand about the field for the NCAA Final Four lacrosse championships this weekend at Syracuse:
1. How good Towson State has been all year. Some experts, even before the season, picked TSU to win it all.
2. How good Syracuse has become while winning 10 straight since losing to Hopkins March 23.
Maybe some people still think of Towson as a small teachers' college on York Road. No doubt many view TSU as a perennial also-ran in lacrosse. Others were thrown off by the Tigers' No. 11 seeding.
Make no mistake, Towson State is for real and has some of the very best players in the country. There's no better midfielder anywhere than Rob Shek; no defensive player better at taking the ball away from an opponent than Steve Kisslinger, the transfer from Adelphi; no one with a harder shot than Glenn Smith. I'm picking Towson to knock off No. 7 seed Maryland in the semifinals Saturday.
As for Syracuse, Arly Marshall, who coached the U.S. team to the World Championship last summer, has an interesting theory.
"The Syracuse players were traumatized by the loss of the Gait twins [Gary and Paul]," says Marshall, who also coaches the Maryland Lacrosse Club. "At the start of this season when they lost to North Carolina and Hopkins they were still trying to figure out how they were going to win without the Gaits. Now they've figured it out."
"That's just about the way it was, too," says Roy Simmons, who has coached Syracuse to the last three NCAA championships.
With Syracuse in the Final Four, good attendance is assured. If Syracuse is in the title game Monday, there should be 20,000 in the Carrier Dome. If the Orangemen aren't in it, the crowd will be half that.
Both NCAA semifinals could go either way, but I think the large, enthusiastic home crowd will spur No. 5 Syracuse to an upset victory over No. 1 and undefeated North Carolina. I have a feeling the Orange will go all the way to a fourth straight title.
"I like Carolina," counters Hopkins assistant coach John Haus, who happens to be a Carolina grad. "Check the statistics and you'll see that Carolina out ground balls every opponent, 2-1. If you have the ball twice as much as your opponent, you ought to win."
One good thing about this year's tournament compared to the last three: It's wide open. In the Gait era, people felt in the preseason they knew who'd win the title. Now with the Final Four two days away, no one is very sure about anything.
A Final Four oddity: All four starting goalies went to junior collegbefore switching to their present schools. Maryland's Steve Kavovit went to Herkimer, in Central New York. The other three -- Towson's Richard Betcher (who was a two-time All-America), Carolina's Andy Piazza and Syracuse's Jerry DeLorenzo -- attended Nassau Community College on Long Island.
* Towson State's athletic program is hard to understand. The school's basketball, baseball and lacrosse teams made the NCAA tournaments and the women's gymnastics team is one of the best in the country. Yet Towson struggles financially just to keep football alive and now is even looking for a new conference to join.
* The University of Virginia had five teams ranked No. 1 in the country at one time or another this year. Only women's lacrosse finished No. 1.
Virginia's football team was ranked No. 1 for the first time ever -- and then lost its final three games. Quarterback Shawn Moore, who was a leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy, wound up being drafted in the 11th round by Denver.
* Hawk O'Brien sends word that five of our town's former soccer greats -- does everyone realize that Baltimore has a rich soccer tradition? -- will be inducted in the Old-timers Soccer Association of Maryland Hall of Fame tomorrow night (7:30) at Overlea Hall. The inductees: John Hart, Chris Hohenstein, Eddie Jobbs, Billy Bryant and Larry Surock.
* Baseball question: How come the Detroit pitchers aren't complaining about the catching of Mickey Tettleton the way the Orioles pitchers did? The way some of the Orioles pitch, they shouldn't complain about anybody.