As the Loyola College basketball team left today for Albany, N.Y., and the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament this weekend, there was an air of excitement that hasn't been felt at Evergreen for a long time.
Despite the success Loyola has enjoyed in recent years in lacrosse and soccer, Loyola is a basketball school -- or at least it was until recent years -- or until the Greyhounds had four losing seasons before this one.
Well, Loyola is rolling now. The team finished its regular season, winning nine of 11 games. It has won six in a row and will go for No. 7 when it plays Iona at noon Saturday (Channel 45).
And there's more. Loyola has a realistic chance of getting into the NCAA's 64-team championship tournament for the first time in the school's history. It's in, if it wins three games in the MAAC tournament. (The championship game Monday night at 7.30 will be broadcast on ESPN).
"We've beaten every team in the conference this year," says Loyola athletic director Joe Boylan. "Naturally we have a lot of confidence going into the tournament now. There's nobody we can't beat."
Boylan, who was an assistant to coach Tom Young when Rutgers went to the Final Four in 1976, knows first hand what it means to a school to do well in the NCAA tournament. But as a basketball man, he also knows the pitfalls between where Loyola is now and playing in the NCAA's on March 19 or 20.
"If we get by Iona in this first game, we've got a shot," Boylan says, "but I'm worried about Iona. They're very physical. They can break you down."
Loyola beat Iona here last Saturday. And the night before last Iona was hammered, 76-52, by fellow MAAC member Fairfield. Loyola should beat Iona.
If the Greyhounds should go to the NCAA's, they will not enjoy the kind of financial bonanza first-round teams have had in recent years.
"It used to be," says Boylan, "that a school got between $200,000 and $250,000 for losing in the first round. Now the NCAA gives the money to your league and it's distributed on a rolling basis. It's divided eight ways and three years from now you might get $50,000 or $60,000."
That's not all Loyola is shooting for this weekend, though. The Hounds want to validate themselves as a legitimate basketball school. This is the time of year schools can do such a thing.
* The big mystery of the college lacrosse pre-season -- the time when the schools hold practice scrimmages every weekend -- is Princeton, which opens Johns Hopkins's regular season here Saturday.
Coach Bill Tierney's Tigers missed making last year's NCAA Final Four when they lost in overtime to Towson State. They graduated only four players. They were expected to pick up where they left off.
But Princeton has had four scrimmages and lost all but one with Army. The Tigers have lost to Navy, Delaware and Loyola.
"We have a lot of guys hurt," says Tierney -- and he lists Mike Mariano, the long-stick midfielder who would play Hopkins' Adam Wright; Ed Caulkins, who scored 22 goals last year but dislocated his hip the first day of practice and may be out for the year; and veteran Torr Marro, out with a bruised thigh.
"We're just not playing very well," says Tierney. "The injuries are only part of it. We're working too hard to score goals, and we're giving up too many easy goals."
Don't take all this to mean that Princeton has no chance at Hopkins. The Tigers still have a lot of talent, including sophomore Scott Bacigalupo, from St. Paul's, who was second team All-America last year. Princeton-Hopkins will be a battle.
* Sports fans must wonder exactly what it means when a high school student has to score at least 700 on the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) in order to play college athletics, a score some can't achieve even with several tries.
Francis X. Dealy Jr., explains in his book, "Win at Any Cost, the Sellout of College Athletics," that to get a 700 a youngster has to answer only 35 of the 145 questions correctly. The student gets 400 points for signing his name. A kid who can't score 700, it should be obvious, doesn't belong in college. Junior college, maybe.
* In the wake of Ryne Sandberg's becoming baseball's first $7 million man this week, Baltimore's favorite, Jose Canseco, said this:
"Nobody can complain about my salary any more. I'm probably one of the poorest guys in baseball now, the way things are escalating."
Canseco earns $5 million a year.