Princeton up against it on trip to New York

Cornell, Syracuse games critical for tourney hopes

Notebook

April 22, 1999|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Princeton's run as three-time defending champion may end this weekend.

Sure, it's still 2 1/2 weeks until the NCAA tournament seedings are announced, but the Tigers' two-game, two-day swing into central New York could determine their playoff fate. With its only nonconference win over Rutgers, Princeton desparately needs a victory Sunday at Syracuse to secure a bid.

But the Tigers won't prepare a second for the Orangemen, opting to focus on Saturday's opponent, Cornell, which will determine the Ivy League champion.

"We haven't mentioned the word Syracuse," said coach Bill Tierney, who has scheduled games on consecutive days only once in his 12 seasons at Princeton and will play host to Syracuse next season as part of a two-year agreement. "To be honest, it's a daunting task. But we're looking at Cornell. When you're an Ivy League school, you look at winning the Ivy League championship."

The Tigers (5-3) had the worst start of any defending champion in Division I history when they opened 0-3, losing to Johns Hopkins, Virginia and North Carolina by a combined five goals.

Princeton has since won five straight, but none would qualify as a significant victory. The other bubble teams at this point -- Hofstra, Penn State, UMBC, Navy and North Carolina -- all have at least one quality win and could bump Princeton out if they win their remaining games.

So does Tierney believe the Tigers must sweep this weekend to make the tournament?

"No, I don't feel that way," he said. "Look at our strength of schedule and the margin of our three losses. But I think our approach to our kids is that we got to win both."

Getting serious

This weekend's Atlantic Coast Conference tournament will prove if the regular season contained some flukes or truths.

Is Maryland's offense really as bad as when the Terrapins managed just one goal in the final 54 minutes against Virginia on April 3? And is North Carolina really a goal better than top-seeded Duke or was that result eight days ago between these rivals misleading?

"I'd be lying if we weren't excited for a chance to clear our record," Duke midfielder Scott Diggs said. " Everyone is happy for another opportunity at the guys down the street."

Battle in Midwest

The only certainty in the Midwest this year is that two teams will be very unhappy in May. Creating the most highly contested race ever for the automatic Midwest bid, Butler, Ohio State and Notre Dame each have legitimate claims for the spot, but only one will be selected.

So, try to sort out the mess facing the NCAA committee:

Butler (7-5) has beaten Ohio State by eight goals, has three losses against Top 10 teams and has out-of-conference wins over Massachusetts and Lehigh.

Ohio State (6-3) has beaten Notre Dame by a goal, has two losses against Top 10 teams and has out-of-conference wins over Rutgers and Stony Brook.

Notre Dame (6-5) has beaten Butler by a goal, has three losses against Top 10 teams and has out-of-conference wins over Hobart and Army.

Although the Fighting Irish and the Bulldogs can separate themselves from Ohio State on the basis of stronger schedules, the non-scholarship Buckeyes have made a case by winning three of their last four and could finish with a region-best 10 victories in the regular season.

Mids try again

Navy's oldest rivalry probably seems like its longest.

The No. 13 Midshipmen will meet No. 2 Johns Hopkins for the 70th time on Saturday in a series that dates to 1908, and will attempt to end a 24-game string of losses to the Blue Jays. Navy's last win against Hopkins came in 1974, handing legendary Blue Jays coach Bob Scott his final loss.

Hopkins then proceeded to win its last four games that year for its first NCAA national championship as Scott triumphantly closed out his 20-year career.

May not for Jays

Maybe Johns Hopkins should petition to schedule the NCAA tournament a month earlier.

The Blue Jays, who haven't claimed a national title since 1987, have won 17 straight games in April and have lost just five times in the month over the past six years. However, Hopkins has an 8-9 record during that span in May, failing to win a tournament game the past two seasons.

Stat of the week

North Carolina, which plays host to the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament this weekend, has lost 11 of its 12 conference games since winning the league championship in 1996. From 1988 to 1996, the Tar Heels won 34 of their 42 ACC games, recording as many ACC titles (eight) as conference defeats during that stretch. A look at how Carolina has fared in the league since its 1996 ACC championship:

Yr Opponent Result

'97 at Duke L, 8-7

'97 at Maryland L, 13-12*

'97 at Virginia L, 20-5

'97 at Virginia-x L, 17-13

'98 vs. Duke L, 13-9

'98 vs. Maryland L, 12-11

'98 vs. Virginia L, 14-5

'98 vs. Maryland-x L, 13-8

'98 vs. Duke-y L, 16-14

'99 at Maryland L, 13-7

'99 at Virginia L, 17-14

'99 at Duke W, 10-9

xACC first round

yNCAA first round

*overtime

Pub Date: 4/22/99

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