Coaches question Starsia's credibility

Peers say Virginia coach used position on committee to gain easier tourney draw

Men's notebook

May 12, 1999|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

This year's NCAA tournament field has spurred controversy as well as instigating some finger-pointing at the selection committee, specifically questioning Virginia coach Dom Starsia's credibility.

Starsia, a member of the selection committee, has been singled out because the No. 3 Cavaliers seemingly have the easiest road to the final four, according to several coaches. Virginia will play in the quarterfinals against the winner of No. 6 Delaware and UMBC, who have totaled no playoff wins in one previous NCAA tournament appearance each.

Meanwhile, top-seeded and undefeated Loyola could have to meet defending national champion Princeton at Princeton Stadium, and No. 2 Johns Hopkins may have to face Hofstra at Hofstra Stadium.

"I don't see any evidence of a personal agenda. I think people are giving me a lot more credit or blame than I deserve," Starsia said. "That I could manipulate a 12-member committee while sitting out of the room is beyond the fathom of believability. It comes down to the committee not bending over backward to accommodate the traditional powers."

What has drawn the anger of so many coaches is that the committee could have placed unseeded Princeton against Delaware, meaning Virginia could have had to battle the home-standing Tigers. Another scenario could have switched the Cavaliers to the fourth seed, where they could have drawn No. 5 Georgetown in the quarterfinals.

In several coaches' eyes, the committee's decisions favored Virginia but turned against the other top-seeded schools. Still, Starsia said he never voiced any opinion to the committee regarding the Cavaliers.

Princeton coach Bill Tierney, who did not mention Starsia or any other member by name, said to a New Jersey newspaper on Sunday after the field was announced, "The selection committee should be embarrassed. Politics like this couldn't happen in another sport. The basketball selection committee would be laughing at us."

He later added, "Anyone who says the committee wasn't out to get us is crazy. There seems to be a certain faction in that committee that seems to think you don't win a championship on the field. You win it in a board room."

But yesterday, Tierney said, "As you can imagine, two days later I have to be careful of what I say. We recognized what a hard job the committee has. To be very honest, I can say Loyola at 12-0 didn't have the best opportunity of the top four seeds like the top seed should."

Several other coaches, who wished not to be identified, pushed the argument further by saying Starsia used his power on the committee for his personal gain. Nevertheless, Starsia backed up the committee's selections and seedings based on the logic of top-notch victories.

"I'd be less than truthful if I didn't say the reaction of some people disappointed me," Starsia said. "My integrity and reputation has been built over 25 years of coaching college lacrosse. It was short-sighted of them. But I understand it was the emotion of the moment. I have had no problem sleeping over the selection of the teams."

Honoring Sopracasa

When Massachusetts defensive midfielder Eric Sopracasa died on May 6 after getting hit in the chest with a ball, many schools observed a moment of silence at their next game. At Hofstra, the No. 8 Flying Dutchmen (12-2) will try to keep his memory alive throughout the tournament, beginning with their first-round game against Navy (7-6).

Since its overtime win over Johns Hopkins, every Hofstra player has worn a sweatband on his legs, with No. 43 written on them -- the same way Sopracasa did. Two Flying Dutchmen, Joe Amplo and Doug Shanahan, were high school teammates of Sopracasa, who grew up in Farmingville, N.Y., a 45-minute drive from Hofstra.

Something has to give

In its second NCAA tournament appearance in school history, UMBC will be looking for a quick start against Delaware. Actually, change that to a quick stop.

The Retrievers, who have allowed a school-record low 7.9 goals per game, have shut out three of their past four opponents in the first quarter. For the season, UMBC (11-3) has limited the opposition to 23 first-quarter goals.

Delaware, however, has racked up an average of 15.1 goals a contest, second-best in the nation. The Blue Hens (13-2) have also outscored teams, 64-33, in the opening period.

"Our guys have had the benefit of being in this situation last year," UMBC coach Don Zimmerman said. "We learned from that. We're approaching this as a big game, but we're taking the emotion out of it. That's what got you here and what's going to help you continue playing."

More bad news for Terps?

Maryland, which did not receive an NCAA tournament invitation for the first time since 1990, could receive a second round of bad news this summer.

Terrapins offensive coordinator Scott Marr and junior defenseman Casey Connor were to be suspended by the NCAA for Maryland's first tournament game as a result of unsportsmanlike behavior in last season's championship game. Since the Terrapins will not play in this year's tournament, the suspensions could be carried over to next year or be waived. A decision will be made at the NCAA's summer meetings.

Stat of the week

Saturday's matchup of Syracuse vs. Princeton will be the biggest first-round game in NCAA tournament history. The two teams have combined to win 10 of the past 11 national championships, including the past seven, and 17 final four appearances since 1988. A look at how the Orangemen and the Tigers have fared in the past 11 tournaments:

Syracuse

First round 2-0

Quarterfinals 11-0

Semifinals 6-5

Championship 5-1

Princeton

First round 2-0

Quarterfinals 6-3

Semifinals 5-1

Championship 5-0

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