Teams take fight -- to field

Bickering men's teams duel today in 1st round

May 15, 1999|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The surprises. The fights. The counterattacks.

And that's just been the six days preceding the start of the NCAA Division I men's lacrosse tournament, which begins with first-round games today at Brown Stadium.

So what could the tournament possibly do for an encore? Perhaps, continue the shocking turn of events.

It's a tournament that has never fielded a team that began its championship parade in the first round since the field expanded to 12 teams in 1987. But it's the same tournament that has been won by a school named either Princeton or Syracuse the past seven times.

One trend, however, will dissolve by month's end. Not only does both Princeton and Syracuse play in the first round, but they will face each other today in the most anticipated opening-round game in tournament history.

"Both teams thought they would see each other in the tournament," Princeton coach Bill Tierney said. "But neither thought they'd see the other in the first round."

The unexpected pairing of No. 8 Syracuse and unseeded Princeton caused the biggest backlash at the lacrosse selection committee ever.

The fact that the winner advances to meet top-seeded Loyola, coupled with other debatable decisions, caused several coaches to grumble. Most of the accusations focused on Virginia coach Dom Starsia, a member of the selection committee whose Cavaliers received the most favorable draw of the top four seeds.

Starsia soundly dismissed the skeptics on Tuesday, firing back by saying the negative feedback was a result of "the committee not bending over backward to accommodate the traditional powers."

"I support Dom Starsia 100 percent," said Joe Boylan, Loyola athletic director who is in his first year as chairman of the lacrosse selection committee. "If anyone has an issue, it should be with me not Dom Starsia."

Joining this decade's two most decorated teams in the first round will be virtual tournament novices, at least by '90s standards.

Today's other matchup, No. 7 Hofstra vs. Navy, features teams that have advanced to the quarterfinals just once in the past 10 years. In fact, the Midshipmen received their first playoff invitation since 1994, when they lost to Brown here in Providence in the first round.

The schools squaring off tomorrow in Towson -- No. 5 Georgetown vs. Notre Dame and No. 6 Delaware vs. UMBC -- have combined for just two victories in 13 NCAA tournament games.

Although these schools mayhave little recent history in the playoffs, they do have vivid memories of each other because three of the four first-round games are regular-season rematches.

Here are the questions surrounding this weekend's games:

Can Princeton and Syracuse repeat their four-overtime classic from three weeks ago in which the Tigers won, 15-14, on a Josh Sims goal?

That game was the second in two days for both teams. The score was tied eight times, with neither team moving out to more than a one-goal lead for the final 43 minutes. But the Orangemen and the Tigers had a full week to prepare this time, which could result in a different pace.

"The emotion, the length and how it ended was amazing," Tierney said. "I think [preparation] will have an effect, but I'm not sure how. Maybe you got to know the other team better."

Can Navy negate the numerous possessions by Hofstra, one of the nation's top faceoff teams, and avenge an 8-7 loss to the Flying Dutchmen from April 16?

Hofstra won 12 of 18 draws that night and maintained a 49-29 ground-ball edge to limit the Midshipmen to 20 shots for the game.

"We feel like we've got to win 50 percent of the faceoffs," Navy coach Richie Meade said. "To give them that many opportunities to break, that's not playing to our advantage. We watched the film, and I haven't figured out why we were not aggressive as we normally are. We just did not attack the ball on the ground like we have done on other occasions. That's something we've had to think about."

Can Notre Dame slow down Georgetown's transition, which boosted the Hoyas to a 12-8 win on April 10?

"We're going to try to stop those situations," said coach Kevin Corrigan, whose Fighting Irish haven't allowed more than eight goals since that contest, "but I'm not sure if it's possible to do that."

And in the only first-round game that will be a first meeting this season, will UMBC alter its normal defensive scheme against Delaware's John Grant, the nation's leading scorer?

"Not really," Retrievers coach Don Zimmerman said. "From what we've seen, when other teams focus on Grant, the other guys do their thing. We're going to play together as a team on defense and stick to what we've done all season."

Men's NCAA tournament

(at Providence, R.I.)

Today's first-round games

No. 7 Hofstra (12-2) vs. Navy (7-6), noon

No. 8 Syracuse (9-4) vs. Princeton (9-3), 2: 45 p.m.

Pub Date: 5/15/99

Pub Date: 5/15/99

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