Midshipmen wait, want Lafayette in final

Memories of flop, recent flap motivate streaking, 22-5 Navy

Patriot League men

March 04, 2000|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

If Navy, which meets the winner of today's Colgate-Holy Cross matchup in a Patriot League tournament quarterfinal tomorrow, needed any more incentive heading into this weekend's tournament, Lafayette has provided it.

Already the Midshipmen (22-5) were on a mission to prove their 1999 flop was a fluke.

They got more incentive, thanks to a complaint from Lafayette that was at the center of a controversy which revolved around the tie-breaking settlement if two teams finished even in the quest for the tournament's No. 1 seeding -- as did Navy and Lafayette.

In previous seasons, a coin toss determined the top seed after all other tie-breaking procedures had been exhausted. The winner of the flip could opt for a first-round bye or being host to the title game.

But two years ago, Patriot League coaches recommended using the Rating Percentage Index (RPI) employed by the NCAA since 1981 to seed all teams for the national tournament and to supplement the selection of at-large teams. Three factors determine a team's RPI number: Division I winning percentage, strength of schedule, and strength of opponents' schedule.

The change was approved, but no option was mentioned, a hitch meaning that whichever team received the top seed would get both the bye and home-court advantage.

As this season evolved, it was obvious that Navy's and Lafayette's RPI numbers would be close. The Midshipmen were in control until the final week, ending with easy victories on the road against lowly ranked Lehigh and Army that didn't help them much statistically. Then, when Lafayette won last Sunday at Bucknell, which had a slightly better RPI number than the Leopards', its RPI figure nudged ahead of Navy's, 132-129.

Under the method adopted two years ago, that would have meant Lafayette got both the bye and its home court.

But in the interim, Lafayette officials approached Patriot League executive director Carolyn Schlie Femovich, who arranged a conference call among the athletic directors to clarify the tie-breaking policies.

Their interpretation was that the team with the higher RPI number (Lafayette) would have a choice of the bye or the title-game site, the other advantage going to the team with the lower total (Navy). Lafayette chose the home court.

Lehigh's Joe Sterrett, chair of the Patriot athletic directors, said the league's interpretation "of the current written policy is correct. However, it became evident in the past week that the intent of the rule differed from the way it was written. Maintaining a choice was an important consideration.

"In the spirit of fairness and equity for the student-athletes, [we]accepted a proposal, recommended by Dr. Eve Atkinson of Lafayette and Jack Lengyel of Navy, to award the team with the higher RPI the choice of the first seed or the home court for the championship game."

The irony is that Lafayette could have had both edges by waiting for the final RPI list. Now, while Navy waits, the Leopards will play out of the No. 2 seed and meet No. 7 Army in the first round.

Still, the maneuvers, initiated by Lafayette's query, didn't sit well with Navy coach Don DeVoe, who said he "doesn't like the fact that it [the initial agreement] could be changed to suit their [Lafayette] needs. But there is not much we can do about it."

Except win.

And the Midshipmen, who have won 12 straight, are positioned for that despite having to play at Lafayette if both reach the championship game. If the Leopards stumble along the way, Navy would play host to the final, provided it wins tomorrow.

Last season, second-seeded Navy suffered an embarrassing 53-45 defeat to No. 7 Lehigh in the quarterfinals, shooting only 22.4 percent from the floor.

"It took a long time for us to be able to believe it," said Navy center Sitapha Savane. "We went into spring break after that, and we had a week off to think about nothing else. We just replayed that game in our heads over and over -- bad passes, bad shots.

"That has been my most disappointing moment at Navy. There has never been any comparison to that loss. The whole time, we had done nothing but win and win, then that. Maybe we just became a little complacent."

DeVoe is not sure the first-round bye is advantageous.

"Sometimes, byes are not as great as you might think," he said. "A team that has played the day before is in game form, and you're a little sluggish."

Navy had a tough game at home against bench-short Holy Cross on Feb. 19, straining to win, 58-51, but crushed Colgate, 81-47, in the preceding game.

Just the thought of another shot at Lafayette will probably be enough motivation to get to the tournament finale. That's where the real grudge lies.

Patriot League men

When: Today-tomorrow; championship game March 10 at site of higher-seeded team

Where: Allan P. Kirby Sports Center, Easton, Pa.

TV: Navy on Comcast-Annapolis, 4 p.m. tomorrow vs. winner of today's Colgate-Holy Cross game

Radio: WNAV (1430 AM)

Defending champion: Lafayette

Favorite: Navy and Lafayette are co-choices after running through the regular season with 11-1 records and splitting with each other. The Leopards have the home court; Midshipmen have the first-round bye.

Dark horse: Only third-seeded Bucknell seems capable of breaking through the top two, and that is considered a long shot.

MVP candidate: Depending on which team wins the tournament, Navy's Sitapha Savane and Lafayette's Brian Ehlers are the front-runners. Ehlers leads the league in scoring (17.7 ppg), is second in assists and fifth in steals. Savane is right behind Ehlers in scoring (17.2) and is Navy's most successful defensive center since David Robinson.

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