The field has expanded from 12 teams to 16, and will consist of seven league champions and nine at-large selections. The at-large competition includes independents Syracuse, Johns Hopkins and Loyola, the four Atlantic Coast Conference teams and select conference also-rans. Those hopefuls include the likes of Hofstra (Colonial), Penn State (ECAC) and Cornell and Yale (Ivy).
Here's how The Sun projects the field:
TOP FOUR SEEDS
No. 1 Princeton
Coach: Bill Tierney (16th season, 170-53; 19th season overall, 204-60).
2002 record: 10-5, NCAA finalist.
Top returning point-getter: Ryan Boyle, junior A (21 goals, 33 assists).
Also back: Sean Hartofolis, senior A (32, 8); Owen Daly, senior M (15, 6); Brad Dumont, senior M (22, 7); Josh White, senior M (18, 10); Joe Rosenbaum, senior LSM; Damien Davis, senior D; Brian Lieberman, senior D; Julian Gould, senior G (.591 save pct.).
Key additions: Tony Vita (Landon), freshman LSM.
Sun's take: After a 2-4 start, the Tigers didn't lose until Syracuse stopped them in the NCAA final. Boyle (Gilman) guides an offense that includes a midfield as deep and experienced as any. Davis (Gilman) and Lieberman are also among the veterans who started for the 2001 national champion. B.J. Prager, the top goal-scorer, graduated, but he'll be replaced by Jason Doneger, who was studying abroad last year. Daly, Dumont and Rosenbaum all prepped at McDonogh.
No. 2 Johns Hopkins
Coach: Dave Pietramala (third season, 20-6; sixth season overall, 43-23).
2002 record: 12-2, NCAA semifinalist.
Top returning point-getter: Bobby Benson, senior A (27, 13).
Also back: Kyle Barrie, sophomore A (23, 8); Peter LeSueur, sophomore A (12, 11); Kevin Boland, junior M (12, 19); Adam Doneger, senior M (21, 3); Kyle Harrison, sophomore M (62.2 faceoff pct.); Corey Harned, junior LSM; Michael Peyser, senior D; Rob Scherr, senior G.
Key additions: Joe Benson, freshman A (McDonogh); Matt Pinto, freshman D (Loyola).
Sun's take: Pietramala wants to take advantage of the Blue Jays' offensive depth and play a more up-tempo game. Bobby Benson is the quarterback, but Hopkins has an assortment of instigators at that end. Harrison was a revelation in 2002, when Hopkins earned the No. 1 seed, and he runs with Boland and Doneger on one of the game's more potent midfields. The defense, which is nursing some injuries, isn't as young as it looks, as Scherr (McDonogh) started in the goal two years ago.
No. 3 Virginia
Coach: Dom Starsia (11th season, 110-40; 21st season overall, 211-86).
2002 record: 11-4, NCAA semifinalist.
Conference: Atlantic Coast.
Top returning point-getter: Joe Yevoli, sophomore A (40, 10).
Also back: John Christmas, sophomore A (29, 15); Chris Rotelli, senior M (24, 10); A.J. Shannon, senior M (25, 10); Trey Whitty, senior LSM; Ned Bowen, senior D; Tillman Johnson, junior G.
Key additions: Matt Ward, freshman A (Landon); Kyle Dixon, freshman M (Spalding); Matt Poskay, freshman M.
Sun's take: Conor Gill's contribution went beyond 223 career points, as he guided the Cavaliers for four seasons, but Yevoli is willing and able to give direction. He and classmate Christmas are already one of the more dynamic attack combinations. There is also considerable firepower in the midfield, which is loaded in the senior and freshman classes. Starsia lacks a star defenseman, but Johnson is the best goalie he has ever coached. The ACC tournament is in Charlottesville.
No. 4 Syracuse
Coach: John Desko (fifth season, 55-11).
2002 record: 15-2, NCAA champion.
Top returning point-getter: Mike Powell, junior A (42, 42).
Also back: Liam Banks, senior A; Brian Nee, junior A (21, 9); Michael Springer, senior A (35, 13); Sean Lindsay, junior M; Joe Sabasteanski, sophomore LSM; Sol Bliss, senior D; Donn Vidosh, sophomore D; Jay Pfeifer, sophomore G.
Key additions: Brian Crockett, freshman A; Dan DiPietro, junior D (transfer from Hopkins).
Sun's take: Desko has holes to fill if the Orangemen are to rule for the third time in four seasons. The midfield talent levels off, and Player of the Year Powell again will be asked to run there some. Banks, who missed last season because of academics, returns to guide the offense. Pfeifer (Gilman) made enough big saves as a rookie starter, but graduation took All-America defenseman John Glatzel. The schedule brings Virginia, Hopkins and Princeton to the Carrier Dome in March.
OTHER AT-LARGE SELECTIONS
Coach: Scott Nelson (third season, 13-15; 18th season overall, 190-55).
2002 record: 7-7.