Key questions

Men's College Lacrosse Preview

February 21, 2003|By PAUL MCMULLEN | PAUL MCMULLEN,SUN STAFF

What's new with the NCAA tournament?

Plenty. The final four will be held off campus for the first time, at Ravens Stadium. The Division I field has expanded from 12 to 16 teams. There are no predetermined sites for the first round; instead, eight teams will get home-field advantage. The Colonial Athletic Association met the standard for membership, so it becomes the seventh conference to qualify its champion, joining America East and the ECAC, Great Western, Ivy, Metro Atlantic and Patriot.

Did any twists accompany that expansion?

Yes. In the past, eight of the 12 teams were seeded, but the NCAA recently trimmed that number to four. Geography - for example, no jet travel - will be the first criterion in the opening round. The men's lacrosse committee wants to avoid conference or regular-season rematches, but now there may be no way around first-round games like Duke-North Carolina or Loyola-Towson.

Why are there so many new killer matchups?

Maryland opens tomorrow against Georgetown. Duke begins a series with Johns Hopkins. The NCAA has put a premium on strength of schedule, and coaches have seen that it may be preferable to go 7-6 against heady fare than 11-3 against lesser competition.

How many leading scorers does Maryland have?

Try four, although freshman Joe Walters could do the honors this spring. Midfielder Mike Mollot notched 46 points for the Terps last year. Brian Hunt is a post-grad whose final year of eligibility will be his College Park debut. He led Yale in scoring in 2001 but missed his senior season there with a broken leg. Joe Parker, another grad student, was Colgate's top point-getter last year and fellow midfielder Justin Smith transferred in after leading UMBC.

Did academic issues affect any teams?

Kyle Campbell totaled 87 goals for Towson the past two years, but he is ineligible and his college career is over. Loyola, conversely, got back Gunnar Goettelmann, who had 25 points in 2001 but had to sit out last season. They are also breathing easier in Syracuse, where Liam Banks is back after being ineligible last season and 2002 Player of the Year Mike Powell took care of the GPA that got him dismissed last summer.

Is the conference shuffle done?

No. The ECAC will probably lose two teams after this season. UMBC is exploring membership in America East for all sports, and Navy will likely move to the academy's all-sports league, the Patriot. Both locals would find easier access to the NCAAs, as they are in a futile chase of Georgetown and Massachusetts.

What's the new glamour position?

Want to start an argument among coaches? Ask their opinion of the best long-stick midfielder, the guys who shut down scoring threats, work wings on faceoffs and trigger fast breaks. Georgetown touts Kyle Sweeney, but the ECAC also has Penn State's Rob Bateman, Navy's Thomas Morris and UMBC's Greg Wojtech. Princeton has Joe Rosenbaum, Hopkins leans on Corey Harned, Virginia brags about Trey Whitty and Towson has Danny Cocchi.

What's the best league?

Princeton's rising tide raised the rest of the boats in the Ivy League. Yale howled about being left out of the NCAAs, and Cornell was a goal from the final four. Brown coach Scott Nelson said his team could finish anywhere from second to seventh. The ACC has four fine programs, but in the eyes of the NCAA that isn't enough to constitute a league or get an automatic qualifying spot.

Who's coaching the Mount St. Mary's team?

Mount St. Mary's coach Tom Gravante, who suffers from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, remains a patient at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where earlier this month he received a bone marrow transplant from his brother John. He communicates daily with his assistants, who also receive direction from athletic director Chappy Menninger. The date of Gravante's return is uncertain.

Should anyone else be in your thoughts?

It has not been a good year for two Ivy League goalies. Kyle Miller had planned to contend for the starter's job at Cornell, but he has bone cancer and had to withdraw from school. Yale veteran Eric Wenzel was among the injured in the horrific auto accident that took the lives of four Bulldogs athletes.

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