State pulls off seeding trifecta

Hopkins, Navy, Maryland 1-2-3 in men's lacrosse

Half of matchups are rematches

As advertised, big wins, tough schedules rewarded

May 11, 2004|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

Last year, there was an incorrect tournament bracket on the NCAA Web site, causing mass confusion among Division I men's lacrosse coaches. Two years ago, there was more talk about who was out of the NCAA tournament than who was in it.

Yesterday's tournament selections marked a return to normality. There were few surprises regarding the 16 teams chosen for the tournament, which starts this weekend at campus sites and will culminate Memorial Day at M&T Bank Stadium with the national championship game.

For the third straight year, Johns Hopkins garnered the tournament's top seed. Navy, Maryland and Syracuse followed in that order in a field that drew mostly praise from coaches.

Mount St. Mary's athletic director Chappy Menninger, who chaired the five-man committee that paired the six automatic qualifiers (conference winners) with 10 at-large selections yesterday, said all along that the committee would reward teams that had big wins and tough schedules.

Thus, Army, Pennsylvania and Rutgers, all of which beat other tournament teams during the regular season, are in while the bubble burst for teams like Massachusetts, Villanova and Notre Dame.

"UMass was just outside," said Menninger. "The thing that hurts them is they are 29th in their [Rating Percentage Index] and their strength of schedule is 19. Those are the things we harp on. Those games against the top 20 teams in the nation, you have to win them and you have to have them on your schedule."

"I thought the criteria that the tournament committee was given, the 16 teams were the ones that deserved it," said Maryland coach Dave Cottle, whose team got a third seed and will play Army in the first round Saturday night, and could be on a collision course with sixth-seeded Princeton in the quarterfinals in Charlottesville, Va. "No matter who wins, you're going to have to beat good teams. It's a well-balanced tournament."

With the selections announced yesterday instead of on Sunday as in years past, teams have one fewer day to prepare for their first-round opponent, but that shouldn't be much of a factor.

Familiarity exists in such first-round matchups as Ohio State-North Carolina, Albany-Syracuse, Cornell-Hobart and Rutgers-Princeton, all rematches from the regular season. Two of those games were this past weekend.

If the top seeds hold serve, two of the four possible quarterfinals will also be rematches, including a surprising pairing of top-seeded Johns Hopkins and North Carolina in Charlottesville, Va. The Blue Jays defeated the Tar Heels, 10-9, more than a month ago.

Menninger said some of the first-round pairings, like Albany at No. 4 seed Syracuse in the first round, were motivated by geography and keeping travel costs down. Only two first-round games (Providence at Johns Hopkins, Ohio State at North Carolina) require flights.

"We try to avoid conference matchups, but in doing so we ran into a situation where we have people playing teams that they just recently played," said Menninger.

Said Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala, whose team opens Saturday at Homewood Field: "It was very obvious that the committee was very regional with the whole process. I was a little surprised to see Carolina where they were, but it's something you can't control. You just have to play whoever is there."

Menninger said that Navy earned the No. 2 seed over Maryland and Syracuse because the Mids have two wins over top five teams. If the Mids beat Pennsylvania, one of three Ivy League teams in the draw, on Sunday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, it could set up a quarterfinal game with seventh-seeded Cornell.

That game will be at the Big Red's home field in Ithaca, N.Y.

"If you're worried about that kind of stuff, you're not worried about earning your way," said Navy coach Richie Meade. "If we're fortunate enough to get by Penn, we'll be happy just to have the chance to play anywhere.

"Plus, I know of a great restaurant in Ithaca."

Towson coach Tony Seaman also kept his sense of humor on a day that traditionally draws the ire of coaches. Seaman's Tigers, who claimed the automatic bid from the Colonial Athletic Association, will be at fifth-seeded Georgetown on Sunday. If they survive, fourth-seeded Syracuse, which has been to 21 straight final fours, would likely be on deck.

"I like the fact that we don't have to play the No. 1 or No. 2 team if we're fortunate to get to the quarters," Seaman said. "You'd rather be home and [Georgetown's Harbin Field] isn't exactly Wimbledon, but that's fine."

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