Anyone's game

This weekend, 16 teams begin the road to the final four, which will be held at M&T Bank Stadium starting May 26

Ncaa Men's Lacrosse Tournament

May 08, 2007|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN REPORTER

If the encroaching parity in college men's lacrosse asserts itself in the NCAA tournament, it's going be a perilous ride for a number of favorites, starting with this weekend's first-round games.

The danger signs seem clear for schools such as Albany and Maryland.

The fifth-seeded Great Danes, who have had their best season at Division I, have never won a playoff game at that level, and they will face an athletic, unselfish, senior-laden Loyola team that could win a shootout in its first postseason game since 2001.

Maryland, the No. 7 seed, is 24-4 against UMBC overall and beat the Retrievers by four goals March 17. But that was before UMBC, 0-3 in the Division I tournament, went on a six-game winning streak by shoring up its defense and turning loose a trio of 30-goal scorers on attack, Drew Westervelt, Andy Gallagher and freshman Cayle Ratcliffe. That was before Maryland lost its second top-line defensive midfielder, senior Jimmy Borell, who is out for the season with a broken ankle.

Terps coach Dave Cottle sees potential trouble ahead for him and others. Like No. 6 Georgetown, which has to contend with unseeded, dangerous Princeton on Sunday. The Tigers have probably the best defense in the game, anchored by first-team All-America goaltender Alex Hewit, and coach Bill Tierney has six national titles behind him.

"[UMBC] has really improved. They've got seniors [such as Westervelt and Gallagher] who are very talented," Cottle said. "This is a game that, if we don't play well, we're going to lose. Every game in the first round is scary. You've seen [upsets] all year long."

Cottle then looked at the top of the bracket and added, "Duke looks like they're OK."

The top-seeded Blue Devils, who have the best one-two scoring punch in the game in attackmen Matt Danowski and Zack Greer, open against Providence, the champion of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and the only tournament team with a losing record.

The Blue Devils should be able to name the score against the Friars, then move on to a quarterfinal date May 20 at Navy. Unless the Midshipmen beat No. 8 seed North Carolina for the second time this season, that could be the site of what looks like another Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. It's the first time the entire ACC has made the NCAAs since 1998.

If Maryland avoids an upset by UMBC, the Terps figure to get a third crack at Virginia, the defending national champion led by junior attackman Ben Rubeor, the best player this side of Danowski.

But it all comes back to Duke, which has so much going for it, starting with college lacrosse's equivalent of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. The Blue Devils, who dropped the 2005 title game by a goal to Johns Hopkins, have excellent speed, balance, a fine goalie in Dan Loftus, a strong transition game and a nine-game winning streak.

And a year after its season was shut down prematurely and 16-year coach Mike Pressler resigned under pressure - after a team party that led to rape and sexual offense charges that have since been dismissed against three former players -you think there is a team with more burning motivation in the field?

"We're trying not to rely on that," Duke coach John Danowski said. "We don't want to think anybody owes us anything. This is something you've got to earn. We've been extremely well-balanced, in the classroom, in the weight room, at practice, on the field. Losing [twice early] focused them. We've used it as a tool to get better."

Duke might be the only team that can stop undefeated Cornell, which is seeking to win the school's first national title since 1977, also the last time the Big Red finished unbeaten. Cornell has talented seniors everywhere, led by attackmen David Mitchell and Eric Pittard, defenseman Mitch Belisle and goalie Matt McMonagle, who was the difference in a 7-6 victory at Duke on March 20.

On the surface, Cornell deserved better than a No. 4 seed, but strength of schedule (see weak Ivy League) and resulting Rating Percentage Index hurt the Big Red. Still, Cornell should navigate its way to M&T Bank Stadium on Memorial Day weekend and a date with the Blue Devils in the semifinals May 26.

"I don't think anything was unfair or unjust for Cornell. I don't think anything more or less of where we're seeded," Cornell coach Jeff Tambroni said. "Every team we play looks like a tough team. You have to make the most of your opportunity, regardless of who's in front of you."

Men's Q&A

Questions and answers about the NCAA men's lacrosse field:

Who has a gripe about not making the tournament?

Colgate and Drexel, each 11-5, got nosed out, but Colgate ultimately didn't beat enough quality teams and Drexel blew its chance in the semifinals of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament.

Among the 16 teams, who got penalized the most?

Cornell is the only unbeaten team in Division I, and the Big Red beat Duke in Durham, N.C. But strength of schedule and Rating Percentage Index issues dropped the Big Red to a No. 4 seed.

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