Focus on the field

Men's NCAA tournament

May 06, 2008|By EDWARD LEE | EDWARD LEE,SUN REPORTER

If UMBC men's lacrosse coach Don Zimmerman is as angry as Retrievers fans are, he's not showing it.

Despite winning 11 consecutive games and the America East championship, UMBC (12-3) was awarded a first-round NCAA tournament game at second-seeded Virginia (12-3) on Sunday at 5 p.m.

Meanwhile, Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champion Canisius (10-5) got a better matchup and will meet third-seeded Syracuse (12-2).

Internet message boards are lighting up with outcries over the Retrievers' seeding, but Zimmerman isn't overreacting.

"The committee has a tough job," he said. "They seed the top eight teams, and I guess after that, they do it geographically. It is what it is. You've got to play good teams to win the championships and we're facing a very good team in the first round. That's how we're approaching it, and our focus is to get ready and be as good of a lacrosse team as we can be this Sunday down in Charlottesville."

UMBC has beaten three NCAA tournament qualifiers in seventh-seeded Maryland, Ohio State and Denver, but the Retrievers' Rating Percentage Index of 16 was better only than those of Eastern College Athletic Conference champion Loyola (21) and Canisius (32). UMBC's strength of schedule rated 36th, beating only Canisius' (48).

"They use that in the equation, and it obviously holds a lot of weight," Zimmerman said of RPI and strength of schedule. "I'm a guy who believes that what happens on the field should take precedence. The coaches and the players get out there and for 60 minutes, they go after one another. You have a winner and a loser, and I've always felt that's the best way to judge it.

"There's different criteria that the NCAA committee looks at. They have their job to do. We have ours to do."

Here are some more observations about the bracket:

Biggest snub

A 9-4 record and a victory over top-seeded Duke (the Blue Devils' only loss of the season) weren't enough to get Georgetown into the tournament.

The Hoyas also beat Navy in overtime March 29, but their quality wins weren't enough to mask an RPI of 18 and an even weaker strength of schedule rated 23rd.

"The criteria we were given to select them, it didn't allow us to get close enough to talk about those wins," said Maryland coach Dave Cottle, a member of the selection committee who emphasized that he was speaking only for himself. "I think the league RPI was really down. The best RPI in the league [outside of Georgetown] was 21 with three teams over 37. Their league [the ECAC] fell apart on them RPI-wise."

Toughest road to final four

The selection committee did not make it easy for fifth-seeded Johns Hopkins (8-5) to become the first repeat as national champion since Princeton won three straight from 1996 to 1998.

The Blue Jays host Colonial Athletic Association champion Hofstra, which upended Johns Hopkins, 8-7, in overtime March 8 -- the opening loss of a five-game slide that threatened to deny the Blue Jays their 37th consecutive tournament appearance .

Should Johns Hopkins get past the Pride (10-5), its quarterfinal opponent would be fourth-seeded North Carolina (8-5) -- which thumped the Blue Jays, 13-8, on March 29 -- or Navy (9-5) -- which will be eager to avenge a 12-5 loss April 19.

"Everybody has a tough road to the final four," coach Dave Pietramala said. "We can't afford to look beyond tomorrow or Hofstra."

Easiest road to final four

"Easiest" is a bit of a misnomer, but Virginia's path doesn't seem to cross the minefield other teams might be forced to navigate.

UMBC brings an 11-game winning streak and confidence stemming from back-to-back comeback wins, but the Cavaliers won't have to deal with junior attackman Ryan Smith, who is out with a torn right anterior cruciate ligament.

The quarterfinal could involve Maryland (9-5) or Denver (10-6). Virginia split the season series with the Terps, winning the most recent meeting in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament April 25. The Pioneers are only 2-3 on the road.

Final four dark horse

Duke enters the tournament with an eight-game winning streak, the longest after UMBC's. Trailing close behind is Colgate (11-5).

The Patriot League champion capped a seven-game streak by upending Syracuse on Saturday, an outcome that likely dropped the Orange to the third seed.

The Raiders are third in the country in faceoff percentage (.613) and first in man-down defense (only seven goals in 42 attempts), and junior attackman Brandon Corp is the first player in school history to be named the Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year for the second year in a row.

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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