Johns Hopkins, Navy still in hunt for NCAA Tournament

Time is running out, but both schools have avenues to reaching postseason

April 17, 2010|By Edward Lee, Baltimore Sun

Dave Pietramala is not easily amused. At least that's the impression the Johns Hopkins coach gives off as he's stalking the sideline and barking at officials, players and anyone else within earshot.

But speculation that the Blue Jays are in danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in 39 years elicits a slight chuckle from Pietramala.

"You guys are the only ones that look ahead," said Pietramala, whose No. 15 Johns Hopkins team will meet No. 5 Maryland in the second game of the Smartlink Day of Rivals doubleheader at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore today.

"We can't afford to. There's no looking ahead. We have the University of Maryland, the No. 4 team in the country [in the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association poll] this weekend. That's the only thing we're looking at. That, and we're looking at what we do in practice. That's the approach, and that's the way it will remain."

Both the Blue Jays (5-5) and Navy (5-6) — which plays against Army in the opening game — have much at stake today. Both teams have avenues to get to the postseason, but the number of options and the time remaining are limited.

For the Midshipmen, an at-large bid is doubtful, as they have a strength of schedule rated 15th and a Rating Percentage Index (RPI) of 25, according to laxpower.com. Perhaps even more significantly — as the NCAA selection committee seemed to suggest last year — Navy does not yet have a quality win. But the Midshipmen have qualified for the Patriot League tournament, and if they capture their sixth tournament crown in seven years, they will earn the automatic qualifier and a berth in the NCAA tournament.

"I think we understand that an at-large bid is very unlikely," senior long-stick midfielder Jaren Woeppel said. "But these games are very important to us. We still have an opportunity to win the Patriot League and go into the tournament with some momentum and hopefully win there to get to the NCAAs. That's our focus."

Navy coach Richie Meade was even more blunt, comparing his team's situation to that of the main character's from the film "Braveheart."

"We've got to be like William Wallace," Meade said. "We're saying that we've got to go in there and either win or die trying."

ESPN analyst and former Johns Hopkins midfielder Mark Dixon said he wouldn't count out the Midshipmen from making their seventh consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.

"I think with Navy, they've got to win the Patriot League, and they've done that in the past," he said. "Last year, they were the No.3 seed [in the conference tournament] and they came away with two one-goal victories to go ahead and advance. I think that's what's going to have to happen this year, too."

Unlike the Midshipmen, Johns Hopkins does not have an automatic qualifier to contend for because it is an independent school. That allows the Blue Jays to create their own schedule, but it can be a hurdle when the team struggles as it did earlier with a four-game losing streak.

Although Johns Hopkins has a strength of schedule rated third and an RPI of 13, the team does not have a quality win. The school could get that impressive victory with remaining matchups against the Terps and No. 7 Loyola.

"I think they need a big win against Maryland," Dixon said. "They have to hope that Loyola continues to excel and then beat Loyola. But they can't afford to lose to Navy or Towson. They have to beat Maryland, and if that doesn't happen, they have to hope that Loyola is still rolling, and then they have to knock off the Greyhounds. You don't want to look too far ahead, but I think the Maryland and Loyola games are the two biggest on their schedule in terms of quality wins."

The Blue Jays have endured losing streaks and sub-.500 records before.

They lost five consecutive games in 2008 before winning five straight and earning an at-large bid. Last season, they were 3-4 before embarking on a six-game winning streak and qualifying for the NCAA tournament.

Pietramala expressed confidence that Johns Hopkins, which is the only team in the country to play No. 1 Virginia, No. 2 Syracuse and No. 3 North Carolina in consecutive weeks, will have done enough to earn an invitation.

"The only people that matter are those on the [selection] committee, and that's a big part of the criteria, strength of schedule," he said. "That's why we play it. We have the best strength of schedule, year in and year out. We don't hide from anybody. People are going to have an opinion, and they're entitled to that. That's what makes the world go around. But that's not important to us. What's important to us is what we're doing here."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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