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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

When the Dust Settled

And then there were four. Four familiar faces have made their way to NCAA Div. I lacrosse Championship Weekend: Virginia, Syracuse, Johns Hopkins, and Duke. The four have 21 championships and an additional 19 championship appearances between them, with the Blue Devils being the lone team remaing to have never hoisted the trophy. In fact, one of these four has won the championship each year since 2002 and at least one has competed for it each year since 1999. There is a lot of history in these four squads.

So who am I pulling for? Let's start with who i'm not. If you've been reading this blog for more than 5 seconds, you've likely inferred that I'm no Duke fan, so let's get that out of the way. In addition to the normal dislike however, this team is still not too far removed from the yeah-the-rape-was-a-lie-but-some-BS-still-went-down team of 2006. So I certainly can't wish any success on them.

The next team I'd eliminate is Hopkins. Call it hateration, call it what you will, but I've really got no ill will towards the Blue Jays. However, this year showed them to be vastly overrated, in terms of rankings and ultimately seeding, given their 5 game skid at mid-season. If they were in this very same position after having clawed their way up from an unseeded position, I'd wish them all the luck in the world, but after having been handed their seeding on a silver platter, I can't root for them.

Which leads me to Syracuse. I've got no problem seeing the Orange take it all. As a Big East (South Florida) alum who's anxious about the prospect of Big East lacrosse (which goes to vote this month), I'd love to see a victory for the yet-to-be-established conference.

And then there's UVA. As a UMBC fan, I'm inclined to root for them, because then we will have at least lost in the first round to the eventual national champion.

Regardless, this holiday weekend shapes up to be full of great lacrosse action in Foxborough and on the ESPN family of networks!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Methods to the May-hem

So on the eve of the NCAA Lacrosse Tournament, before the first face off, before any of my told-you-sos can be rendered invalid and any of my out-in-left-field thoughts can be disproven, I wanted to take a moment to weigh in on what I feel are the injustices of this year's tournament field.

First and foremost, not necessarily because it's the most egregious, but because I'm a UMBC alum and a shameless homer, the Dawgs got hosed. The polls currently have UMBC as #5 in the nation. They are currently in the midst of an 11 game winning streak, and have been 12-1 after dropping the first two to Delaware and Rutgers. They hold quality wins over College Park, Ohios State and Denver, and yet not only do they miss a seeded position, but they get what is the logical equivalent of a 15 seed by being matched up against #2 UVA. Not only is this unfair to UMBC, but it's no walk in the park for UVA either, who get "rewarded" for their #2 seeding by a matchup with a quite tough team. Perhaps one poster on Inside Lacrosse got the lack of outrage captured properly with the following statement: "No one'll say anything--it's just UMBC."

What I feel is THE most egregious injustice is the fact that Georgetown was left out in the cold. They dropped the season closer to Penn State, and as college football has oft taught us, it's just as much when you lose as it is that you lose and to whom you lose. Unfortunately, G'town's loss was the perfect storm--last game of the season, to a Penn State squad who was already planning their summer vacation. The result is the Hoyas watching the tournament on TV, but I still believe they should be in. Of course, to be fair, if I'm going to pull someone in, I've got to take someone out as well. More on that later.

Notre Dame is underrated.

Thought you'd never hear that about the Domers, huh? Well while it may never be true in football, is surely is this year in lacrosse. The pundits will tell you that the decisions made above (G'town being left out, UMBC being unseeded) were based on RPI. How then, do you justify a 2-loss, #4 RPI Fighting Irish squad as a six seed? I'd love someone to break that one down for me.

Johns Hopkins is overrated. The sins did no occur in the seeding of this tournament, but rather throughout the season that led up to it. Based on where Hopkins is in the rankings, their 5 seed is entirely warranted. The problem? They probably realistically shouldn't be where they are. The disconnect came at about mid-season, in the heels of a 5 game losing streak, when the Blue Jays were 3-5 and still #15 in the rankings. There's no way that should have been the case. "Ooh, but look at their strength of schedule! Look at the elite teams they played!" Perhaps, but the game doesn't stop at scheduling tough. The onus is then upon you to win them. I mean, hell, if Hopkins is that tough because of who they didn't beat, that should knock UMBC up another peg or two, right? I mean we played (but didn't beat) Hopkins!

And finally, you remember how I said earlier that for Georgetown to be in, someone else had to be out. Well, we drew straws, and Denver, it looks like you're it. Seriously, no slight to Denver, but I don't think they stack up favorably to Georgetown or the rest of the field (save some AQs, but they're in anyway). And honestly, three teams from the Great Western Lacrosse League? Psst... NCAA: your alterior motives are showing.

And now, for some constructive criticism. What would I like to see become of the tournament? First of all, I'd like a legitimately seeded tournament, not seed the first 8 and use the buddy system. In doing so, it would be necessary to get rid of the two-flight rule (which they bent this year anyway) and send teams where their seeds indicate, but honestly, I don't think the NCAA's hurting for money--a packed house in Foxborough in two weekends'll hammer that one home. An expansion of the field, may be in order. Perhaps to 20 or 24, with a portion of the field getting a bye. I wouldn't double the field to 32, which would give bids to over half of the schools playing NCAA lacrosse, but I think it needs to go up from 16: Consider this: There are currently 7 autobids from the AQs. This will become 8 in the next few years when the Big East starts fielding lacrosse. Add to this total all 4 ACC teams and Johns Hopkins, all of whom are likely to get in, and there are realistically only 3 at-large sports available. As the sport continues to grow, so must the field.

Now that I've put forth all this griping let it be known that I will be faithfully in front of my television this weekend and each of the next two until a champion is crowned. Happy May!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

May Madness

It's May. The NBA and NHL are in playoff mode. Many of the country's sports fans are trying to correlate success or failure at this point to their teams' fate 5 months and 130 games down the line in America's Pastime. For me, it's the pinnacle of college lacrosse season.

As I sit and type this in Greensboro, NC, I am well aware that that's far from the norm, at least here. ESPNU just started televising lacrosse nationwide when they began a few years ago, but this is my first year actually having it at home. This time last year, I had to head to Buffalo Wild Wings to see UMBC defeat the Terps in the first round of the NCAA tournament. This season, I've been able to spend my Saturdays in front of a pretty full slate of college lacrosse, not unlike football season.

I've gotten to catch a few UMBC games on TV this season, and had to rely on internet radio or score/stat updates for a few more. In case you've missed it, the Dawgs are in the midst of an 11 game winning streak and just captured the America East championship. Tonight, on ESPNU's selection show, each team will learn its placement in the NCAA Tournament. Based on this season's performance, ranking, and a healthy dose of bias, I think that UMBC deserves to be one of the seeded teams in this year's tournament, getting a home match in the first round. I'm secretly wishing however, that in lieu of a seeded position, we get matched up with either Carolina or Duke for a Saturday night game to which I could travel.

As a native mid-Atlanticker (Delaware, plus school at UMBC) I'd love for lax to have more of a presence both here in the Southeast and nationwide. Perennially ranked teams at UNC and Duke help, as well as the expansion on the MCLA level and a NCAA Div. I team being added at Jacksonville U. Hopefully soon, my Monday morning "did you see that game?" will be met with more than blank stares.
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