April 30, 2014

NCAA Notes: Retrievers Angling to Upset Danes?

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | Lambrecht Archive

Can UMBC face-off specialist Phil Poe tip the scales in favor of the Retrievers if they face each other in the America East final on Saturday? (John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com)

As the run of conference tournaments and the awarding of NCAA automatic qualifiers follows suit this week, a few observations about what has happened down the stretch, and what lies ahead:


No team has received more national attention than the Great Danes, thanks of course to the Thompson trio, the force behind the game's most high-scoring offense. But Albany (9-5) has no chance at an at-large bid, thanks to Bryant and Canisius, each of which got enough faceoff and goalkeeping excellence to slow down and beat the Danes. Lurking in the America East tournament is third-seeded UMBC (7-6). If the Retrievers, who dropped an 18-14 decision to Albany on April 19, can get past no. 2 seed Binghamton in the semifinals and faceoff stud Phil Poe goes on another incredible run, UMBC could limit its turnovers just enough to knock off top-seeded Albany in another shootout.


Now that Notre Dame has reversed course by going from the NCAA tournament bubble to an AQ with an unexpected ACC tournament title, this much is settled. The other five ACC schools will leave only three at-large bids for the rest of the Division I field to claim. Johns Hopkins, win or lose against top-ranked Loyola on Saturday, is a lock to grab one more berth. And the loaded Ivy League likely will leave no morsels for the runners-up from the CAA or the Big East tournaments, unless Denver suffers a Big East title-game upset against Villanova. The Wildcats gave the Pioneers all they could handle a few weeks ago in Philly.


Most people expected the Ivy League to be a rough-and-tumble division in 2014, and the conference has not disappointed, with Harvard and Penn emerging to challenge Cornell and Yale for supremacy. This league looks so balanced that three NCAA tournament participants could survive the Ivy tournament. The biggest stunner is that much-hyped Princeton, led by senior midfielder extraordinaire Tom Schreiber, is done. As great as he is, Schreiber couldn't make up for a bad defense that failed to improve sufficiently.


And you thought you sort of had it figured out. Look what has happened in the wild and talented ACC. Notre Dame roared back to life. Maryland's offense is sending out SOS signals. Virginia, which looked wobbly a few weeks ago, survived six blown clears by out-hustling North Carolina (eight blown clears) in the ACC tournament showcase game, while the Tar Heels tumbled to 2-4 in games decided by two goals or fewer. Syracuse, despite its persistent problems on defense and facing off, is still headed for a top-three seed in the NCAAs – and is possibly due for a first-round rematch against Albany. And Duke? They're still the Blue Devils, ready to out-score anybody who wants to try matching them.


Loyola has been nigh-unstoppable at home, where they take on Johns Hopkins in the annual battle of Charles Street rivals on Saturday. (John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com)

Besides the fact that Schreiber will not be around for the postseason – amazingly, he never won a playoff game with the Tigers – it's a shame that Kieran McArdle (80 points) of St. John's won't be around. Same goes for Lehigh's Dan Taylor (76 points), Army attackman John Glesener (37 goals) and Penn State senior goalie Austin Kaut. Given the chance – instead of a ban that rendered the Big Ten-bound Nittany Lions ineligible – Kaut could have led Penn State to a CAA tournament title and an AQ.


When Army junior goalie Sam Somers went down with a season-ending knee injury two games before the Patriot League tournament, the Black Knights were effectively robbed of a chance to win the tournament at Loyola, where only Army had provided any PL resistance to Loyola at Ridley Athletic Conference in a 7-6 loss on March 15. In Friday night's last-second, 12-11 loss to Lehigh in the PL semifinals, Army backup goalie Bobby Sincero could not match Lehigh All-American Matt Poillon in the clutch. At the time of his injury, Somers led the nation in goals-allowed average (5.63) and ranked third in save percentage (.622).


Top-ranked Loyola, which has not lost since its season opener on February 6 at Virginia, dominated the Patriot League at home by going 6-0 and winning by an average of 8.3 goals. With additional routs by a combined 23 goals over Towson and Duke, the Greyhounds (14-1) have averaged 14.75 goals and given up 5.63 at Ridley in 2014. Loyola continues its three-week home stand on Saturday, when Johns Hopkins takes the short bus ride from Homewood and tries to secure a first-round, NCAA tournament home game, something the Greyhounds already should have in the bag. Loyola should clinch a top three seed with a victory.


With precious AQ rewards on the line and surging teams fighting over them, the CAA and ECAC tournament title games figure to be memorable – that is, if the seeding holds form. In the CAA, there's defensive-minded, top-seeded Hofstra seemingly destined to face no. 2 seed Drexel, one of the hottest scoring teams in the game and looking for its first berth in the NCAAs. In the ECAC, top-seeded Fairfield (11-3), winners of nine of its last 10 regular-season games, has three of the league's top five scorers in juniors Colin McLinden and Tristan Sperry and sophomore T.J. Neubauer – they combined for 59 goals and 50 assists. Lurking close by is no. 2 seed and host Ohio State, with the most consistent defense in the league, following a 4-1 record in ECAC play after a 2-6, out-of-conference start.

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