ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — After his top-ranked Great Danes lost their first game of the season a month ago, Albany lacrosse coach Scott Marr said he thought the postseason would be a crapshoot.
That assessment seems spot-on now after the three teams ranked highest — Yale, Maryland and Denver — lost in their conference tournaments.
“There’s probably a handful of teams out there that could be considered favorites, but you just can’t count anybody out,” Marr said. “It’s just been that kind of year.”
The field for the NCAA Tournament was set last Sunday night, and the Great Danes nabbed their highest seeding ever at No. 2. Reigning national champion Maryland, which was upset in the Big Ten tournament final by archrival Johns Hopkins, earned the top seed after Yale was upset by Cornell for the Ivy League title. That dropped the Bulldogs to the third seed.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was pulled off by Georgetown, which defeated the Pioneers 8-3 for the Big East title . The loss cost Denver one of the top seeds.
First-round matchups on Saturday feature Richmond (11-5) at Albany (14-2), UMass (12-4) at Yale (13-3), Villanova (10-5) at No. 4 Duke (13-3), and Virginia (12-5) at No. 6 Loyola of Maryland (12-3). On Sunday, Maryland (12-3) hosts play-in winner Robert Morris (13-6), Denver (12-3) is at No. 7 Notre Dame (9-5), Georgetown (12-4) is at fifth-seeded Johns Hopkins (11-4), and Cornell (12-4) plays at No. 8 Syracuse (8-6).
Albany, which has never reached the Final Four, leads the nation in wins and scoring (14.38) and ranks second behind Denver in defense (7.47). The Great Danes’ two losses, which dropped them from the top spot in the rankings after a six-week stay, came against UMBC and Yale with high-scoring senior attack Connor Fields nursing a knee sprain that he still hasn’t fully recovered from.
The team has learned to adjust when Fields has not been able to play. Albany defeated Vermont 14-4 for the America East Conference title last Saturday as nine players scored, giving their collective psyche an important boost.
Marr said Wednesday he didn’t expect Fields to play against the Spiders.
“If Connor is not in the lineup for us, I think the guys will just play as one unit,” sophomore faceoff specialist TD Ierlan said. “No one has to try and put the team on their back.”
Other things of note about the NCAA Tournament:
HE SHOOTS, HE SCORES: Seven of the top 10 scorers in the sport are still in the tournament, led by Justin Guterding of Duke (56 goals, 40 assists) and Cornell’s Jeff Teat (37-59). Also on the list: Yale’s Ben Reeves (51-39), Loyola’s Pat Spencer (31-55), Michael Kraus (43-37) of Virginia, Connor Kelly (40-33) of Maryland, and Albany’s Fields (29-42). Connor Kearnan (31-52) of Canisius finished his season Wednesday with three assists in the Griffs’ play-in game loss to Robert Morris. Guterding, Kelly, Reeves, Spencer and Denver’s Trevor Baptiste are the five finalists for the Tewaaraton Award, given annually to the best player in the country.
X-CESSIVE SUCCESS: The tourney features two standout faceoff players in Baptiste and Ierlan. The burly Baptiste (5-foot-10, 220 pounds), a senior and the first pick in the Major League Lacrosse draft, is the all-time leader in faceoffs won with 1,129. Ierlan has won 302 of 362 draws (83.4 percent) and is on pace to become the first player to eclipse 80 percent in a season. If Albany and Denver advance, they’ll play one another in the quarterfinals.
TWO-PEAT TERPS? Maryland ended a 42-year title drought a year ago, beating Ohio State for the national championship. It was the 14th time in school history that the Terps made it to the title game and their first title since 1975.
But can they repeat?
“What we’re hoping is, through a really tough schedule, the guys are ready,” Maryland coach John Tillman said. “We’ve played in a lot of big games all year.”
BULLDOGS BULLIED: Cornell resurrected its season by beating Yale 14-8 for the Ivy title. The loss brought the Bulldogs down a couple of notches from their perch at No. 1, but at least the setback occurred at a good time.
“It’s an opportunity for us to reassess and see what we need to work on,” Yale coach Andy Shay said. “It’s good to get exposed a little bit and not have your season end. There’s no doubt that my guys will respond. If we stub our toe, then the season’s over.”
CAVALIERS BACK: This will be Virginia’s 38th tournament appearance, third behind Hopkins (46) and Maryland (41), and first in five years. The Cavaliers, who lost to Notre Dame for the ACC title , have won five NCAA titles. They have only been in the tournament one other time as an unseeded team, and that was 30 years ago.
“It is certainly a good step for this program,” second-year coach Lars Tiffany said. “We want to honor the legacy of the great men and the great teams of Virginia lacrosse in the past. We want to get back there right away, but you can’t do that. It takes some steps.”