- The Washington Times - Friday, April 27, 2007

OK, so the ACC lacrosse tournament doesn’t quite stir the passions quite the same as in basketball. It’s not imbedded in the fabric of North Carolina’s sporting culture, doesn’t have the extensive history and doesn’t even provide an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.

But it still has four of the nation’s top nine teams (and, yes, for those smirking “Out of how many teams, nine?” as someone I encountered yesterday innocently suggested yesterday, there are more solid squads out there), and it looks like the ACC could send its entire complement of schools to the postseason for the first time since 1998.

That should make for some great games tonight at Duke’s Koskinen Stadium. The opener is Maryland-Virginia, a rematch of last month’s 12-8 victory for the Cavaliers in Charlottesville. It was the last overwhelming performance for Virginia, which has won three games by four goals since then and fallen 7-6 at Duke in a deceptively low-scoring game.

Maryland, meanwhile, has continued to get better in what very well may be coach Dave Cottle’s best performance in six seasons with the Terrapins. An inert offense has gradually improved, though it still remains difficult to discern just how much more effective Maryland’s first midfield is from its second. But the Terps have gotten better, and their only losses are to teams ranked Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5.

The Duke-North Carolina nightcap will be worth sticking around for as well. North Carolina deserves plenty of the derisive comments it has earned in the last decade after becoming an ACC doormat. The Tar Heels haven’t won a conference tournament game since 1996, and shouldn’t be expected to tonight.

But the Carolina team that forced Virginia into overtime three weeks ago was different than the disappointing groups that produced losing records the last two years. The Tar Heels probably aren’t as talented, but they are certainly smarter and more disciplined. And like nearly everyone else not named Cornell or Duke, they’re young, but they own a victory over Johns Hopkins. An upset is far from impossible.

Some more odds and ends from the college lacrosse world as D1SCOURSE gets fired up for a month-long run to final four at Baltimore’s M&T; Bank Stadium:

* During a wide-ranging conversation yesterday that touched on everything from poetry and verse to the NFL of the 1930s to jurisprudence to the key to the growth of lacrosse, Duke coach John Danowski clued me in on the all-conference team released later in the day. The makeup was shocking — five defenseman, a long pole, a goalie and four attackmen.

There’s not a single midfielder in the bunch. Not one. And while there’s no disputing there have been some great defenses in the league, it’s hard to imagine an all-league team without a true midfielder. Then again, the best middies in the league (Carolina’s Ben Hunt, Maryland’s Dan Groot, Duke’s Brad Ross and Peter Lamade and Virginia’s Drew Thompson) don’t exactly match up to last year’s senior crop of Kyle Dixon, Matt Poskay, Bill McGlone, Brendan Healy and Matt Zash.

* Under-the-radar game worth thinking about: Notre Dame-Ohio State. Winner gets the GWLL automatic berth. Loser gets tossed to the at-large pool. That wouldn’t work for the Buckeyes, but the Irish could sneak into the tournament even with a loss. The bottom of the field just isn’t that good right now.

* Neither of the teams involved are even decent, but the job Sacred Heart’s Zach Smith did against Hartford on Wednesday is worth a mention. Smith went 25-for-25 on faceoffs, setting an NCAA record, as the Pioneers won 12-10. Just don’t believe anyone who says they were there; according the official box score, the attendance was a mere 77.

* One man’s guess at the 16-team NCAA field just nine days before Selection Sunday (only Cornell has locked up a berth). Only the top eight teams are seeded; the rest are slotted based on competitiveness as well as the NCAA’s geographic restrictions:

(1) IVY/Cornell vs. MAAC/Siena

(8) AMERICA EAST/Albany vs. Syracuse

(5) ECAC/Georgetown vs. CAA/Towson

(4) Johns Hopkins vs. GWLL/Notre Dame

(3) Virginia vs. Loyola

(6) Maryland vs. PATRIOT/Navy

(7) Princeton vs. North Carolina

(2) Duke vs. UMBC

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