Thursday, May 19, 2011

Drawn In The Quarters

The Maryland men's lacrosse team pulled off the hidden ball trick against North Carolina last week in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

As the television replay shows, the Terps pulled it off so well that they fooled the Tar Heels, the announcers and the camera people.

And, it's worth giving credit to ESPN's Paul Carcaterra - one of TigerBlog's favorite lacrosse announcers - who at the end of the clip mentions that he can't fault the camera people for not following the play when he never saw it either.

The play reminded TB of the 2001 NCAA quarterfinals at Hofstra, when Loyola's Bobby Horsey and Gavin Prout ran it perfectly against Princeton in a play that almost enabled the Greyhounds to reach the Final Four. Instead, Princeton held on to win by one and ultimately won its sixth NCAA title.

TigerBlog is not a huge fan of the hidden ball trick. In fact, he remembers being on the sideline during that Loyola-Princeton game and hearing someone - he's can't remember exactly who, but it was a player - who said that Loyola was admitting that it couldn't play Princeton straight up and win.

In Maryland's case last week, the Terps certainly did play straight up and won, easily actually, advancing to the quarterfinals this week against Syracuse. In fact, your four men's matchups are:
No. 1 Syracuse vs. unseeded Maryland, winner to play the winner of No. 4 Notre Dame and No. 5 Duke.
No. 3 Johns Hopkins vs. No. 6 Denver, winner to play the winner of No. 2 Cornell and No. 7 Virginia.

Ask TB who he's rooting for of those eight teams, and he'll obviously say Denver.

Ask TB who he thinks is going to win the whole thing, and for some reason, he thinks it'll be Virginia, despite all the problems the Cavs have had this year and how close they came to getting bounced last week by Bucknell.

Maryland is the only unseeded team to win last week on the men's side.

On the women's side, the Terps are the No. 1 seed.

By the way, can anyone name the only undefeated team in either men's or women's Division I lacrosse at this point of the season? TB will give you one whole paragraph to think about it.

The matchups for the women's quarterfinals are:
No. 1 Maryland hosting your Princeton Tigers, winner to play the winner of No. 4 Florida and No. 5 Duke.

And on the other side of the bracket, it'll be No. 3 North Carolina and No. 6 Loyola, with the winner to play the winner of No. 2 Northwestern and the undefeated, perfect-on-the-year, 18-0 ... Albany Great Danes.

Florida, as you may or may not know, needed only two years as a varsity program to reach the NCAA quarterfinals. As former OAC-er John Cornell always said, everyone who wants to see the sport of lacrosse grow on the college level will be disappointed when the Final Four is Florida, Texas, UCLA and Michigan.

Meanwhile, Princeton has somewhat quietly put together a great stretch run to reach the quarterfinals. The Tigers have had several must-win games (twice against Penn, the regular-season finale against Penn State, the Ivy tournament final against Harvard, last week's NCAA opener against James Madison) in the last few weeks, and Princeton has won them all.

As a result, the Tigers are, perhaps surprisingly, the last Ivy League team left playing, which always makes a team feel good.

Unfortunately for Princeton, the quarterfinals once again match the Tigers with the No. 1 seed and defending NCAA champion, just as they did in 2009 and 2008, when Northwestern was the opponent.

Still, the Tigers will show up for the game.

A little more than a month ago, Maryland defeated Princeton 17-10 in College Park in a game that left the Tigers at 6-4 on the year. On the same night, Maryland improved to 14-0.

The records now are 12-6 for the Tigers and 19-1 for the Terps, who lost to Dartmouth in the final game of the regular season.

Princeton and Maryland have played each other at least once - and often twice - every year since 1994. They have met three times in the NCAA championship game.

Chris Sailer, Princeton's Hall of Fame women's lacrosse coach, has three NCAA titles on her resume. She has taken Princeton to the NCAA tournament 19 times and Final Four 11 times, and there are also nine Ivy League championships mixed in.

When the list of the greatest coaches in Princeton athletic history is drawn up, it doesn't take that long until the name Chris Sailer is mentioned.

As teams like Northwestern and Florida have mad their move to Division I women's lacrosse, Sailer has had to adjust to keep Princeton among the sport's elite.

Her team's run this year is proof that she has been successful at that. Now the challenge is to knock off the No. 1 team, with the potential prize a 12th Final Four.

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