Towson, Drexel among teams fighting for at-large bids

With less than a week to go before the NCAA men's lacrosse bracket is released, a number of teams are fighting for two at-large berths, writes Quint Kessenich.

Updated: May 2, 2007, 4:00 PM ET
By Quint Kessenich | ESPN.com

One week to go in the regular season.

David Mitchell
Darl ZehrDavid Mitchell and Cornell enter the Tournament with an unblemished record.
Here's what we know: Cornell is unbeaten. The Big Red have handled every challenge thus far. They'll be the No. 1 seed. Duke has earned the No. 2 slot. Virginia is the likely No. 3 seed. Johns Hopkins and Georgetown will battle for the fourth seed. Both teams have beaten Maryland and Navy, and both have lost to Duke. Hopkins has a slight advantage based on a win against Syracuse and a stronger schedule.

Maryland, Navy, Princeton, North Carolina, Notre Dame and Albany will get into the tournament -- we're just not sure of where they will be slotted. Keep in mind that seeds 6-8 will play host to first-round games on May 12 and 13. Home field is a huge perk. ESPNU will televise all eight first round games.

There are three remaining automatic qualifiers to be earned. The MAAC, America East and CAA bids will be decided this weekend. The MAAC winner should be sent to Ithaca as the No. 16 seed. The MAAC is 8-49 overall out of conference in 2007.

That means that two "at large" spots remain. Teams on the NCAA bubble include Loyola, Towson, Drexel, UMBC, UMass, Colgate, Hofstra, Ohio State and Delaware.

The bracket will be released live on ESPNU and ESPNEWS on Sunday at 9 p.m. ET.

Family ties
Syracuse's streak of 24 straight trips to the NCAA Tournament came to a halt on Saturday. UMass outplayed the Orange at Garber Field, earning a 9-7 victory. The better team won. While UMass's résumé might not be enough to secure a bid, they are playing like a Top 15 team.

Brett Garber scored a hat trick on his grandfather's field. Dick Garber was the UMass head coach from 1955 until 1990 and won 300 games.

UMass lacrosse and the Garber name go hand-in-hand. "I remember having Brett around when I was an assistant with Ted [Garber, Brett's father]," said UMass coach Greg Cannella. "He came on some trips with us and I'll never forget going with Ted to watch him play hockey once. He was a goalie. It was funny to watch; he looked and acted like an NHL goalie."

Grandpa would have been proud -- not only because Brett was terrific, but because UMass played with tremendous energy, emotion and refused to give an inch. "Dick Garber was a great person and coach; I owe so much to him," said Cannella.

Lacrosse on ESPNU
ESPNU has the lacrosse scene covered. On Saturday, check out Loyola (Md.)-Johns Hopkins at 1 p.m. ET.

Full lacrosse schedule

The Garbers are, and always will be, the first family of UMass lacrosse. Brett's father Ted is the head coach at Avon Old Farms in Connecticut and an assistant coach with the Boston Cannons of Major League Lacrosse.

"Brett would be a good coach. He is an excellent student in our Sports Management Program," said Cannella. "He would like to stay involved in lacrosse; it has always been his life."

UMass delivered an inspiring performance. "We had many unsung heroes on Saturday," said Cannella. "That's how you compete with a team like Syracuse."

The close defense of Sean Krygier, David Von Voigt, Brian Danvers and Jordan Hendry ultimately won the game for the Minutemen. Goalie Doc Schneider was his usual "Muppet-on-a-string" uncanny self. He made 19 saves and held the Orange to seven goals.

For Syracuse, this has been a season to forget. Off-the-field issues spilled onto the field. The Orange defense was dysfunctional all spring (51st in the nation). The Orange lacked production from their second midfield (14 goals on the year), the extra man unit didn't click and they lacked the speed that once defined the proud program. Syracuse doesn't play fast.

The loss on Saturday, the seventh of the year, can be attributed to several key areas. Syracuse cleared 15 of 22, turned the ball over 20 times due to fundamental breakdowns in stickwork (including nine times in the second quarter), went 0-3 on extra man and shot 18 percent on the afternoon. With the season on the brink, in a game they absolutely needed to win, the Orange went scoreless for over 28 minutes in the first half.

Beasts of the (America) East
All of a sudden Albany is showing some vulnerability. The America East Tournament is no longer a foregone conclusion. On Thursday, the Great Danes play host to Stony Brook and UMBC plays Binghamton in the semifinals.

Binghamton upset Albany last Saturday. UMBC (9-4) has won five in a row, including a double overtime thriller verses Binghamton.

The Retrievers have the hottest offense in the nation: They've averaged 14 goals per game during their last five contests. Drew Westervelt has 26 goals and 28 assists. He's a 6-foot-4 senior attackman who will be a top choice when Major League Lacrosse holds its draft on May 31 (on ESPNU). The America East could send two teams to the NCAA Tournament.

Bubble boys
Wednesday night Delaware travels to Drexel while Hofstra visits Towson in the Colonial Athletic Association semifinals. The highest remaining seed will be the host of the final on Saturday. This conference might send more than one team to the NCAAs. Both Towson and Drexel are on the tournament bubble.

Best yet to come for Jays
After a three-game losing streak Johns Hopkins (8-4) is showing signs of gradual improvement. The Jays have beaten Maryland, Navy, Towson and on Tuesday took down Mt. St Mary's.

In its last four games, Hopkins is plus-20 on face-offs. Steven Peyser has caught fire after reincarnating a move he used in high school. The Jays are plus-36 on ground balls and plus-41 on shots.

On the year, opponents are 14 for 37 on extra man opportunities (38 percent) and Hopkins' goaltending has been inconsistent. I have never seen a team give up more garbage goals than the 2007 Blue Jays.

Hopkins hosts Loyola (7-4) on Saturday -- a school located less than a mile up Charles Street in Baltimore. Loyola is on the NCAA bubble, with a quality win over Duke and Top 20 wins over Syracuse and UMass.

While the wins have not been attractive or flashy, the Blue Jays might be a team whose best ball is ahead of it.

Devils' advocate
Duke beat Virginia for the ACC tournament championship. The Blue Devils are 13-2 and have won eight in a row. Dan Loftus, Duke's senior goalkeeper, was really, really good in the ACC final. He's been steady all year with routine saves, but made a few spectacular stops against the Cavaliers.

But the most encouraging aspect of the week for Duke was the emergence of the second midfield unit. Sophomore Mike Catalino scored two goals, Fred Krom added a tally and Bo Carrington had an assist. Second midfield production is always a key indicator in May.

Defender Casey Carroll is back to where he was before his ACL injury last March. At that time, Carroll was arguably Duke's best player. Carroll has been the primary defender on UVa.'s Danny Glading in two games this spring, and Glading has zero goals and one assist in those games.

Tewaraaton finalist Matt Danowski continues to be amazing. It's universally understood that he can dodge, shoot and pass -- a real triple threat -- but his riding, desire and determination to scrap for ground balls is special. He's second on the team with 57 loose balls. It's also worth noting that the nation's two best attackmen (Ben Rubeor and Danowski) are also the nation's two best riders. That's a fact.

It's exam time in Durham and finals started on Monday. On Tuesday, the team will lift weights and do yoga. The Blue Devils resume practice on Wednesday and close out their regular season on Sunday (Senior Day) when they play host to Air Force.

Irish dancing
Notre Dame (10-3) beat Ohio State last weekend to claim the Great Western Lacrosse League title and an automatic bid to the NCAA big dance. Lucius Polk scored four goals and the Irish dominated the fourth quarter, extending an 8-6 lead into a 12-6 final margin.

Polk is the Irish's best athlete not named Will Yeatman. "He is our fastest guy, has the hardest shot, is well-conditioned and has played for three years," said Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan. "Lucius is playing like a complete midfielder, shooting with confidence and poise."

Polk had the tendency to shoot too hard early in his career. His mechanics have improved and it shows: He's hitting 33 percent from the field.

When you watch Notre Dame on tape, midfielder Bill Liva is everywhere. "He's our utility infielder," said Corrigan. "Bill does anything you ask, does it well and doesn't care who gets the credit."

How good is Notre Dame? I don't think the Irish will play host to a first-round NCAA game, but they could make noise in the Tournament because of their defense. They've won seven in a row and have allowed only 4.14 goals per game during the streak.

Quint Kessenich covers college and professional lacrosse for ESPN. He will be in Amherst, Mass., on Saturday as UMass plays host to Syracuse on ESPNU at 3 p.m. ET. He can be reached at quint@insidelacrosse.com. ESPN.com is working with Inside Lacrosse to provide you with news and analysis. Click here for more coverage.

Quint Kessenich covers college and professional lacrosse for ESPN.