NCAA lacrosse tournament a sign of more parity

Syracuse lacrosse coach John Desko only has to look at his team's regular season - 10 of 14 games decided by one goal - to know that the NCAA Tournament promises to be a crapshoot.

''It's the most competitive that I've ever seen,'' Desko said. ''Look at our game with Yale. A few years ago it was a Final Four game. Now, it's a first-round game.''

Syracuse spent three weeks at the top of the national rankings, dropping to second in the latest poll behind Maryland after losing to defending national champion North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast Conference semifinals. The Terps (10-3) and the Orange (12-2) are the top two seeds in the tournament.

''When your No. 1 seed has three losses, that shows there hasn't been a dominant team this season,'' University at Albany coach Scott Marr said. ''At this point, it's who can play the best at the right time.''

The tournament begins Saturday with four games, with Towson (10-4) at No. 7 Penn State (12-3), Duke (12-4) at No. 6 Johns Hopkins (8-6), Air Force (12-5) at No. 5 Denver (11-3), and North Carolina (8-7) at No. 8 Albany (14-2).

On Sunday, Bryant (11-7) is at Maryland, Big East champ Marquette (8-7) is at No. 4 Notre Dame (8-5), Loyola of Maryland (10-5) plays at No. 3 Ohio State (13-4), and the Orange hosts Ivy League champion Yale (10-5) in the Carrier Dome at night.

Marr's Great Danes are ranked third in RPI, fourth nationally, and their two losses were by one goal - against Syracuse and Maryland. Good enough to get a home game in the first round, only good enough to nab the final seed.

Probably not what Marr envisioned when the seedings were announced, but hosting the defending national champion on Saturday night in front of a sellout crowd at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium isn't so bad. By midday Thursday, 6,023 tickets had been sold, which means the game will set an NCAA record for the first round.

''We're playing the defending national champions in a stadium like this on our campus,'' Marr said as he looked around at the four-year-old facility. ''Sometimes, I've just got to pinch myself that this is really happening.''

Other things to know about the NCAA Tournament:

CAROLINA SMILES: North Carolina barely qualified to defend its title. The Tar Heels defeated then-No. 1 Syracuse 16-15 and Notre Dame 14-10 to win the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. That gave the Tar Heels a winning record, which allowed them to receive consideration for an at-large bid. The ACC only has five teams playing men's lacrosse and does not have an automatic bid to the tournament.

TOO CLOSE TO CALL: Syracuse won eight of those one-goal games. Seven came in succession, and the Orange won all but one. A good sign, perhaps, for the postseason.

''We're getting everybody's best game and we're winning,'' Desko said. ''It's been good practice for us.''

HE SHOOTS, HE SCORES: Half of the top 18 most accurate shooters in the country are in the tournament. Yale's Matt Gaudet is tied for first nationally, scoring on 51.7 percent of his shots (30 of 58). Also on the list: Albany's Justin Reh (39-79); Brendan Bomberry, Syracuse (26-53); Mikey Wynne, Notre Dame (28-58); Shack Stanwick, Johns Hopkins (25-53); Cam Ziegler, Bryant (28-61); Kyle McClancy, Albany (25-56); Justin Guterding, Duke (44-102); and Grant Ament, Penn State (27-63).

ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH: Air Force, champion of the Southern Conference, is making its second straight appearance and fifth overall in the tournament and won't have far to travel to play the Pioneers, who beat them at the start of the season. The Falcons are on a five-game winning streak.

KINGS AT THE X: Denver's Trevor Baptiste and Albany freshman TD Ierlan top the nation in faceoff percentage, winning nearly three quarters of the time at the X in a sport where coaches are usually ecstatic with anything approaching .600. North Carolina survived the ACC tournament thanks in large part to Stephen Kelly, who won 10 of 11 faceoffs in the fourth quarter against Notre Dame in the title game.

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Follow Kekis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Greek1947

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