Slow start might be too tough for even Duke to overcome

The trick might be too great even for Duke coach John Danowski to pull off this season.

The Blue Devils (3-4) are notorious for being slow starters and rallying at the end of the season to participate in the NCAA tournament, but that might not happen this year. Even with Duke's 9-8 upset win over No. 4 Loyola on Friday, the hole might still be too deep.

Three of their four losses have been at home. Before Friday night, the Blue Devils were allowing 11.5 goals per game and they still have North Carolina, Virginia and Georgetown on the schedule.

And their defense isn't showing any consistency.

"It's been terrible," ESPN analyst Mark Dixon said. "They've tried some things, but very little has worked. They've gone to a zone, but that doesn't help when your goalies aren't playing well. They're going to have to try some new twists and see what develops because it's going to be tough for them to get to the tournament with wins over Mercer and Jacksonville because they won't hold up."

It has been somewhat of a transition year for Duke.

Chris Gabrielli, the Blue Devils' top defensive assistant coach during the previous six seasons, is now the head coach at Providence, and he took last year's Blue Devils' goalies coach, John Galloway, with him.

The Blue Devils just aren't quick and athletic enough to play man-to-man and slide, and their goalies aren't good enough to stay in zones. Between four goalies this season, they have a save percentage of .473.

In their four losses, Duke gave up 14 goals to Denver, 13 to Notre Dame, 16 to Maryland and even 14 to Penn.

The new rules, forcing the game to speed up and increasing the number of shots, don't help the Blue Devils, either.

To get to the tournament, the Blue Devils have to go on one of their hottest streaks ever under Danowski, in his seventh year.

In six previous seasons, Danowski has won five ACC regular season and four ACC tournament titles. He has made six appearances in the national semifinals and two in the national championship game. The Blue Devils won the title in 2010.

Bad move for Hopkins

Johns Hopkins looks bad with their selective suspensions of players who violated team rules.

Instead of suspending all the players at one time, some were suspended against Michigan and Mount St. Mary's, but none were suspended when the No. 10 Blue Jays lost to No. 5 Princeton.

The perception is that the Blue Jays knew they could manage without certain players against weaker teams, but then they ignored possible suspensions for a game against a talented Princeton squad.

According to a university spokesman, all the players played against Princeton because it was on the night of the dedication of the new Cordish Lacrosse Center, which houses the Johns Hopkins men's and womens' lacrosse teams.

Apparently, head coach Dave Pietramala didn't want to take anything away from longtime investors or contributors who attended the night's event.

Sorry, that's not acceptable.

If players violate team rules, you suspend them for the upcoming game, regardless of the outcome, opponent or the situation.

There are no excuses, and this was a great learning tool. I'm sure that proud tradition of great Hopkins players would have understood. In fact, most of them probably would have welcomed it.

Effects of the MIAA

I've been noticing this for more than a decade now, but it seems like most of the junior-league stars who play in the prestigious Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference don't get much better until they go to college.

My theory is that the private schools are so strong and competitive that they don't stress basics and fundamentals. Instead, they just plug the players into their system.

When these players get to college, it's like being born again because they have to be re-taught and become fundamentally sound again.

One problem for Terps

There is no doubt that Maryland is the best team in the country right now. The Terps aren't just winning, they are just destroying the opposition both mentally and physically.

The only problem for the Terps is the lack of depth, especially in the midfield.

If a starter or two gets injured, they could be in trouble.

Attackmen Jay Carlson and Kevin Cooper give the Terps some options at midfield if an injury occurs, but that potential move could eventually spring a leak on attack, too.

New look for Amato

Maryland goalie Niko Amato is downplaying the weight loss as one of the keys to his success this season, but it has made a major difference.

Not only is he more mobile, but his attitude from a year ago is much improved and he showed a lot of leadership in the fall.

Amato hasn't always been dominating at times because the Terps usually control the pace of games, but whenever they've needed a save to change the momentum of a game, Amato has delivered.

Scheduling issues

I love the way the television networks are dictating the game schedule.

Whoever heard of 5 p.m. games on Friday afternoons?

But it allows ESPN to show a lacrosse game and still televise a college basketball game later in the evening.

It is always about the money.

Practice time

With everyone so concerned about concussions and litigation, will high schools become like the NFL and start limiting the amount of contact in practices?

In public schools, you currently can't practice longer than two hours, which I agree with, but I think that should be up to individual coaches.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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