• For the bulk of the field, entrance to the tournament is based on building a strong season-long resume. This year, however, for Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champion Canisius, earning a spot meant finding a spark at just the right time.
The Golden Griffins (6-7, 5-3 MAAC), who are set to play No. 1 seed Loyola on Saturday, suffered a discouraging four-game losing streak during the middle of the season, capped by a 14-2 loss to conference power Siena. The team was racked by injuries, especially at defense and the faceoff position, forcing coach Randy Mearns to experiment with his roster.
"It was a downward spiral," Mearns said.
Midfielder Kevin Collins moved from midfield to long-stick midfielder just four weeks ago, shoring up the midfield defense. Freshman defenseman Adam Donnor found a spot on the starting defense and played admirably through the MAAC tournament. Faceoff man Mike Moran started to find consistency. And a better defense helped the team's strongest position, an attack unit featuring senior Simon Giourmetakis (47 points), Jimmy Haney (36 points) and Travis Gibbons (34 points).
•Maryland and Lehigh are both entering the postseason with sub-.500 faceoff percentages. The Terps, who will split between freshman Charlie Raffa and junior Curtis Holmes (McDonogh), are at 49 percent. Lehigh, led by Ryan Snyder, is at 48.9 percent.
But that doesn't mean those teams don't have a shot at a national title. Sub-.500 teams have won the title four times snice 1992, including Virginia last year (49.4 percent). The others were Princeton in 1992, 1998 and 2001. The best faceoff percentage for a title-winner was Syracuse in 2000; it won 67.7 percent with Chris Cercy taking faceoffs and Sam Bassett on the wings.
•There's recent precedent for a true freshman goalie to win the national championship. Since the NCAA tournament started in 1972, it's happened six times. Lehigh's Matthew Poillon (6.94 goals-against average, .595 save percentage) and Syracuse's Bobby Wardwell (8.37, .537) hope to add to that list.
In the past five years, Duke's Dan Wigrizer won the title in 2010, and John Galloway did it at Syracuse in 2008.
The others were Rodney Rullman at Virginia in 1972, Kevin Mahon at Johns Hopkins in 1974, Quint Kessenich at Hopkins in 1987 and Derek Kenney at Virginia in 1999. Like Wardwell, Kessenich and Mahon became the starters midseason.
•From top to bottom, Colgate and Massachusetts are similar. The two programs play an up-tempo style of lacrosse and have strikingly similar philosophies on the offensive end. However, the story of Saturday's game begins as it likely might end — with two of the nation's most illustrious attackmen.
Will Manny of UMass and Peter Baum of Colgate are the only two Tewaaraton Award finalists who meet in the first round. Opposing coaches have them on their radars.
"He has an uncanny ability to get his shot off and get it on goal with a lot of velocity, set shot, runner, sweep he can do it all," UMass coach Greg Cannella said of Baum.
Of Manny, Colgate coach Mike Murphy said: "He is a dynamic player with his speed and riding; he's just relentless. He's a phenomenal player."
UMass has history on its side in the matchup. It has made it to the NCAA tournament 19 times, the ninth-most for any program; Colgate has been once.
•Key changes have Syracuse as a dangerous — and in many ways much different — team than it was during its struggles throughout the season. The Orange avoided becoming only the third Syracuse team to miss the NCAA tournament since 1979 (with 1982, 2007 the others). Syracuse meets Duke in the first round Saturday.
Changes include the emergence of Wardwell, who's been the Orange's third starting goalie since Syracuse's 10-9 victory over Princeton on April 7; the inclusion of freshman Matt Walters on man-up situations, which at one time this season was 9-for-32 before coach John Desko made changes; winning ground balls ; and a greater sense of urgency by senior leaders Bobby Eilers and Tommy Palasek.
"We're more confident in our faceoffs, and the man-up has definitely improved the last third half of the season," Desko said. "When the defense is playing well, it's easier for the offense to play when we're not playing catch-up like we were in a lot of our games this year."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun