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Johns Hopkins' NCAA tournament hopes could rest on other teams

How conference tournament favorites fare this week could determine whether the No. 13 Blue Jays have their bubble burst

By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun

9:00 AM EDT, April 29, 2013

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Saturday’s 8-4 loss to No. 7 and reigning national champion Loyola weakened No. 13 Johns Hopkins’ profile for an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament. But the program’s bid for a 42nd consecutive appearance in the postseason could depend on what happens with other teams.

Half of the 16-team field will be filled by teams that win their respective conference tournaments and capture the automatic qualifiers associated with those victories. If conference tournament favorites like No. 3 Notre Dame (Big East), No. 5 Cornell (Ivy League), No. 9 Penn State (Colonial Athletic Association), and No. 10 Albany (America East) live up to their billing, the eight at-large spots will remain for bubble teams like the Blue Jays (8-5).

But if contenders like No. 11 Syracuse or Villanova (Big East), No. 12 Princeton or No. 14 Yale (Ivy League), No. 15 Drexel (CAA) and Hartford or UMBC (America East) pull off the upset, Johns Hopkins will be pushed further out of consideration.

The pressure to contend for national titles is omnipresent at Homewood Field, where nine championship banners already hang. Qualifying for the NCAA tournament – a feat that has been accomplished every year since 1972 – has almost been a given for the Blue Jays faithful, which makes this year’s run a bewildering adventure for the people intimately involved with the direction of the program.

Each game invites further questions for the players and coaches, and coach Dave Pietramala did his best Ed Reed impression when he intercepted a question directed at senior defenseman Tucker Durkin about Johns Hopkins’ dwindling odds of advancing to this year’s NCAA tournament.

“There are expectations placed on you here,” Pietramala began. “There are expectations on me as a coach, and there are expectations on our team, and those expectations are to make the NCAA playoffs and to compete for a national championship. We’re certainly wise enough to know you’re not going to win a national championship every year. There are too many good teams out there, but I am disappointed that we find ourselves in this position, and I am frustrated that we find ourselves in this position. But it is exactly what it is. You are what your record says you are, and we had opportunities to win. We had opportunities against Albany to win. We had opportunities against [North] Carolina to win. If we take advantage of our opportunities, then we’re not having this conversation. You’re not asking me that question. So we have not made the most of our opportunities. That’s probably the greatest disappointment. …  We have a job to do, and we’re all here to do a job. Right now, we haven’t gotten the job done. You want to paint it any way you want to paint it, go right ahead. It’s simple. We haven’t gotten the job done, and we all understand what our job is, and we all understand what the expectations are, and none of us are going to hide from them. It is what it is, and we’re going to turn around and come back to work on Monday and do the job. And we’re going to keep doing that until someone tells us they don’t want us to do that anymore.”

The Blue Jays have one more opportunity to make a lasting impression when they visit Army (8-5) this Friday. A victory likely won’t improve the team’s RPI, but a loss would certainly push Johns Hopkins on the outskirts of consideration. That is why Durkin predicted that there would be no distractions this week.

“Next game [is] Army,” he said. “Whatever happened today, happened. There’s nothing we can do about it. It stinks right now to sit around and think about it, but the focus has got to turn to Army. We can’t afford to have a hangover going into this next week. This is the biggest week of the year. I can’t wait for Monday. I can’t wait to get out to practice. We’re going to make sure that we have the best week of practice we’ve had all year.”