Ten Quick Hits

1. Is Virginia good enough to repeat?

Recent history suggests that the Cavaliers will fall short of winning back-to-back NCAA titles. No one has pulled it off since 1998, when Princeton won its third consecutive national championship. But don't doubt Virginia, which lost an amazing core of talent, led by player of the year Matt Ward, after winning all 17 of its games by an average of 8.2 goals. Yet, the Cavs still have enough weapons to run the table in May and produce a handful of first- and second-team All-Americans.


2. How high can Duke rise again?

After a traumatic, abbreviated 2006 season, which ended after eight games following an off-campus party that led to rape charges against three players and cost 16-year coach Mike Pressler his job, the Blue Devils might be the most closely watched team again in 2007. Two years after losing by one goal to Johns Hopkins in its first appearance in the NCAA title game, Duke still has an imposing nucleus, led by senior attackman Matt Danowski, who is now being coached by his father, John. The Blue Devils lack depth, but no one is taking their comeback lightly.


3. The game returns to its roots for the big events

After a two-year relocation to Philadelphia for its championship weekend, the Division I final four and Division II and III title games will be played Memorial Day weekend at M&T; Bank Stadium, where more than 50,000 could witness the Division I semifinals and final. The NCAA will take the show to Boston next year, but likely will bring the season's marquee affair back here periodically for the foreseeable future. In addition, the inaugural Inside Lacrosse Face-Off Classic, featuring a Hopkins-Princeton and Syracuse-Virginia doubleheader, is coming March 3 to M&T;, where about 15,000 could attend.

4. Will the game's deep pockets draw more attention?

The NCAA rules committee has recommended that referees increase the number of stick checks during games, as the use of illegally deep pockets apparently has grown in recent years into one of the sport's dirty little secrets. It's extremely hard to dislodge the ball from a player carrying it with a pocket deeper than the rules allow, and players can skirt the rule by easily manipulating the strings that attach the mesh pockets to the stick heads. Stick checks typically occur at the end of the first and third quarters. This year, officials have been encouraged by the NCAA to make the checks more random.

5. The ECAC could be the deepest conference

For the first time, the Eastern College Athletic Conference will send its league winner to the NCAA tournament as an automatic qualifier. But, with all due respect to the much-improved Ivy League and Colonial Athletic Association, the eight-team ECAC might boast more tournament teams than any other league in 2007. Georgetown, Massachusetts, Loyola and Penn State each look good enough to get into the round of 16 and do some damage.

6. Is this finally the year for Georgetown?

The Hoyas always seem to boast an outstanding recruiting class, and this year is no different. They always seem to get into the NCAA tournament with high hopes, and this year should be no different. But Georgetown has advanced to the tournament quarterfinals for five straight years and gone no further, and the Hoyas have not been to the final four since their one and only trip in 1999. It's time for 18th-year coach Dave Urick to get it done.


7. Who will be this year's sleeper?

It's still hard to crack through the elite wall formed by Syracuse, Virginia, Hopkins, Princeton and Maryland, but other schools continue to chip away, as the number of high school players increase nationally while the game's growth stagnates at the collegiate level. Last year, UMass capped a steady rebuilding project under coach Greg Cannella by going to the NCAA title game. The Minutemen beat Hofstra, another upstart, in the quarterfinals to get there. What about 2007? We like Penn State, and we'll take a stab at Albany, an America East school that features the game's most prolific returning scorer in senior attackman Frank Resetarits.

8. Will the shot-clock controversy surface again?

The topic never seems to go away, but it always seems to die down each offseason after discussion among coaches and members of the rules committee. But each time a freewheeling, transition-packed, high-scoring game between Syracuse and Virginia is contrasted by the game's more prevalent, slowed-down, substitution-heavy, milk-the-clock style - Princeton, Hopkins and Maryland have offered prime examples - the debate revs up again. Maybe the game needs more action forced upon it with the use of a 60-second shot clock, and needs the NCAA to find a way to get there.

9. Will someone be perfect again?

When Hopkins won its first NCAA title after a 17-season drought by going 16-0 in 2005, it marked the first time a Division I school had finished a season unbeaten since Princeton ran the table in 1997. Then, along came Virginia last year with a team for the ages, and the Cavaliers became the first Division I school in NCAA history to finish 17-0. Guess that means it's time for Syracuse to equal that mark this time around.


10. Who will emerge as the game's premier player?

Our preseason nominations include Hopkins midfielder Paul Rabil, Syracuse attackman Mike Leveille, Virginia's do-it-all midfielder, Drew Thompson, Princeton goalie Alex Hewit and Duke's Matt Danowski. But we'll pick another Cavalier. Virginia junior attackman Ben Rubeor (Loyola) sometimes got lost in terms of recognition among all of the older, dynamic talent in Charlottesville a year ago. This year, the team's top returning scorer moves front and center with his accurate shooting, great passing and dodging and all-around smarts.