At-large berths for tourney scarce

The Baltimore Sun

Four days before the NCAA Division I tournament's 16-team bracket is unveiled, this much seems clear.

Only two of nine at-large spots appear to be open, and those selections could hinge heavily on the results of this week's America East and Colonial Athletic Association conference tournaments, plus the fates of a couple of bubble teams from the Ivy League and a Patriot League also-ran.

The NCAA lacrosse committee will examine the Rating Percentage Index (RPI), a system based on the record of a team's opponents and the record of the opponents' opponents. It will look especially hard at factors such as strength of schedule (SOS) and quality wins - those over opponents ranked throughout the top 20, with top five victories carrying the most weight.

Seven schools automatically qualify. The champions of the Ivy League (Cornell), Patriot League (Navy), Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (Georgetown) and Great Western Lacrosse League (Notre Dame) already are in the tournament. Siena is the favorite to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and draw unbeaten top seed Cornell.

Whoever wins the CAA and America East tournaments will collect the last two automatic entries, and the runners-up in each league could take the final two spots in the 16-team field. Then again, an Ivy League school such as Penn or Yale might slip in, or an outsider such as Massachusetts - which eliminated Syracuse from the tournament - could make it.

Syracuse (5-7) created an unexpected at-large opening by missing its first tournament in 25 years. And Maryland coach Dave Cottle, who is on the selection committee, said he thinks a victory over Syracuse (No. 15 RPI, No. 3 SOS) should count for something.

"To discredit a win over Syracuse doesn't seem to be quite fair," Cottle said. Among the at-large bids, the four-team Atlantic Coast Conference will be fully represented by Duke, Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina for the first time since 1998.

Johns Hopkins, Princeton and Loyola - by virtue of their wins over Duke and Syracuse and the 12th-best strength of schedule - are locks. That leaves two teams.

If Drexel (a win over No. 3 Virginia) or Towson (a win over No. 12 Loyola) falls in the CAA final, do they have enough juice to get in? And if UMBC (14 RPI, 23 SOS) falls in the America East final, presumably to Albany (RPI 6, SOS 17), can the Retrievers still get in? In the Ivy League, Penn (6-6) has no top 20 wins, but a solid SOS (16), and must beat Denver on Saturday to remain in the playoff discussion. And Yale (7-5) likely would grab an at-large bid if it pulls off an upset at Maryland on Saturday.

And don't rule out Patriot League runner-up Colgate (RPI 16, SOS 19).

Got all that?

Who's in net for Jays?

Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala had planned to play backup goalie Michael Gvozden (Severna Park) in the second half Monday at Mount St. Mary's. But after senior Jesse Schwartzman (Pikesville) allowed two early goals, Pietramala inserted the freshman late in the first quarter.

Gvozden went on to make nine saves in 44 minutes while allowing one goal to get the win in the Blue Jays' 15-3 rout.

"I wouldn't make too much of it," said Pietramala, who has made no secret of his frustration regarding Schwartzman's inconsistency in 2007. "I think it was one of those games when we could afford to [make a change]. We weren't putting anyone in jeopardy. We needed to find out what [Gvozden] could do."

Pietramala insisted he, his staff and his players have not lost confidence in Schwartzman. Yet, he would not name Schwartzman as the starter in Saturday's regular-season finale against Loyola - on Senior Day.

"I know Jesse is a very good goalie, and I've been very loyal to him, and he deserves it. He hasn't performed horribly. He's been inconsistent," Pietramala said.

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