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Tuesday, April 22, 2008
UMBC continues climb into Kessenich's top five

By Quint Kessenich
ESPN.com

As the weather continues to warm up, teams look to improve their playoff résumés. The fans were out in unprecedented numbers this week, with a regular-season and on-campus record of over 29,000 catching Ohio State and Denver in Columbus and 16,000 more catching Hopkins-Navy in Annapolis, Md. Syracuse-Albany and Duke-Army saw 6,000 fans each in the Dome and Long Island, N.Y., respectively, while Princeton and Cornell battled in front of 4,000 fans in New Jersey.

If you wanted proof that the revolution is in full force, just check the gate receipts from April 18 and 19.

1. Duke
The Blue Devils held a 48-25 advantage in shots Saturday en route to a 10-6 win over Army at Manhasset High School. Duke has lopsided wins over Virginia, Hopkins, Maryland, Loyola, North Carolina and Bucknell. The only apparent weakness that coach John Danowski's team has shown is the lack of real production from its second midfield. Where the Blue Devils are most impressive is in the balance they have between both halves of the field. They have the No. 1 scoring offense in Division I, and their defense has quietly put up the sixth-best numbers in the country. Up next: the ACC tournament on Friday in Charlottesville, Va.

2. Syracuse
Several Orange wins have gained merit of late as Loyola, Army, and Hopkins have experienced recent success. Mike Leveille, Kenny Nims, Steven Brooks, Brendan Loftus, Greg Niewieroski and Dan Hardy give the Cuse legitimate depth on offense, which takes pressure off each individual; members of the team know that others can and will step up.

3. Virginia
Excellent scheduling by the Cavaliers, as Virginia faced Dartmouth the week before the ACC tournament. Goaltending and faceoffs are the two major obstacles on the road to Foxboro, site of the 2008 NCAA championship weekend. It's a busy weekend in Charlottesville, as Virginia plays host to the ACC tournament, where the Cavs are looking to avenge a loss to Maryland in the first round on Friday night -- and Bruce Springsteen is coming to the JPJ arena as well.

4. UMBC
The Retrievers opened the season 1-3, but have won eight in a row over Albany, Yale, Maryland, Ohio State, Stony Brook, Towson and Binghamton. They get my very lukewarm reception at No. 4, as nobody has really staked a claim to top billing outside of Duke, Cuse and Virginia. UMBC does not have a deep roster -- it'll be interesting to see how much gas it has left in the tank for the America East finals after running the first midfield line 85 percent of the game all season. That's asking an awful lot from a few key players like Terry Kimener and Alex Hoppman. The Retrievers have won 11 straight home games and 16 of the past 17, which makes their hosting gig for the AE tourney even sweeter.

5. Johns Hopkins
Little did we know that Hopkins' mundane win over UMBC in early March would be so significant. The Jays took care of a fading Navy crew for the 34th consecutive time -- in front of 16,000 on Saturday in Annapolis -- after shutting down Maryland a week ago. The same critics who were bashing the Jays three weeks ago are all of a sudden singing their praises, but my feelings are somewhere in between. Hopkins plays a midweek game Wednesday (ESPNU, 7 p.m. ET) against a reeling Towson team that lost for the first time in school history to Villanova on Friday. Look for Steven Boyle to break out of his recent slump against a porous Tiger defense.

6. Maryland
The Terps have four losses, but beat Georgetown, North Carolina and Virginia. The return of attackman Travis Reed from his suspension helped Maryland get back on the winning track, as the lefty put up a career-high four assists against Penn. Maryland faces Virginia on Friday in the ACC tournament semifinals, not the matchup any Terp fan wanted.

7. Georgetown
The Hoyas are the only team to beat Duke in 2008, but their loss to Loyola cost them a chance at the ECAC title and will hurt later on during NCAA tournament selection (as will their low strength of schedule). The feeling here is that the Hoyas threw away a potential top-four seed, due in part to the ECAC's off year. (The league holds an 18-27 record in out of conference games.) Georgetown's invert defense was exposed against UMass on Saturday, even though the Hoyas came away with the win.

8. Ohio State
The Buckeyes put up a offensive display in front of more than 29,000 fans on Saturday, lighting up Denver to the tune of 20 goals as the opening act to the spring football game. OSU has three overtime losses (Navy, Bucknell, UMBC), but has won eight of its past nine games -- including a win over North Carolina. The Buckeyes shoot over 37 percent as a team, which makes the Scarlet and Gray a very dangerous team.

9. North Carolina
North Carolina beat Hofstra 13-9, and it looks like all four ACC teams will make the NCAA tournament. The Tar Heels' defense, however, has been on a leave of absence so far in April, and things don't get any easier with Friday's ACC tournament semifinal against Duke.

10. Cornell
Cornell lost to Princeton on Saturday in New Jersey, which means the Ivy League will most likely get two teams into the NCAA tournament. The Big Red's best victories are against Navy, Army, Denver, Penn and Harvard, but first-team All-America Max Seibald will have to step it up if the Big Red hope to advance in the NCAA tournament. Seibald has 21 goals but only five assists, after tallying 20 a year ago on the way to being a Tewaaraton finalist.

11. Army
At Saturday's daylong event in Manhasset, N.Y., Duke simply had too much firepower for the Cadets -- Army goalie Adam Fullerton was terrific in making 24 stops, but he couldn't get to them all. Army will host the Patriot League tournament this weekend, which likely will settle which of the two Patriot teams will make it to the dance.

12. Princeton
An 11-7 win over Cornell puts the Tigers right back on top of the Ivy league. Princeton has won five of its past six games, and a critical Ivy tilt with Brown looms on the horizon. Princeton has early-season losses to Hopkins, Albany and Syracuse.

13. Navy
Demoralizing losses to Army and Hopkins (on back-to-back weekends) mean Navy must regroup for the Patriot League tournament at West Point.

14. Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish have beaten Loyola, Albany and Drexel -- but their loss to Denver and a low strength of schedule may prove costly if they don't rally to win the GWLL tournament.

15. Loyola
The first team to officially have a spot in the NCAA tournament, Charlie Toomey's Greyhounds are in as the ECAC champion after Saturday's win over Fairfield. Loyola's remaining games against Hobart and Hopkins could help it edge closer to getting seeded, as it already has beaten Georgetown, Rutgers, Towson, Fairfield, Penn State, UMass and St John's.

16. Brown
The Bears have won nine straight and are undefeated in the Ivy League, along with Princeton. Brown needed to come back late to get by Providence, which isn't a good sign as it prepares to end the season with the 1-2 punch of Cornell and Princeton and the league's automatic bid on the line.

17. Denver
The Pioneers left their defense out West -- they gave up 20 goals to Ohio State on Saturday in Columbus. Still, Denver has won eight of its past 10 games, including wins over Notre Dame, Brown, Penn and Harvard. This team is on the outer bubble, but could make noise in the GWLL tournament.

18. Drexel
A midweek loss to Delaware was eye-opening. The Dragons have lost to Delaware, Virginia and Notre Dame but have beaten Towson, Penn, Albany and Hofstra. The CAA automatic qualifier is probably the Dragons' only ticket to the big dance.

19. Hofstra
Three straight wins (over Sacred Heart, Villanova and Delaware) had the Pride on a roll, but the loss to North Carolina means the CAA tournament title will be key to Hofstra's hopes for an NCAA bid. The Hopkins win on March 8 is what Hofstra fans will point to for inclusion into the postseason, but the team's at-large résumé needs a bit more polish.

20. Bucknell
Bucknell clearly was not ready for prime time last week. A day after I included them in my top 10, the Bison fell to Penn State by a goal and then continued the downward spiral with a loss to Colgate on Saturday. That Colgate loss cost them home-field advantage for the Patriot League tournament. The Bison have victories over Army and Ohio State, but lost to Penn State, Duke and Navy. Their offense tends to disappear against top competition.

Quint Kessenich covers college and professional lacrosse for ESPN. He can be reached at quint@insidelacrosse.com.