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Duke is the team to beat

The 16-team NCAA Division 1 men's lacrosse tournament is not short on storylines and potential surprises.

For the first time ever, six state schools have been invited to the party. Loyola, back for the first time since 2001 -- after playing in the tournament for 14 straight seasons -- has a chance to upset fifth-seeded Albany, which at 14-2 is the most feel-good story in the game. But the Great Danes have never won a Division 1 playoff game, and they can be had by a high-scoring, senior-laden Greyhounds squad.

UMBC (10-5) has one of the hottest attacks in the country, including dynamic freshman Cayle Ratcliffe, and the Retrievers think they can knock off No. 7 Maryland for only the fifth time in 29 meetings with the Terps. Towson (9-6), as unpredictable as any team alive, has its hands full against undefeated Cornell, which sank to a No. 4 seed due to RPI and strength of schedule formulas in some computer.

No. 3 seed Johns Hopkins respects unseeded Notre Dame, but the Irish have not beaten enough quality teams to convince me they won't get rolled at Homewood. Navy has every reason to believe, after trouncing North Carolina in early March in Annapolis, that it can knock off the eighth-seeded Tar Heels on the road and come back to Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium for a date with top seed Duke in the quarterfinals on May 20.

Ah, the Blue Devils, the team that a trumped-up rape scandal could not kill. The team that prematurely lost its 2006 season and 16-year coach Mike Pressler, and a chance to return to the title game it dropped by a goal to Hopkins in 2005. The team that has the best scoring combination the game has seen in years, in attackmen Matt Danowski and Zack Greer. The team no one relishes the thought of playing.

You think Duke (14-2) has a little chip on its shoulder, after being forced into hiding by the national media a year ago, when it had the truth on its side all along? You think Duke isn't burning with the idea of being the last team standing at M&T Bank Stadium on Memorial Day, in front of 60,000 fans, index fingers (or maybe a different one) extended?

In my mind, whether they were seeded first, second, wherever, the Blue Devils were the team to beat in this thing. Duke has it all. Talent, speed, balance, a great transition game, a strong goalie in Dan Loftus. And when you throw in the intangible -- motivation that cuts deeper than it does for any other team -- this tournament appears to be Duke's to lose.
Posted by Gary Lambrecht at 12:15 PM | | Comments (0)

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About Faceoff
Faceoff is The Baltimore Sun's blog devoted to college and high school lacrosse. Faceoff contributors include Sun reporters Edward Lee, Mike Preston and Katherine Dunn.

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