NCAA TOURNAMENT FIRST-ROUND PREVIEW

Bill O'Reilly has the "no-spin zone" and, as much as I like Fox News, I think my column for Saturday's game will feature some spin. Is being on the road a bad thing?

I was struck by Richie Meade and Andrew Dow both mentioning the good restaurants in Chapel Hill as a benefit of having to play the first-round game on the road. They could have added the nice, comfortable hotel, too. Navy left on Thursday, which was exceedingly smart. Get down there, get settled, get some good food, chill out in a nice hotel. Navy's football team used that recipe to do pretty well on the road this year.

Running to standstill?

A Division I coach whose team is in the playoffs said last week that Navy is better on offense when its runs as opposed to playing six-on-six. The playoffs tend to mean tighter games, but it must be tempting for Navy to look to push the tempo. I think Navy needs to look for something in transition right away but not to force it. However, if Barger comes down the field on a clear and passes immediately and runs off, that means Navy will be content to play six-on-six.

Navy needs some cheap goals. If Higgins is on the wing, it means Navy may look to push the tempo. If it's Bitter, an outstanding high school wrestler who scraps for loose balls to give Navy possession, then it's six-on-six time—and that means expect a very tight game.

Overall, this this is a wide-open NCAA tournament. And thus it's a winnable tournament for a team like Navy.

Ask 10 people which teams will provide upsets this weekend and I bet you will get 10 different answers.

Three people at Inside Lacrosse have unseeded Princeton reaching the Final Four. Some people think Virginia is in trouble against Delaware and its great faceoff man and all-left-handed first midfield (I do not share that opinion).

Others really like UMBC to beat Maryland; Loyola to beat Albany; Notre Dame to use Will Yeatman and its great faceoff man to win at Homewood; and for Navy to defeat North Carolina.

Ultimately, the upsets are tempting to pick because there is no perfect team. Duke does not have great depth at midfield. Virginia has no scoring from its midfield. Johns Hopkins has been inconsistent in the two areas you must have to advance in the playoffs--faceoffs and goalkeeping.

Albany's goalie also has been up-and-down and their defense has been very poor recently (17 goals to Syracuse, 14 to UMBC). Georgetown is very young and is facing a real test against Princeton, which punishes teams that become impatient on offense and/or defense. Etc.

Meantime, Navy's main weakness is a goalie whose confidence is up-and-down. The Mids appear to have fixed the clearing game woes and the second midfield is showing signs of life. The guy in ‘Hoosiers' said it was bad luck to talk about the next round until you advance out of the first one, so I won't address the quarterfinals. The other old tournament adage is "survive and advance."

Something tells me UNC is going to come out firing and take an early lead. Navy needs to keep its head and not panic, esp. in the goal. Survive and advance, and we can talk about one more game in NMCMS.

Christian


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