May 7, 2013

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Washburn: End of Johns Hopkins' Tournament Streak a Good Thing

by Evan Washburn | LaxMagazine.com

With Johns Hopkins on the outside looking in of the NCAA Division I men's tournament for the first time in 41 years, Evan Washburn argues it's time for the Blue Jays to join a conference.

On Sunday night, Johns Hopkins' streak of 41 straight appearances in the NCAA tournament was officially snapped. It was an expected conclusion to the Blue Jays' year after a disappointing 9-5 season that saw them beat only one team in the RPI top 20.

I was on the call for Johns Hopkins' final game of the regular season Friday night against Army. The reality of the streak ending became very clear when the result of the CAA final between Towson and Penn State came across the wire, about two hours before we hit the air at 7:30 p.m. This caused me to shift my thinking and analysis of the Blue Jays' situation, and how we would approach it throughout the broadcast.

Johns Hopkins played with incredible effort and emotion beating Army 13-6 on the Black Knights' senior night. The result was even more impressive due to the fact that the Blue Jays were playing without starters Tucker Durkin, Jack Reilly, John Ranagan and Mike Poppleton.

With their destiny all but set, Hopkins played with a freedom that I had not seen much of this season. The most impressive performances may have been those of Durkin and Ranagan, two seniors who I am sure envisioned a very different ending to their Hopkins career. Both were in street clothes for the game due to injury. That did not temper their excitement and encouragement for those who were on the field. The two captains were the most vocal and energized guys on the sideline and it was the right way to go out.

So, as we balanced game coverage with the big picture conversation about Johns Hopkins' eventual tournament absence, it became clear to me that the end of the streak will eventually be looked upon as a good thing for the program.

Coaches and players at Johns Hopkins are under a microscope unlike any other team in the country.

A history of success, a network television contract and a large and loyal fan base has made Johns Hopkins the most recognizable program in the nation. The attention has allowed head coach Dave Pietramala to bring in blue-chip recruits who understand the expectations that come with playing at Hopkins.

But this season, it seemed that those expectations and attention became a burden.

At the most crucial times during the season this team played tight. The best example was their performance in the second half of a season-killing loss to Loyola. Also throw in one-goal losses to North Carolina and Albany and you have the formula for this year's disappointment.

It is now time for Johns Hopkins to hit the reset and refresh button.

Priority number one is to get into a conference with an automatic qualifier. With no conference tournament to play for, Hopkins has lived and died upon every regular season game and the pressure just became too much this season. The Blue Jays have been the Notre Dame of college lacrosse for a while and in 2013 it finally came back to hurt them.

The Blue Jays have been the Notre Dame of college lacrosse for a while and in 2013 it finally came back to hurt them.

This is a fact not lost on Pietramala, who said this week that this season has given him pause and forced him to think about moving toward conference alignment.

Petrimala was steadfast that no decision has been made about conference affiliation, and he would know. Pietramala is on the blue-ribbon committee that will eventually make the recommendation to University president Ronald Daniels on whether or not to explore conference alignment.

Johns Hopkins is always concerned with their brand, and for good reason, but for their brand to continue to be the gold standard they must join a conference. Having the luxury of a conference tournament and automatic bid will allow this team to play with a freedom that has been absent for years.

If you are a Blue Jay player, coach or fan, watching this year's tournament from the outside for the first time in 41 years will be a hard reality. But as time passes the focus needs to shift towards the future and adapting to the ever-changing landscape of college lacrosse. By no means should Johns Hopkins ignore their past success, but they should not rely on it as the over arcing message for the program.

This is not a call for sweeping change.

Hopkins has everything it needs to be successful, but with no postseason in 2013 it now has the motivation and evidence to reset and recharge.

First-round predictions

With all tournament games being broadcasted on the ESPN family of networks I will not be on the call for any games. This affords me the chance to get into the prediction business.

No. 1 Syracuse (13-3) vs. Bryant (8-10)
Winner: Syracuse

No. 8 Penn State (12-4) vs. Yale (11-4)
Winner: Penn State

No. 5 North Carolina (12-3) vs. Lehigh (12-4)
Winner: North Carolina

No. 4 Denver (12-4) vs. Albany (13-4)
Winner: Albany

No. 3 Ohio State (12-3) vs. Towson (10-7)
Winner: Ohio State

No. 6 Maryland (10-3) vs. Cornell (12-3)
Winner: Maryland

No. 7 Duke (12-5) vs. Loyola (11-4)
Winner: Loyola

No. 2 Notre Dame (10-4) vs. Detroit (5-9)
Winner: Notre Dame

Evan Washburn, the former Delaware defenseman and current CBS Sports Network and NBC Sports Network lacrosse commentator, provides a column each Monday during the NCAA Division I men's lacrosse season. He is also host of CBS' "Inside the MLL" and will provide weekly MLL power rankings for LaxMagazine.com starting Wednesday. Follow Evan on Twitter @EvanWashburn.


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