In the Crease: Rites of Spring--NCAA Tournament Begins
As spring tries to beat back the ridiculous winter of 2014, the NCAA Lacrosse Championship heats up, with the first round of games taking place this weekend.
This time of year is godsend for lacrosse fans, particularly with no team a clear favorite to walk away with the trophy on Memorial Day. This season adds even more intrigue as the field of teams competing has expanded to 18, with two play-in games winners eligible to move on to the first round.
In Wednesday’s play-in games, the Bryant Bulldogs defeated Siena, and Air Force downed first year program Richmond.
Here is a breakdown and projections for this weekend’s games. All times eastern.
(In the Crease picked 75% of the winners last week – it only gets tougher from here on out.)
Albany at #3 Loyola – Saturday 12:00 ESPNU
This game is a must watch on Saturday. Here the high-flying Thompsons of Albany face one of the strongest defenses in lacrosse.
Albany, led by Tewaaraton finalists and brothers Lyle and Miles Thompson, average 16.3 goals per game, tops in NCAA Division 1 lacrosse. Loyola, led by fellow Tewaarton finalist (and only defenseman) Joe Fletcher, gives up only half that many at 7.1. With one more point Lyle Thompson will own the all time points record for a season. He is currently tied with Steve Marohl’s 1992 record of 114. Last year Lyle teased the record with 113 points.
Miles also owns the longest current active scoring streak in DI lacrosse, scoring at least one point in his last 30 games (a total of 123 goals). He has 106 points on the year, the first time in DI history that teammates have scored over 100 points in the same season.
For all the offensive firepower of Albany, they’re still the underdog in this game. Loyola is 15-1 on the year, winning their last 15 games after a season-opening setback against Virginia. Possession and defense are keys to Loyola playing next week. Despite the great play of the Great Dane’s goalie Blaze Riordan, the Albany defense can be porous.
If Fletcher, matched up against Lyle, and the Greyhound D can stifle Albany’s lights out offense, no small feat, they stand a great chance of advancing. Johns Hopkins provides a blueprint for doing that. In March the Blue Jays limited both Miles and Lyle to just 3 goals and allowed only 8 goals for the team.
Loyola is for real, no matter what conference they play in, and a big win against cross-town rival Hopkins last week will give them confidence going into the tournament. They also have a big win against #1 seed Duke earlier in the year. The Greyhounds score over 13 points per game. Loyola’s goalie Jack Runkel is having an outstanding year, with a save percentage over 60%.
Prediction: Loyola won’t shut down the Thompsons, Lyle will own the points record outright, and Loyola will be too much for Albany to handle. Loyola in a high scoring affair.
Harvard at #6 Notre Dame – Saturday 2:30 ESPNU
Before the ACC tournament, Notre Dame (9-5) was considered a bubble team, and looked like they may be the only ACC team to stay home for the championship run. However, the Fighting Irish finished the season on a tear, won the ACC, received an automatic qualifying bid, and are now seeded #6. Notre Dame will host Harvard (10-6) on Saturday.
Harvard was the last team selected for the tournament, after losing to #4 seed Penn in the Ivy League tournament. This is Harvard’s first tournament since 2006, and Notre Dame’s 9th straight appearance.
In the game for the Ivy League championship, Harvard went almost 45 minutes without scoring a goal. A repeat of that effort will not get it done this weekend.
Dynamic attackman Matt Kavanagh, who averges 4.1 points per game, leads Notre Dame. As he goes, generally so does Notre Dame. The Irish like to score, they’ve been held under 10 points only twice this season, the last time in a 6-5 victory over Maryland in the ACC tournament. They then scored 33 goals over their next two games. Look for that trend to continue this weekend.
Projection: Notre Dame
Drexel at #4 Penn – Saturday 3:00 ESPNU
It took a hard fought triple overtime win for Drexel (12-4) in the NCAA tournament finals to advance to the NCAAs. For that effort, they face neighborhood rival Penn (11-3), who bested Harvard in the Ivy League final last weekend.
Both teams have matching eight-game win streaks going into the tournament, and neither team has an extensive NCAA tournament history. This is Drexel’s first tournament appearance. Penn has been there 11 times before.
X factors for this game are Penn’s Feeney twins. Goalie Brian had a stellar game against Harvard in the Ivy League finals, helping to hold the Crimson scoreless for 45 minutes (44:58), while his brother Danny won 11 of 15 faceoffs.
Prediciton: Look for them to keep up that pace. Penn wins.
Cornell at Maryland – Saturday 5:00 ESPNU
The #7 seed Maryland (11-3) boasts one of the best defenses in college lacrosse. Anchored by standout goalie Nick Amato (58% save rate), the Terps allow less than 7 goals per game, and have only given up 10 or more three times all year, with no team scoring more than 11. Cornell (11-4) averages over 13 per game. They won’t on Saturday.
Mike Chanenchuk leads Maryland scorers with 44 points, and FOGO (face off-get off) middie Charlie Raffa has won almost 70% of faceoffs this season.
Cornell started the year on fire winning 9 straight, but have stumbles since, going 2-4 over the last 6 games. The Big Red average just over 13 points per game.
Prediction: Maryland gets to double figures. Cornell does not.
North Carolina at Denver – Saturday 7:30 ESPNU
This should be one of the most exciting games of the weekend. North Carolina (10-4) could easily have been seeded, but weren’t. They are the only ACC team that isn’t. This may bode ill for Denver (14-2), as the Tar Heels will likely feel slighted, believing that they should be hosting a home game instead of traveling cross-country, and will have something to prove.
On paper these teams are very evenly matched--Carolina scores 13.6 goals per game to Denver’s 13.4. They both give up 8.4 goals per game. The X factor here is that Denver plays in the Big East conference, where the competition isn’t as strong as the ACC.
Against common opponents, the teams split against Notre Dame with Denver winning, Heels losing. They both lost to Duke.
Denver is on an 11-game win streak, and Carolina is 7-4 over that same time period. These two teams are very familiar with each other, meeting for the third consecutive year in the tournament. Denver bounced the Heels in the last two meetings.
Prediction: That bouncing will change this year. Carolina in a moderately high shootout.
Johns Hopkins at #8 Virginia – Sunday 1:00 ESPN2
Virginia (10-5) is an interesting team. At the start of the season they handed Loyola their only loss of the year, and jumped out of the gate with a 6-0 record, but then went cold, especially in ACC conference play, winning just 2 of 4, including the ACC showcase game against North Carolina. They are 2-3 in their last five games. Virginia has a potent offense, led by Mark Cockerton and James Pannell, who have combined for 84 goals between them on the year. The Cavaliers average 12.9 goals per game.
Hopkins (10-4) comes off a loss to #3 seed Loyola last week, ending its 5-game win streak. Hopkins is 1-3 against the ACC, with its only victory coming against Maryland. Hopkins is a young team, with only nine seniors on the squad, but the emergence of sophomores Ryan Brown (who had 8 goals in a loss to Syracuse) and Holden Cattoni account for 60 of Hopkins’ goals scored this year. In fact, sophomores account for 72 of the team’s 168 goals this season.
Virginia beat Hopkins (11-10) in overtime in March.
Virginia has won the title four times since 1999.
Hopkins has only won the title twice since 1987.
Prediction: Virginia in a tight one.
Air Force at #1 Duke – Sunday 5:15 ESPNU
On Wednesday, Air Force (10-5) defeated first-year D1 program Richmond, who turned a strong late season run into an Atlantic Sun tournament championship and an automatic qualifying bid in the NCAAs.
This year marks Air Force’s first appearance since 1988 and third time in its history.
Air Force has a tendency to jump out to early leads, and then fade as the game progresses. The Falcons are led by a strong attack unit of Mike Crampton (45 goals, 16 assists on the year), Keith Dryer (17G, 31A) and Tommy McKee (30G, 11A). Their hopes to advance in the tournament lie in their ability to score quickly and often against #1 seeded Duke, which is no small feat.
Reigning NCAA champions Duke (13-3) average 14.5 goals per game, second only to the lethal Albany squad, and hail from the deep and talented ACC. Five of the eight seeded teams are from the ACC and are all ranked in the top ten nationally. Duke is led by senior attackman and ACC offensive player of the year Jordan Wolf. Wolf is also one of the five finalists, and leading contenders for this year’s Tewaaraton Award (NCAA lacrosse’s version of the Heisman Trophy). Duke’s potent offense has also benefited from the stellar play of its midfield, led by Deemer Class, the emergence of Miles Jones as a top level scoring threat, and Brandon Fowler’s domination at the faceoff X.
Prediction: Duke, going away.
Bryant at #2 Syracuse – Sunday 7:30 ESPNU
Winning faceoffs is the key to winning possessions, and that’s what we’re looking for in this game. Bryant’s faceoff monster Kevin Massa has won 72% of his matchups at the X this season, best in DI. He showcased his talent against Siena in the play-in game on Wednesday. Siena’s Casey Dowd consistently beat Massa through the first three quarters, 9-3, but with the game on the line, Massa came up big in the 4th, winning 6 of 7 draws, to help pace Bryant to a 9-8 victory.
Syracuse’s issues at faceoff are well documented, but they’ve also proven that winning faceoffs is no guarantee of victory. In their game against Hopkins in March, the Orange won a paltry 4 of 25 faceoffs, yet rode strong defense and timely turnovers to a 12-10 victory. While it’s possible to lose faceoffs and still win games, why make it harder on your team?
To that end, Chris Daddio has stepped it up in the second half of the season, winning 55% of his faceoffs during the last 4 games.
Syracuse has a potent offense led by Tewaaraton nominees Kevin Rice and Randy Staats, and Dylan Donahue. Bryant has a strong defense, giving up 7.4 goals per game, and anchored by goalie Gunnar Waldt and his 60% save percentage.
Coach John Desko has the highest winning percentage in lacrosse postseason history (.775) and figures to add to that on Sunday.
Prediction: Syracuse has been here before, and knows how to win. They’ll be meeting the winner of the Maryland/Cornell game next week.
Tewaaraton Award Finalists Announced
The Tewaaraton Foundation has announced the 2014 Tewaaraton Award men’s and women’s finalists, presented by Panama Jack. Five men and five women were selected as finalists and will be invited to Washington, D.C. for the 14th annual Tewaaraton Award Ceremony on May 29, 2014.
The five men’s finalists are Loyola University defenseman Joe Fletcher, Princeton University midfielder Tom Schreiber, University at Albany attackman Lyle Thompson, University at Albany attackman Miles Thompson and Duke University attackman Jordan Wolf.
The five women’s finalists are University of Maryland midfielder Taylor Cummings, University of Maryland defender Megan Douty, University of Florida midfielder Shannon Gilroy, Syracuse University attacker Alyssa Murray and Syracuse University attacker Kayla Treanor.
Returning finalists include Schreiber, Lyle Thompson and Murray. Lyle and Miles Thompson are the first sibling duo to be named Tewaaraton Award finalists. Nine of the 10 finalists will compete in this month’s NCAA lacrosse championships, at the conclusion of which the selection committees will vote on and select
this year’s winners.
“This was a particularly competitive field of players this year. Its the ultimate recognition for these 10 finalists to have been chosen among many worthy candidates by the game’s top coaches on the Tewaaraton selection committees,” said Jeffrey Harvey, chairman of The Tewaaraton Foundation. “They are all worthy of the sport’s ultimate award, and we look forward to hosting this group in Washington on
The Tewaaraton Award annually honors the top male and top female college lacrosse player in the United States. Finalists were selected from a pool of 28 men’s and 27 women’s nominees. The selection committees are comprised of 11 men’s and 11 women’s current and former college coaches.
Brief bios of the men’s finalists: here
PHOTO: John Williams Duke University