NCAA Men's Lacrosse Tournament preview and schedule

Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE

An expansive preview of the upcoming NCAA Men's Lax Tournament.

We've made it. May. The NCAA Tournament. 19 days, 18 teams, 17 games. There will be upsets, there will be incredible goals, there will be great saves, and great goaltending. There will be memories made, seasons defined, legends made and sealed. There will be high scoring classics like Denver 16-14 North Carolina in 2012. There will be tight defensive struggles and memorable game winners like Grant Catalino's low to high scorcher in Maryland's 6-5 win over Syracuse in 2011 to go to Championship Weekend. Or C.J. Costabile right off the draw in OT to win Duke the title in 2010 over Notre Dame 6-5. There could be unseeded teams making a run a la Maryland in 2011 and 2012. Or it could be a 7 seed like Virginia and Duke in 2011 and 2013 who caught fire to win it. Or could be it be a dominant #1 like Loyola in 2012? We'll see. Either way, it's bound to be memorable. It nearly always is. It's May. It's May Lacrosse. It's the NCAA Tournament.

The Teams

Seed Team Record NCAAT Wins Bad Losses
1. Duke 13-3 Denver, Penn, UNC, Syracuse, Harvard, Notre Dame, UVA None
2. Syracuse 11-4 Albany, Johns Hopkins, Notre Dame, Cornell, UNC, Duke None
3. Loyola 15-1 Duke, Johns Hopkins None
4. Penn 11-3 Denver, Harvard x2, Cornell None
5. Denver 14-2 Air Force, Notre Dame None
6. Notre Dame 9-5 North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Syracuse None
7. Maryland 11-3 Syracuse, Duke, Virginia, Notre Dame None
8. Virginia 10-5 Loyola, Richmond, Drexel, Syracuse, Johns Hopkins, UNC None
U Johns Hopkins 10-4 Albany, Maryland None
U Cornell 11-4 Virginia, Penn, None
U Harvard 10-6 Cornell UMass
U North Carolina 10-4 Harvard, Maryland, Johns Hopkins, Virginia None
U Drexel 12-4 Albany Villanova
U Albany 11-5 Harvard Canisius
Play-In Air Force 10-5 None Canisius, VMI, Ohio State, Quinnipiac
Play-In Richmond 6-10 None Hartford, Holy Cross
Play-In Bryant 14-4 Drexel, Albany, Richmond None
Play-In Siena 11-5 None

Robert Morris

The Play-In Match-Ups

Play-In Game #1: Air Force vs Richmond

Air Force checks in at 23rd in Lax Power's Computer Rankings. Richmond? 56th. Yeah. The Spiders have been a great story, winning the Atlantic Sun as a 3 seed, and they tested themselves this year with some very solid opponents. Air Force has a very solid offense, averaging 12 goals per game. The defense allows about 11 goals per game, and 3 of their games have seen both teams score double digits. So there's give and take with them. They also have had inconsistent goalie play from both Brett Dadiego and Doug Gouchoe. So there's areas to exploit for a decent Richmond attack. The Spiders are slightly better on D looking at pure raw #'s, but their offense averages out to just 9 GPG. That's not bad for a FR laden attack, but maybe not enough to advance. But Air Force has shown a propensity to have ugly offensive days and lose, as evidenced by a 7-6 loss to Canisius and a 6-4 loss to VMI. So this ones oddly intriguing

Play-In Game #2: Bryant vs Siena

I had a brief preview written out here, but these two have already played. Bryant won 9-8, and plays Syracuse on Sunday.

1st Round

No. 1 Duke vs Richmond/Air Force - Koskinen Stadium, 5:15 PM ET Sunday, ESPNU

The Blue Devils are the #1 seed and for good reason. They boast a Top 5 RPI and SOS, 7 Top 20 wins, and a dominant stretch from March 11th to April 19th that saw them outscore their opponents by an astonishing 66 goals. They have an Attack that's accounted for 163 points - Jordan Wolf (51 G, 29 A), Josh Dionne (42 G, 7 A), and  Case Matheis (18 G, 16 A) -. And then they have their first line midfield. No midfield in the country causes more match-up nightmares and no player may cause an individual one like Myles Jones who's potential is turning into reality in his Sophomore season. The midfield has combined for 126 points - Deemer Class (31 G, 25 A), Myles Jones (27 G, 15 A), and Christian Walsh (18 G, 20 A) -. It's the best offense in the nation and a horror to deal with.

Add in Brandon Fowler, 12th in FO's at 60% and an improved goalkeeping situation from last year with Luke Aaron mining the pipes, and a solid defense as well, the Blue Devils are the favorites to repeat and win it all again. But they don't have it all easy. Luke Duprey suffered an injury a few weeks ago and is done for the year. Duke can also get out of rhythm when Fowler isn't in control at the X. So there's areas to exploit.

But as said above, Air Force and Richmond aren't the teams to exploit those areas. Neither have good FO men, and while Air Force has a solid offense, their defense would be ripped apart by Duke, and Richmond wouldn't have the offense to keep up. BIG advantage to Duke in this one.

No. 8 Virginia vs Johns Hopkins - Klockner Stadium, 1:00 PM ET Sunday, ESPN2

In the build-up to Selection Sunday there was lots of talk that we'd see a "Final Four game" in the first weekend. It was believed we'd see two historic powers battle it out. And that's what we're getting here. Virginia and Johns Hopkins. As good as it gets in college lacrosse. This is the 2nd meeting between these two this year, the first an 11-10 Virginia win in OT on March 22, also at Klockner. With what is sure to be a great crowd on hand, the home crowd could yet again give UVA the extra push to victory in such an even match-up. The Cavs are 8th in scoring offense, with 13 GPG, the Blue Jays are 11th. The big difference will be the huge disparity in the teams defensive rankings. Hopkins is 7th, Virginia is 43rd. 8 GA per for JHU, 11 for UVA. The Blue Jays have retained the defensive steel that defined them for such a long time under Dave Pietramala. They were a hard-hitting, defensive powerhouse who burned teams in transition. That approach had become a bit "outdated" and they switched to a more "motion offense" and quicker ball movement with a two man game. But they've get that strong defense which could be the difference here.

Future conference foes

JHU also holds a strong advantage in the face-off game, with Drew Kennedy coming in at 60% and 11th in the nation. UVA meanwhile, has struggled with finding a consistent FOGO all year. With a strong defense and netminding behind them with Eric Schneider filling the hole when Pierce Bassett left very strongly, it would appear Hopkins has an advantage in this one, despite the prolific UVA attack of Mark Cockerton (45 G, 15 A), James Pannell (39 G, 7 A), and Owen van Arsdale (10 G, 25 A). That's 141 points. Matt Barrett has been solid in cage, but inconsistent. That, plus a struggling defense and poor FO game means JHU is probably the favorite, but UVA has one advantage up their sleeve despite the porous defense. The Cavs are renowned for using a zone defense, and Loyola's zone defense gave Hopkins fits on Saturday. While UVA likely can't operate it the way Loyola did, it's still a benefit and one that could negate the big defensive advantage Hop holds. Add in the psychological advantage and the home field one and UVA is likely the slight favorite. This one will be a doozy.

No. 4 Penn vs Drexel - Franklin Field, 3:00 PM ET Sunday, ESPNU

A good old fashioned Philly brawl. Less than a mile separates Franklin Field, home of the Quakers, and Vidas Field, home of the dragons. This ones for bragging rights, but also a trip to the NCAA Quarterfinals, a place Penn hasn't been since 1988 and place Drexel has never been. This is the Dragons first NCAAT and they relinquished the title of "best team to never make the NCAA Tournament" when they won the CAA Title over Hofstra last saturday. The Dragons are bolstered by a Top 5 FOGO in Nick Saputo who wins 63% of his draws, and a Top 15 offense which scores 11.7 goals per game. Drexel has a decent D, which gives up exactly 10 goals per game and is ranked 32nd in the nation. They check in at 19th in LaxPower's computer rankings. So there's a good Drexel team on the field. But they also would be a team some of the seeded teams wouldn't of minded seeing in Round 1.

For Penn, their backbone comes from their All-American caliber goalie Brian Feeney who's saved 55% of his shots this year. Add that to a D who allows just about 9 goals per game and you have a terrific back end. But Penn has some talented men on offense too. Zack Losco has totaled 38 points from midfield, and scored 4 in a row to propel Penn to a win over Cornell in last Friday's Ivy League semi-final. The issue for Penn is just 86 points from their top 3 point getters on offense. There's talented men there, but just not that extra spark. And that could be what holds Penn back.

This shapes up to be a very even match-up and with a healthy mix of both Penn and Drexel fans in attendance, we've got a very good first round battle in Philly.

No. 5 Denver vs North Carolina - Peter Barton Stadium, 7:30 PM ET Saturday, ESPNU

Remember how I said UVA-JHU was a Championship Weekend caliber game in the First Round? This one is even more. This is going to be an absolute high-octane, up-tempo, back and forth thriller. Would not be surprised to see these two break 30 combined goals. And with the history of these two, I'm confident in it.

Denver and UNC met in an NCAA Quarterfinal in Indianapolis last year. The Tar Heels jumped out to a 5-0 lead and led by 5 goals at HT. And then the meltdown came. Denver outscored UNC 8-2 in the second half and won 12-11 to earn a trip to Championship Weekend in a thriller. The two played an even better game the year before in the 1st Round at Kenan Stadium, with the Pios upsetting UNC 16-14. So this is a certified post-season rivalry between two of the most exciting teams in the nation.

This year shapes up to be another even match-up. Denver leads the nation in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency. Carolina is 4th. Carolina tops the nation in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, while Denver is a ways back at 25th. So this is most certainly a test of strength vs strength. Where Denver could hold the advantage is in possessions. The Pios rank 19th in Possession Margin per 60 minutes of play, while UNC is 41st and typically is behind in the possessions. If Denver has the ball, and is continually testing the UNC Defense, even as great a unit as the one the Tar Heels has could crack. Kieran Burke is a terrific goalie, but with so potentially a lot of shots from many different threats coming his way, even he could slip up. So Carolina has to keep the possession margin close. If they do, with Carolina looking better all-around in both facets, they'll have the advantage. Sankey and Bitter present a very strong two man game, and Ryan Creighton is one of the best SSM in the nation. This is a very good Tar Heels team that probably should be seeded.

Where Denver holds the advantage, and my confidence, is the intangibles. If there's one thing I know that can not be disputed in College Lacrosse, it's that Bill Tierney is the best coach in the country, has been for over 20 years, and you don't bet against him. Even if your life depended on it. Tierney went to 8 title games at Princeton, won 6, and went to Championship Weekend 10 times. Before he got there? Princeton hadn't even made the tournament. Then he went to Denver, a program that had made only 2 NCAA Tournaments before he got there. His first year he got them back there. In 2011 he went to the Final Four, winning them their first 2 NCAAT games. Then he did it again in 2013 and came oh so close to another trip to Memorial Day. He is an X-Factor that no one else has. But that's not all.

The other factor is the flight UNC will have to take. It's a long way from Carolina to Denver, and with potentially weary legs, in high altitude which only the Pios are used too, in front of a raucous crowd at Peter Barton Stadium, Denver is the favorite despite the advantages the Tar Heels have on paper.

No. 3 Loyola vs Albany - Ridley Athletic Complex, Noon ET Saturday, ESPNU

I told you Denver-Loyola is likely to be fireworks. This one? Even better. The Greyhounds are rolling. 15 wins in a row since a loss to Virginia in their first game, No. 1 nearly all year, and they obliterated the Patriot League. Yes, it was relatively poor. But Loyola steamrolled through their conference and is on a roll. They have an experienced Senior Jack Runkel in goal who was fantastic in their march to the title in 2012, the best D man in the nation - Joe Fletcher, and an attack that's combined for 179 points. They have a 50 assist man - Justin Ward. A 50 goal man -Nikko Pontrello. They're a complete team and my pick to win it all. And while they got a favorable match-up, Albany's defense and D Mids are a huge question mark and have been all year, this one is still pretty intriguing.

Reason being....The Thompson Trio. There hasn't been a more electrifying sibling duo than Lyle and Miles since Casey and Ryan Powell at Syracuse in 97-98. There hasn't been more electrifying a trio than Lyle, Miles, and Ty in college lacrosse.....ever. Lyle Thompson is the best player in the nation. Bar none. 45 Goals and 69 assists this year. 114 points. He's tied the all time record for most points in a season. And his brother Miles? Oh he's got 100+ points too with 74 goals and 34 assists. First duo to do that in NCAA history. Oh and did I mention Cousin Ty? His 36 goals seem paltry in comparison. But he's done some insane stuff too. The fact we get to see these guys at least one more time is a gift.

These guys will cause Loyola all sorts of problems. You don't stop these guys. And while they'll keep Albany in it and put a dozen+ they'll need a few other factors to go their way. Blaze Riorden needs to do better than saving 52% of his shots. He needs a performance that he had last year in upset wins over Syracuse and Johns Hopkins. And Albany needs some semblance of performance in transition from their LSM and their defense. If they can hold Ward to 4-5 points, Pontrello to 1-2 goals, at most 3, and take guys like Matt Sawyer and Brian Schultz out of it, Albany's got a good shot. But that hasn't happened all year, and I can't see it happening now. We'll have a good one either way, but if Albany can get those performances from Riorden and their D, we'll have an instant classic and maybe an upset. But the Greyhounds are solid favorites.

No. 6 Notre Dame vs Harvard - Arlotta Stadium, 2:30 ET Saturday, ESPNU

The Irish are rolling and full of confidence. Three straight wins, all over very good teams. They beat the 7 seed Maryland and 2 seed Syracuse to win the ACC Tournament, and then won a shootout over a very solid Army squad, 18-17. And this was a team who some thought wouldn't make the tournament just 2 weeks ago. It's been a big turnaround for the Irish and several factors have contributed, and they'll be benefits to a Notre Dame team definitely capable of making it to Championship Weekend. But they're also capable of losing in the 1st Round, which is what makes this match-up so interesting.

The factors that have contributed to Notre Dame's resurgence and ability to get the 6 seed have been mainly on the offensive end. From March 25th to April 19th, in games against Ohio State, Syracuse, Duke, Robert Morris, and Maryland, Conor Doyle, Notre Dame's 2nd big offensive threat after Matt Kavanagh scored just 10 goals. 4 of them came vs SU. So 10 goals in 5 games, 4 in 1 game. Those aren't bad #'s, but the Irish needed better from a guy as talented as Doyle. He's responded with 7 goals in his last 3, including 4 vs Army and the game-winner. If he's on, this ND offense is dangerous. The other has been scoring from other guys that were inauspicious in the earlier days of the season. John Scioscia's highest goal tally of the year was a hat-trick vs Notre Dame. He had 6 goals vs Army. He had scored 6 goals in his previous 5 games combined. Jim Marlatt had a hat-trick vs Syracuse. He hadn't done that vs a winning team all year. Higher production from some of their 3rd, 4th, and 5th but still very talented options is why ND is playing as well it is right now.

Another big factor has been the improvement of Conor Kelly in cage. Kelly has made 31 saves over the last 3 games, including 21 vs Maryland and Syracuse. He also made a huge save on Kevin Rice in the waning moments of ND's ACC Tournament Final win over Syracuse. He's dialed in.

For Harvard, their coming in on the opposite end of the spectrum. Despite a season that was better than expected, 10 wins, and a trip to the Ivy League final, they still are coming in sputtering. They went over 40 minutes in a loss vs Penn in the Ivy Final and scored only 5 goals all day. But this team still has the ability to break out, as evidenced by 14 goals in a win over Cornell, and 21 goals in two wins over arch-rival Yale. They have two 40 point scorers, Peter Schwartz and Devin Dwyer, and they make a formidable duo. 34 A for Dwyer, 25 G for Schwartz. And that's not it. Will Walker had 34 goals and is a tremendous inside finisher. This Harvard defense is very sharp when on, but struggles against really good defenses. The Irish qualify.

This game has the potential to go one of two ways. An offensive struggle from Harvard, with ND pushing 12 goals or so and comfortably winning. Or the Harvard offense comes alive and their defense steps up and outperforms Notre Dame's, which is certainly possible, and the Crimson win their first NCAAT game since 1996. But there's a good chance the former is what will happen, and the Irish are a 2-3 goal favorite in my eyes.

No. 7 Maryland vs Cornell - Byrd Stadium, 5 ET Saturday, ESPNU

The first thing that pops out is: "Oh wow. Rematch from last years First Round". And that's all it is. A rematch from last years first round. The script has changed for both those teams, and to expect anything like what Rob Pannell, Steve Mock, and A.J. Fiore did to Maryland last year is unwise. These teams are vastly different.

So we meet again...

For Maryland, while the offense still is a patient one that starts from the midfield, there's differences. And those differences are big for the Terps in this match-up. Last year Maryland was a team built for a no timer-on world, and they had troubles adapting too it. This gave the Terps only 2 distinct options on offense. Transition goals and plays to Jesse Bernhardt and the very good Maryland midfield, or hoping they could get hot from the outside and therefore find space for Owen Blye and Jay Carlson. As their shooting went cold in April and May, Maryland struggled mightily, scoring just 9 goals per game, and that's counting 18 goals against an okay Colgate team. Against Johns Hopkins, Yale, Virginia, and Cornell they averaged a putrid 6.5 per game.

This year, Maryland has more options. They have more effective dodgers in Henry West, and on occasion Mike Chanenchuk. They have a far more successful game behind the cage with Connor Cannizzaro when they go that route. And Chanenchuk has taken the mantle of quarterback of the offense and done splendid, something the Terps didn't have last Spring. These factors give Maryland a far better chance of getting goals on the board and getting the W.

For Cornell, their offense has changed a bit while still being very effective. They have two 50 point attackmen, Matt Donovan and Dan Lintner. Donovan has been fantastic both scoring and being a threat to feed the rock, with 31 goals and 22 assists. Lintner meanwhile has taken the role of Steve Mock as deadly inside finisher, with 46 goals. Those two themselves pose a big threat on defense. Then they get 117 points from their first-line midfield, Connor Buczek, John Hogan, and John Edmonds. Big Red's offense is once again full of threats, and deadly.

But the big key in this one is the difference in philosophy from Cornell. Last year they ran a two man game with Pannell and Mock. That offense is perfectly suited to unlocking Maryland's defense, #1 in the country in scoring defense (6.93 goals allowed per game). It draws the Maryland defenseman out on the perimeter to cover a deadly feeder from behind the cage, and creates space for dangerous inside finishers. Joey Sankey and Jimmy Bitter did it to perfection for North Carolina, and Johns Hopkins' Wells Stanwick and Ryan Brown did it brilliantly as well. But for Cornell this year, their offense emerged from the midfield with Buczek and "from the top" so to speak far more. That offense allows Maryland to keep it's structure and force the opposing O to only get off tough shots against the best goalie in the nation, Niko Amato. This change in philosophy from Cornell with new coach Matt Kerwick could be the key to Maryland's success.

With Charlie Raffa also likely holding a big advantage over Doug Tesoriero at the X, something he didn't do last year, and Maryland likely doing far better on GB's than they did last year, the Terps are a couple goal favorite at home. But that all goes out the window if Mike Chanenchuk isn't healthy. He's not 100 sure if he's fully healthy and if he isn't, the Terps offense is back to that stage they were at when they played last year. Chanenchuk believes the day off vs Navy helped, and while I'm no doctor, I think he'll be ready. He is, Maryland's in good shape and the favorite. He's not, and that switches.

No. 2 Syracuse vs Bryant - Carrier Dome, 7:30 ET Sunday, ESPNU

These two teams met last year and the main story was Kevin Massa. Massa is the #1 face-off man in the country, winning 72% of his draws. That's 5% better than the No. 2, Charlie Raffa. When you're 5% better on face-offs than Charlie Raffa, you're absurdly good. And Massa dominated Syracuse, losing very few and making it a 4th Quarter game. If Massa does that again, Bryant could have some fun attacking a vulnerable Syracuse defense, which is 57th in the country, allowing 12 goals per game. Goalkeeping for Syracuse, in Dom Lamolinara and Bobby Wardwell, is huge.

Bryant possesses a very strong D as well, 5th in the country, It's not going to be easy for the Orange to break down this group when they get the chance, despite just how good they are. 6th in the country, and with 181 points from their attack. 76 points from Kevin Rice, a do it all attackmen who scores and feeds with insane precision behind the cage. And 50 points each from silky inside finisher Randy Staats, who possesses ridiculous control in tight.  And then there's Dylan Donahue, maybe the best finisher in all of college lacrosse with a 50%+ shooting percentage.

And those names are why Syracuse is still the favorite. Bryant has the FO advantage. And a better defense. But you can't shut down those guys, and Bryant hasn't seen a group like them. The Orange's 2 goalie system has worked well and it should help them here, with both goalies likely playing well. If they do, the Orange will win, but it will be a 4th Quarter game.

Quarter-Finals

Duke/Richmond or Air Force vs Virginia/Johns Hopkins

Duke will beat Richmond/Air Force easily, and Virginia/JHU is a toss-up. The Blue Devils would be favorites vs either, and would hold many advantages. If it's Virginia, it helps that Duke has won 14 of the last 16 meetings and Virginia has won 2 National Titles since they last beat Duke in the regular season. Add in match-up nightmares from the midfield, and Duke's got many things that should help them win. If it's JHU, Duke has a very deep offense that's similar to the ones Syracuse, Virginia, and Loyola imposed in scoring 12, 11, and 13 goals vs the Blue Jays. Duke would be a couple goal favorite there as well

Penn/Drexel vs Denver/North Carolina

I expect Penn to get by Drexel, and if the Quakers offense which scored double digits in 5 of their first 8 games shows up vs Denver or North Carolina, there's a good chance it's Penn making it's way to Baltimore. But Penn's offense has been sliding and that would be terminal if it's the Tar Heels as their opponent. And Denver's no slouch either defensively. If it's Drexel, the Dragons have a good advantage at the face-off X and a good offense, but it's likely a bridge too far. Denver/Carolina are most likely to get to Championship Weekend

Loyola/Albany vs Notre Dame/Harvard

The Greyhounds hold the statistical advantages over all of these teams, and if Graham Savio plays as he did vs Johns Hopkins at the dot, Loyola is an even bigger favorite to get out of this section and move on to Championship Weekend in their backyard. But it won't be all that easy. Albany has the offense that could carry them to a deep run, and Notre Dame and Harvard both have strengths as well, particularly the well balanced Irish. But Loyola's the favorite, and the 'Hounds should be playing on Memorial Day weekend.

Maryland/Cornell vs Syracuse/Bryant

This may be the closest section of all of them. There's stats that favor both Maryland and Cornell, and the systems on paper point to a Maryland advantage, which means the Terps are likely to advance and have a good match-up, but it's certainly no guarantee. Cornell has been sliding a bit as well, and Big Red is not in the same shape they were coming in to last year. Syracuse has been one of the hottest teams over the last month or so and is playing better than anyone in this section. Whether it's Maryland/Syracuse or Cornell/Syracuse, it'll come down to the wire.

Championship Weekend

First Semi-Final:

I expect Duke and Denver in this spot, and it'll be a very, very close game, with Duke likely taking it. But if it's unseeded North Carolina, look for the Tar Heels to break a 23 year duck and get back to Memorial Monday.

Second Semi-Final:

Expect Loyola on one side, and the Greyhounds will feel very comfortable at home in Baltimore. With arguably the most complete team in the field, they're the team most likely to get to the Championship, whether it's Maryland or Syracuse here. But both will be playing very well should they get here, especially Maryland.

Championship

Look for Duke vs Loyola for the Championship, in a game that's far tighter than Loyola's 14-7 win at Ridley in March.

We'll have an individual preview for Maryland-Cornell on Friday, and pieces on H2W and a gamethread for the game on Saturday. And there will be a reaction piece no matter the result on Saturday. Stick with us for more of the coverage we'll be bringing for you in the lead-up to the NCAA Tournament.

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