The NCAA Lacrosse Tournament is back. After another wild season chock full of upsets, classic games, and incredible performances from players all across the country, 16 teams will gather to decide who will be crowned the national champion in 2015. Will it be Notre Dame winning their first title? Syracuse winning title #12? Denver being the first school West of the Mississippi River to win title? Can Duke three-peat? Could Maryland finally break their 40 year title drought? Heck, maybe Lyle Thompson lifts Albany to a title, becoming the first unseeded team to ever do it. We'll see. No matter who wins it, or who makes the Final Four, it promises to be a tremendous tournament once again.
|Seed||Team||Record||Wins over NCAAT Teams||Bad Losses|
|1.||Notre Dame||10-2||Virginia, Ohio State, Syracuse, Duke, North Carolina||None|
|2.||Syracuse||12-2||Cornell, Virginia, Hopkins, Duke, Albany, North Carolina, Colgate||None|
|3.||North Carolina||12-3||Hopkins, Denver, Duke, Virginia, Syracuse||None|
|4.||Denver||13-2||Duke, Notre Dame,||None|
|5.||Duke||12-5||Virginia, Notre Dame||None|
|6.||Maryland||12-3||North Carolina, Ohio State||None|
|8.||Cornell||10-5||Albany, Colgate, Yale||Harvard|
|U||Hopkins||9-6||Maryland, Ohio State||None|
|U||Ohio State||11-6||Denver, Maryland, Johns Hopkins, Towson||Detroit, Rutgers|
|U||Brown||12-4||Cornell, Marist||Bucknell, Penn|
|U||Towson||12-5||Hopkins||Loyola, Hofstra, Drexel|
No. 1 Notre Dame vs Towson - Arlotta Stadium, 5:00 PM ET Saturday, ESPNU
Notre Dame might be the most complete team in the country. The Irish's first attack unit is deadly. Matt Kavanagh is a nominee for the Tewaaraton Trophy and put together a 50 point season. Conor Doyle, the Senior leader on this squad, is the conductor of the offense scoring 24 goals to go along with 17 assists. And then there's Freshman Mikey Wynne who's a crease monster. He always finds space in front of the cage and has found the net 32 times on the year. And if that's not enough to worry about, there's 6'4', 220 lb midfielder Sergio Perkovic to deal with. The sophomore is an absolute match-up nightmare and capable of taking over a game at any point.
The defense of ND is nothing to sniff at either. This is a program that was built on and is still known for it's defense and even with the more up tempo style they currently employ...the Irish D still ranked in the Top 20 in Goals Against and Massey's Lacrosse ratings rank the Irish defense 2nd in the country. They're really good.
Towson is a club that lives through it's defense. Massey ranks it 6th in the country and they're 2nd in the country in Goals Against, giving up just 7.5 tallies per game. They've given up over ten goals just twice on the season, including holding teams to five goals or below three times on the year. The problem? The Tigers don't score enough. They've hit over ten goals in only six of their seventeen games played, and two of those came in losses. Now they do have a deep team. Seven players hit over 15 points and their 4th best point producer from the attack, Max Siskind, put up a 20 goal campaign. But that's just not going to be enough against Notre Dame.
Prediction: Irish roll easily into Quarterfinal weekend
No. 8 Cornell vs Albany - Schoellkopf Field, 12:00 PM ET Saturday, ESPNU
The two teams who were likely jockeying for that final 8th seed square off in the first game of the weekend. Cornell's had an inconsistent and up and down season, while Albany's squad might even supersede the group that took them to within minutes of a trip to Championship Weekend. That's despite losing Miles and Ty Thompson. But Lyle's back and he's got some talented guys alongside him.
For Cornell the key is to hope your big guns have strong afternoons and that Domenic Massimilian has a big day at the face-off X. Matt Donovan and Connor Buczek are Seniors and have combined for 112 points on the season, and 217 points over the last two seasons. They are the guys for Big Red. If they're not having good games...Cornell doesn't have a good games. Now CU does have other guys. Dan Lintner and John Edmonds are Donovan's linemates on attack and have combined for 47 goals. But they get their opportunities from Donovan dodging from behind the cage and initiating. And if Buczek isn't finding the back of the net...it makes it a lot easier for opponents to back off and make other guys force things. The more possessions they have though, the better the chances of finding the back of the net. Massmilian is 7th in the country in FO win % at 64% and in the regular season meeting against Albany, he won 12-16 draws in the middle quarters. The more the ball is in Cornell's hands and out of Lyle Thompson's hands the better for Big Red.
On the Albany side of things it is undoubtedly the Lyle Thompson show. He's scored the most points in the history of Division 1 Lacrosse. He has 107 points this year and is 1st in PPG. He's just as likely to shoot it between his legs or throw it into the net with one hand as he is to make an incredible feed to one of his teammates. Quite simply...he might be the best player to ever play the sport. And that's not it for the Scoobies. They've got TWO other 50 goal scorers on the roster in Connor Fields and Seth Oakes. John Maloney and Tim Cox bring the experience in the midfield while chipping in with a goal or two. Blaze Riorden's a solid goalie. Now their defense can be exposed. There's no doubt about it. They're 42nd in the country in Massey's Ratings for defense. But you're going to have to score at least a dozen despite that. There's teams who can certainly do it. Is it a fading Cornell team? Not sure.
Prediction: Albany by at least half a dozen.
No. 4 Denver vs Brown - Peter Barton Stadium, 3:00 PM ET Sunday, ESPNU
Goals, goals, goals and then more goals. From a pure excitement standpoint...I don't think there's a better 1st Round game. Denver scores 14 goals per game. Brown scores 14 goals per game. Both boast Top 10 Offensive teams per Massey. The Pios offense is 2nd in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency. But that's about it that's similar between these two high octane offenses. They go about getting their goals in very different ways.
First we'll look at Denver. The Pios are incredibly efficient. That's their identity. They wait, wait, and wait for you to make a mistake and on the first opportunity they will punish you. Their ball movement is incredible to watch and creates endless open net backdoor finishes. They're always getting assists on their goals. It comes so easy. They don't have many shots on their offensive possessions because they hardly need any to score. It's usually one shot, one goal. And it'll come from anywhere. Remember Connor Canizzaro? The former Terp transferred to Denver and has lit it up, scoring 79 points. He might be the best dodger from behind the cage in college lacrosse. Wes Berg is still there. One of the best finishers in the game, he's dumped in 43 goals. Zach Miller has 27 and 20 for 47 points. Erik Adamson is their sniper from the midfield and has 31 goals. Tyler Pace frequently inverts - a midfielder playing down low on the attack - and seems to always be open in front for goals. He's scored 39 points. And despite all those #'s....their team MVP may be none of those guys. It might be Freshman FOGO Trevor Baptiste.
Baptiste is an absolute nightmare for teams at the X. He's won 72.5% of his draws on the year. I repeat: 72.5%. That leads the nation by a country mile. In a game earlier this year against Georgetown Baptiste lost one draw all day. Out of 26. He's as automatic as it gets. With how efficient Denver's offense is and with the potential that he could rip off ten draws in a row at any time...you could be down seven or eight goals to the Pios in ten minutes. It's scary.
Now even though I just wrote Brown's eulogy it's not like the Bears have no chance. Bruno is one of the more unique teams in recent memory. They love to run. They'll go up and down the field for 60 minutes. Non stop. They're 1st in the nation in Estimated Pace. It's incredible how fast they play. And it pays dividends. Dylan Molloy has ripped off an 89 point season and combined with Henry Blynn and Kylor Bellistri...Bruno's attack has 192 points in three players. And yet the funnest part about them is watching the long poles get involved. Long Stick Midfielder Larken Kemp averages five groundballs and two Caused Turnovers per game. The former is one of the best numbers in the country for a none FOGO and the latter sees him sit in the Top 5. And he has full license to join the rush and score or assist. He has 14 points! His other fellow D Middie, Alec Tulett has 13 points. By throwing so many athletic and capable scoring bodies at you...their bound to find opportunities. But the issue for Brown is that in 6-on-6 sets...the offense tends to slow down. When you limit their transition chances you limit the offense. They went scoreless for nearly the entire second half in a Ivy League semifinal loss to Yale. Now they are capable of dragging an opponent into their world and making someone play hyper-fast when they want to play slow. But teams do that all the time against Denver. Usually doesn't work. That will likely be this game's key.
Prediction: Denver by three to four in a game that has a combined total of 30 goals.
No. 5 Duke vs Ohio State - Koskinen Stadium, 7:30 PM Saturday, ESPNU
Duke is the college lacrosse program of the decade. Three National Championships, five Final Fours - as apart of a streak of eight in a row. Every year they come alive in April and May, peak at the right time, and make a run deep to Memorial Day weekend with an electric offense and experienced defense. And lately it's ended in championships. Despite all that though...the Blue Devils have been better than a five seed just twice in the last six NCAA Tournaments. They won the title as the 5th seed in 2010 and as a 7th seed in 2013. 2014 was as the 1st seed. This year Duke is once again the 5th seed, once again looking to make another deep run.
On the flip side, the Ohio State Buckeyes are back in the NCAA Tournament for the 5th time in school history, all in the last thirteen years. Their last trip to The Big Barbecue was in 2013 when as the 3rd seed they made it to the Quarterfinals before being shredded by Rob Pannell's Cornell Big Red. This is most certainly a program on the rise. And this year, which started with so much promise as they began 10-3 and had Maryland on the ropes in The Horseshoe, and then looked lost after blowing that game to the Terps and capitulating vs Rutgers, still has a chance to be a memorable one. The Buckeyes could make this an incredibly tight game and give Jesse King a chance to define his legacy late....or could get blown off the field. No one's quite sure which will occur.
Statistically this is another terrific Duke offense. Led by Myles Jones (39 G-36 A-75 Points) the Devils rank 1st in Massey's Offensive Ratings. They're 4th in scoring offense. 5th in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency. They have a 50 goal scorer in Justin Guterding. Jack Bruckner has taken up Josh Dionne's role as crease monster and run with it, going for 44-11-55. And Jones' running mate on the 1st Line Midfield, Deemer Class, has 52 points on the season. But something seems wrong with this offense. And it's that for the first time in a very long time, maybe in 10 years, Duke doesn't have a true playmaker running their attack. They don't have that #1 conductor on the attack line. There is no Jordan Wolf. There is no Ned Crotty. And there is no Matt Danowski. Now Duke was incredibly blessed to have ten years of those three guys running their offense at different times. But this year...they don't seem to have a guy really close. Guterding and Bruckner are great finishers but not great passers. Case Matheis has always been a third wheeler. And this hurts Duke. Because despite how incredible Myles Jones is - he's the worst match-up in the sport - it's hard to win when you don't have an elite player on the attack. Jones can do a lot of things. He can dodge and shoot. He can shoot rockets from the perimeter. He can pass on the run. But it's easier to shot off a great midfielder, even one like Myles Jones, then it is to shut off a guy like Wold, Danowski, or Crotty. And that might be Duke's undoing at some stage.
The question is...will Ohio State be the team to do that? They have a Top 15. They have a very good goalkeeper in Tom Carey. So their defense is certainly capable of holding the Blue Devils to a manageable scoreline. And their 9th as a team in face-off percentage. They have features that give them a shot at an upset. But they play slow. I mean...really slow. And their not an efficient offense. There's a world where the Buckeyes can dictate the possessions. Where their defense can hold Duke to under ten goals. And Duke's defense isn't spectacular. But can the Buckeyes make the most of those possessions? They're not a great shooting team and they don't have a lot of assists on their goals. You need to be those two things when you play slow. Now maybe Jesse King has an incredible performance and can really carry his team through. But it's hard to see.
Prediction: Duke. Rather comfortably in the end
No. 3 North Carolina vs Colgate - Fetzer Field, 5:15 PM ET Sunday, ESPNU
If you want an upset among the Top 3-4 seeds...this could be it. I'm not saying it will be. North Carolina is really, really good. Maybe the best team they've had in a long time. But Colgate's tricky. This is the kind of first round trap game that national title hopefuls occasionally have to survive if you're outside of the top two. (Or if you're Syracuse and you've made a living lately out of going home as the #2 seed.)
Carolina's got it at all. There's been years in the past where the Heels defense let them down despite all the offensive talent. Or years where they just couldn't put teams away late in ball games. This year they're complete from top to bottom, all across the board. You can make the case that they're the best team in the land. And it all starts in the attack with Seniors Jimmy Bitter and Joey Sankey. Bitter's gone for 34-35-69 and morphed into a complete offensive talent after years of being strictly a goalscorer. Sanket's the greatest point scorer in the history of Carolina lacrosse and has 27-36-63 on the year, once again being the main conductor of their offense. And finally, after a year in 2014 in which their reliance on just Bitter and Sankey hurt them, the Heels added someone to run with them. Luke Goldstock. He's scored a whopping 44 goals. That's the most for a Tar Heel since Billy Bitter scored 46 in 2009. And this offense does everything. 2nd in Scoring offense. 5th in Massey's Ratings for offense. 2nd in Assists Per Game. 9th in Shot Percentage. 2nd in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency. They can play fast, they can play show. They can shoot from the outside, they can dodge from Goal Line Extended. It's an incredible unit that's going to put up goals.
It's not just the offense that's led this team to the 3rd seed in the tournament though. Massey ranks their defense 12th. They're 9th in the country in Caused Turnovers Per Game. They boast a Top 20 man down defense as well. Adjusted Defensive Efficiency? 7th. Austin Pifani could potentially be one of the All-America teams. Kieran Burke in goal is steady and reliable. There's a backbone to this UNC team and it's what could help put them over the hump and back to Championship Weekend for the first time in 22 years.
Colgate's a team that does everything good too. Not quite to the level of the Heels, but this is still a very balanced squad. Massey ranks their offense Top 20 and defense Top 10. Their 10th in Man Down D, and a very strong 3rd in Man-Down O. That could bode very well for this weekend. If you don't have as much talent as your opponent and aren't quite as strong 6-on-6 you've got to win the special teams situations. The Red Raiders could do that. The offense has two seniors leading them in points, Ryan Walsh with 30-17-47 from the Attack and Matt Clarkson with 20-27-47 from the midfield. They usually only hit around 9-12 or so but they do have the potential to burst through for a big game. They'll be looking too hit around their mean and drag the Tar Heels down to a grind it out, trench warfare type game. UNC wants to play super fast. Colgate wants it to be more methodical. Whoever dictates their pace probably wins the game.
Prediction: I can see Colgate winning this. I really can. They nearly beat Syracuse last week. And Carolina is known for always doing less with more, particularly in May. But I can't pull the trigger. UNC by 3-4 goals.
No. 6 Maryland vs Yale - Byrd Stadium, 2:30 PM ET Saturday, ESPNU
This very well could be the tightest game of Round 1. It's a virtual toss up. Maryland's D is still the best unit in the land, despite it's struggles in the 4th Quarter over the last few weeks. It only gives up an average of 6.6 goals per game. Yale's defense is Top 10 in Goals Allowed and 4th in Massey. Kyle Bernlohr has struggled lately but is still saving 59% of his shots, good for 3rd in the nation. Eric Natale is only saving 50% of his shots. Could be an edge for the Terps. Yale boasts a Top 20 offense. Maryland's offense is outside the Top 20 and wants to grind out and get to 10. Advantage Elis. Maryland is 24th in Face-Off Team Percentage. Yale is 26th. Toss up. And we know how badly Maryland needs those possessions. This game could go either way.
On the Maryland side, they want to dictate pace. We know this. They couldn't do it vs Johns Hopkins and got into a shootout that they lost. Against Ohio State they were able too...but the Buckeyes are comfortable at that pace and got the most out of their possessions. The Terps didn't. Maryland's a volume offense that shoots the ball a lot. They're 5th in the nation in Shots per Possession. You can't be a volume offense if you're not running your offense and playing your game. You become something you're not. Despite all this...they'd be better served with more dodging and the creation of great shots rather than a lot of shots. Henry West has posted 17 goals this year. Not a lot have come lately. He needs to become a better dodger and to get some goals. Joe LoCascio is going to be guarded more tightly and that means West needs to pose a problem. Matt Rambo once again needs to be the alpha male of the offense. He has to assert himself. Drive to the cage, use his frame. Dodge from behind the net. A little more pace to Maryland's usual grind it out type of game could mean all the difference.
For Yale, it's about keeping it close in terms of possessions. The Elis have the potential to speed it up. They're a very athletic unit at the attack and while not super fast, are 27th in the country to Maryland 62nd in Estimated Pace. It's just not as much of a limited offense like Maryland's. They do have themselves an Alpha Male - Conrad Oberbeck. He burned the Terps way back in February and had a 61 point season. Ben Reeves, a Freshmen, has broke out for 41 goals. They've got three shooters in the midfield. But...they can get bogged down into a tight, muck it up type game. They lost a 8-7 game to Harvard. Only scored 7 in a loss to Cornell. And their goaltending can be exposed. Natale often doesn't have to make a lot of difficult saves and this helps him. Yale's defense is good. It balances his poor save %. But if Yale does lose face-offs and the possession margin, and Natale begins to face a lot of shots...it could tip the balance into Maryland's favor. Just.
Prediction: Maryland. 8-7. Bernlohr makes just a few more saves than Natale.
No. 7 Virginia vs Johns Hopkins - Klockner Stadium, 1:00 PM ET Sunday, ESPNU
The 3rd rematch of the first round sees two of the sports legendary programs meet in a legendary rivalry. Virginia-Hopkins have played classic after classic lately in the regular season. 16-15 UVA win in OT at Homewood this year. A 11-10 UVA win in OT last year at Klockner. A 11-10 OT win for Hopkins at Klockner in 2012. 12-11 for Hopkins at Homewood in 2011. Just so many incredible games. But last year in the NCAA Tournament, in the 1st Round as well, the Blue Jays torched the Cavs and won 14-8. Hopkins doesn't quite have the same defense nor the across the board offensive firepower...but their a team on a roll. And in big games this year UVA has simply been outclassed. Despite that, would you bet against anything other than another classic?
For Virginia so many struggles this year have emanated from a lackluster defense. While Massey ranks the Cavs D 13th...they've given up 10 goals or more nine times this year. Six times they've given up over a dozen goals. They were -19 in ACC games primarily because they gave up a total of 51 goals in those four games. Their D is young, has suffered numerous injuries, and has been the difference between a national title contending Cavs team and a Cavs team that's ceiling appears to be Quartefinal Weekend. There is one bright spot on the back end for UVA fans however. Goalie Matt Barrett. Barrett is 3rd in the nation in Saves Per Game despite having to face so many of them. He boasts a 56% save percentage. That's the 11th best mark in the the country. And he's playing behind a bad defense! For the first time in quite a few years there's a top flight goaltender manning the pipes for Virginia and it could be what helps them avenge last year's loss on the same field on the same weekend to JHU.
On the Hopkins sideline they're finally a team playing without pressure. In their 2nd game of the season they dropped an ugly midweek game to Towson. They were 2-3 after five games. After 10 games they were 4-6. It was win out or spend May on the sidelines for the 2nd time in three years. Hopkins answered the call, reeling off five W's on the trot including a win over arch-rival Maryland and a dominant win over Ohio State. And finally other guys beside Ryan Brown are getting into the mix on offense. Over their last three games they got 17 goals from their Top 4 midfielders - Joel Tinney, John Crawley, Holden Cattoni, and Connor Reed. Wells Stanwick averaged five per over their final three games, finally kicking his Senior season into the gear we all know he can reach. And yeah, that Brown dude is still doing his thing. He had eight goals against Maryland en route to a 3rd straight Blue Jays win over their rival. But this team needs those other guys mentioned to get involved. It needs Stanwick to conduct the offense again and burn guys on his dodges from behind. It appears they've found those things. If they're present against Cavs...Hopkins has a great shot.
Prediction: Virginia in another OT thriller. The crowd at Klockner wills the Cavs on.
No. 2 Syracuse vs Marist - Carrier Dome, 7:30 PM ET Sunday, ESPNU
This is probably the most lopsided game of the 1st Round. Syracuse probably should've been the #1 seed and is quite possibly the best team in the nation. Kevin Rice is a Tewaaraton Finalist and had a monster season with 68 points. Dylan Donahue went 44-17-61 and further showed how he's likely the best pure finisher in D1 Lacrosse. Despite injuries costing him quite a few games, Randy Staats had 46 points. Nicky Galasso provided a much needed goalscoring punch from the midfield with 32 goals. And Hakeem Lecky, Henry Schoonmaker, and Tim Barber also are solid options from the midfield as well. It's the offense with the most talent outside of Denver and scored 12 goals or more in all but two games.
Marist does have an explosive offense of their own. Massey has them in the Top 20 and they feature two 60 point scorers on their attack line: Joseph Radin and Jd Recor. They're Senior Midfielders, Mike Begley and Drew Nesmith, have a combined 80 points. So they won't be afraid to go up and down the field with Syracuse and get into a shootout. But there's very few teams who could win a shootout with the Orange. Marist isn't one.
Prediction: Syracuse by a bunch.
It all starts on Saturday. Three weeks of games that culminate on Memorial Day and will feature every type of game, twist, and performance possible. It promises to be a tremendous tournament that sees potentially six to seven teams capable of winning the National Championship.
We'll have more preview of the NCAA Tournament over the weekend leading up to the Maryland game so make sure to check back.