CBS Sports Network analyst and former Syracuse All-American defenseman Steve Panarelli will be at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium Friday night to provide commentary for the Patriot League showdown between No. 8 Lehigh and No. 17 Navy. Panarelli, who can be followed on Twitter at @stevepanarelli, discussed Johns Hopkins’ overtime win against Virginia, Cornell’s steady record without Rob Pannell, and Denver’s chances despite the loss of a starting goalie.
What did you take from Johns Hopkins’ 11-10 overtime win against Virginia this past Saturday?
I think it validated their confidence, but I think they were validated even before that game. They put a pretty good beating on Syracuse even though they just lost to Villanova, which takes away from the win a little bit. But they’re a good team. I think everybody knew in the preseason after the year they had last year when they were so young and being one game away from a Final Four. I think the expectations were there. I watched that Virginia-Hopkins game, and I thought it was a Final Four or national championship-type game this early in the season. Those guys are playing pretty well. I think they’re really well-rounded. I think they do a very good job of playing their Hopkins style. They can kind of control the ball, they play solid D, you have to work for every goal against them. They get opportune scoring. They’re just a well-round, do-everything-well type of team, and you’re going to have to beat them to win. They’re not going to give you opportunities, they’re not going to make a lot of mistakes, and you have to outplay them.
Because of that win, the Blue Jays overtook the Cavaliers for the top spot in every poll. But if Johns Hopkins is No. 1, Virginia must be 1A, right?
I would think so. They’re both playing those schedules where they’re going to get a lot more tests, so teams are going to have opportunities to knock them off, and they’re going to have opportunities to show what they’re about. I’m sure if you asked either one of those coaches, they would say that they don’t care what the polls say now, but you’ve got to put Virginia right there. Right now, I think those teams stand out. They’ve put a little distance between themselves and the rest of the pack. If you look at Duke, they’ve had some ups and downs. Loyola’s there, Lehigh is a team that has one loss. There are a lot of teams that are on the outskirts looking in as far as that top two, but those two teams are definitely standing out and playing at a level that is almost like Memorial Day-level, and it’s still early in the season.
Since senior attackman Rob Pannell broke a bone in his left foot against Army on March 3, No. 3 Cornell has gone 4-1 with the only loss coming to Virginia. Does that surprise you?
Rob’s good. We all know that Rob’s great. He’s probably the best talent in the country, but they’ve got a lot of other guys there that can play. They’ve got a lot of talent, and I think there was a good reason for why there was a lot of hype around them. Obviously, there was Rob, but people knew he had a supporting cast and he had guys around him who could help him take this team to a Final Four or championship game. They’re well-coached. Ben DeLuca does a great job with them. They like to push it a little bit, which is fun to watch. But what they do, they do really well, and he’s done a good job of taking over that program from Jeff Tambroni. Maybe they’re changing it up a little bit and mixing it up from what they did in the past, but even with Rob out, they still have a lot of talent. They’re very similar to Hopkins. They’re not going to make a lot of mistakes, so you’re going to have to beat them if you’re going to win. I don’t know what Rob’s status is, but if he can come back and be similar to the type of player that he was and get back in time for the end of the year, they’re obviously dangerous and in that conversation [for a national title] immediately.
It was reported last week that Denver sophomore goalie Jamie Faus will miss the remainder of the season with a ruptured Achilles. How much does that impact the Pioneers’ chances of returning to the Final Four?
I think when you talk about a Bill Tierney-coached team, they want to force you into bad shots, and that helps your goalie because you’re going to see shots from certain angles and if you’ve got a goalie like Faus was, he’s used to seeing those shots from certain spots and you get into a rhythm. Throw a new guy out there, and it could take him a little while to adjust. But his philosophy on defense of forcing them down the sides, down the alleys, Coach Tierney basically invented that style. So for the goalie who’s stepping there [freshman Ryan LaPlante], it’s going to be easier for him. He’s going to see low-percentage shots as opposed to if he stepped into a Syracuse-type defense where it’s not so much sliding and it’s relying on a lot of one-on-one guys winning their individual matchups. It’s just going to be on him to be in the right spot and make those saves. But when you lose a goalie, it’s like losing a quarterback on the defensive end. A lot of times, those guys are leaders on the field, calling out all the systems, calling out all the slides. So it’s going to be big for the next guy stepping up to be vocal and not to be timid and to really go in there and own that position.
No. 12 Villanova tagged No. 13 Syracuse with its first loss in the Big East and it occurred in the Orange Dome. How concerned should Orange fans be and how important was that victory for the Wildcats?
I think people need to stop being so surprised when teams lose games. I think the parity in college lacrosse is getting so much better every year. Villanova’s a good team. They’ve got a lot of players and they’ve done a good job of turning that program around, and to say that I’m stunned or shocked, I’m not. I’m not shocked at anything in lacrosse anymore. Look at Lehigh. Did anybody expect them to go on a run and go down and beat North Carolina? To say that 10 years ago would have been unheard of, but I think nowadays, the game has evolved so much, the coaching has gotten so much better, and there are so many more kids playing at the youth and high school level, smaller programs like Villanova, Lehigh and Bucknell can go and if they do a good job of recruiting and find these diamonds in the rough, they can compete with the Syracuses and the Hopkins, the top-tier programs. If you don’t show up to play on Saturdays, you’re going to lose. You’ve got to play every week and the days of Syracuse, Hopkins and Virginia and those types of programs walking onto the field and winning and going home are over. You’ve got to show up and play every single game. but as far as Syracuse, John Desko has been there before. My junior year in 2006, we started 1-4 and people were writing us off [before the Orange advanced to the semifinals and finished 10-5]. So he’s been there before and if you want anybody leading your team in a time of adversity, he’s the guy. He’s always the same person whether we were undefeated, whether we were losing, and he’s going to be sturdy the whole way. They still have talent. I think they’ve got a lot of guys who still need game experience, and that’s going to come. With that coaching staff, they know what they’re doing, and they’ve been here before. It’s not time to panic yet, but they play that tough schedule like a Hopkins, like a Virginia, and if they don’t get it turned around quickly, it can get ugly and go south real quickly, too. I don’t think they’re playing like a Final Four team right now, but if they keep working hard and keep improving, they have enough talent to get back to that level.
Since you’re calling Friday night’s game between Navy and Lehigh, which team needs that win more?
I’m going to say Navy because they’ve already got three losses, and they’ve already got a loss in the Patriot League to Bucknell. For them to stay at the top of those standings, they need to win. I think that would be huge for them. If they take a loss here, that puts them at four losses. Plus, this is at home, it’s a televised game, Lehigh’s coming in with a lot of hype right now and everybody’s on that bandwagon. So I think it’s huge for them to get a win. At the same time, it’s definitely big for Lehigh. They’re a young team, and they’re still not there yet. They’ve got the eight wins in a row, and that’s great, but they still need to get a couple wins like this, over a Navy and over teams that have been there before to kind of cement the type of season they’re having.