ESPN analyst Mark Dixon was a busy man over the weekend, providing play by play for No. 1 seed Loyola’s 17-5 thrashing of Canisius on Saturday and then No. 2 seed Johns Hopkins’ 19-9 rout of Stony Brook on Sunday. The former Johns Hopkins midfielder, who can be followed on Twitter via his account @Dixonlacrosse and will be in the network’s studio in Charlotte for this weekend’s quarterfinals, discussed the biggest stunner of the first round, a first-round winner that didn’t answer all the questions, and the most compelling matchup of the quarterfinals.
What was your overall impression of how the first round played out?
I thought it was a great first round. I thought there was a lot of entertaining lacrosse. The Nos. 1 and 2 seeds got off to quick starts, and then the guys trying to pull off monument upsets came back a little bit, and both Loyola and Hopkins responded with great runs to put them away. [No. 8 seed] North Carolina, Denver, there was no defense. Just a lot of scoring and a lot of athleticism, and Denver was able to outlast Carolina. Then you’ve got [No. 4 seed] Notre Dame beating a very, very tough Yale team, a team that was really hot and came into the game with a lot of momentum. The last game proved to be the most entertaining game of the round. Maryland rallied from a three-goal deficit. [Seniors] Drew Snider and Joe Cummings just would not allow their team to lose, and they took it from [No. 7 seed] Lehigh. Overall, I thought it was an entertaining first round. It was just an extension of the regular season where there were a lot of close games, a lot of competitive games, and some high-scoring games. There weren’t many snoozers in the first round in terms of scoring and action.
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What was the most surprising result of the first round?
Some people are going to point to the [No. 6 seed] UMass-Colgate game, but a lot of folks that UMass got the shaft having to play Colgate. A lot of people thought they should have played Syracuse and that Colgate should’ve gone to [No. 3 seed] Duke. But I think what was surprising was Colgate falling behind so much to UMass. This is a Colgate team only in their second-ever NCAA tournament. So the kids who are on this 2012 roster, none of them were on the 2008 team that lost to Notre Dame in overtime. And Garber Field [in Amherst, Mass.] is as tough a place to play as anywhere in the country. It has the old-school artificial turf, fans that are right on top of you, it’s very vocal and very loud. For UMass to cough up that lead at home and for Colgate to be able to come back the way they did and with a goalie [sophomore Conor Murphy] making his first start of the season, I think that was probably the biggest surprise.
What team impressed you with its performance in the first round?
I think it was Loyola. Canisius, yeah, they’re supposed to beat them, but Loyola played a very lackadaisical second quarter, and then they just put the pedal to the metal in the second half and dominated Canisius. That was a team that had some momentum and was able to make some plays. The other component to that was Notre Dame taking on a Yale team that was hot and had won nine games in a row. Notre Dame got up in that game quickly and early. Yale was able to fight back, but the way that Notre Dame was able to flex its muscles offensively was pretty impressive. [Sophomore midfielder] Jim Marlatt, who has just had a great season, had three goals, and the attack produced with [senior Sean] Rogers and [freshman] Conor Doyle with two and [sophomore] Westy Hopkins having one. I think Notre Dame really limited what Yale could do offensively. [Junior attackman Deron] Dempster and [senior attackman Matt] Gibson still did their damage, but [senior midfielder Greg] Mahony didn’t do anything. So I think Notre Dame’s 13-7 win was pretty impressive. And then Denver outlasting North Caroina after making that long trip to Chapel Hill. I think on an individual basis, you’ve got to give the muscle-flexer award to [junior short-stick defensive midfielder] Chris LaPierre of [No. 5 seed] Virginia. Just two huge plays. I’ll never be able to figure out how Princeton allowed that 80-yard pass to [senior attackman] Steele Stanwick. That was just ridiculous. But credit LaPierre with that play. And then being the human shield and jumping in front of that ball that was coming out of the stick of [junior attackman] Forest Sonnenfeldt who is a big boy [6-foot-6 and 250 pounds] and that was an absolute rocket. So individually, you’ve got to give the Purple Heart of lacrosse to Chris LaPierre for sacrificing his body and getting in front of that shot.
Was there a first-round winner that still has some questions in your mind?
Virginia and their depth, their offense. I think a couple weeks ago, we were talking about Johns Hopkins being one-dimensional, but I think their attack has gotten much more involved over the last couple of weeks to open things up a little bit. Quite frankly, I picked Princeton to win that game in the upset. They weren’t able to get the job done, but they came darn close. Virginia’s offense all of a sudden, [sophomore midfielder] Rob Emery isn’t producing, [freshman midfielderRyan] Tuckerhas kind of disappeared. I like the move of starting [junior] Matt White at attack yesterday. I think White makes them so much more dangerous when he’s down at the attack. But I look at players like [sophomore attackman] Mark Cockerton. I don’t know if he’s not in the right role or the right place, but he hasn’t really been producing a lot. Look, at this time of the year, I know it’s about survival. It’s about winning the game and getting to the next round, but I look at their matchup with Notre Dame, a strong defensive team. Both teams aren’t that great at facing off, so it’ll be interesting to see who can control the possessions. Virginia is a team that I have some questions about moving into the quarters.
Which quarterfinal matchup is the most compelling?
I think they’re all great games. Duke-Colgate, that was a game that some people thought should have been in the first round. How does Duke defend [junior attackman and Tewaaraton Award finalist] Peter Baum? How does Colgate match up defensively against Duke’s potent attack? And the midfielders are producing incredibly well. Maryland-Hopkins, Hopkins is hungry after coughing up a 6-3 lead at Homewood [on April 14]. So that’s going to be a battle. Whenever Maryland and Hopkins get together, it’s going to be special, and it’s the first time they’ve met [in the NCAA tournament] since the 1998 quarterfinals when Maryland beat Hopkins by a goal in overtime, and that proved to be the final game for Tony Seaman at Hopkins. And then you’ve got Virginia- Notre Dame. Offense versus defense. But I think the most compelling is going to be that Loyola-Denver game. Trying to beat a team three times in one season is a tough task. Duke’s done it the last couple years having to play North Carolina once in the regular season, once in the ACC tournament and once in the NCAA tournament. Now we’re seeing the ACC diagram playing out in the ECAC. Can Loyola do it? Absolutely. They don’t have to go to Denver this time. They’re in their own backyard. So the altitude, the environment, the travel – all that goes out the window. But not only are they trying to beat Denver, but they’re trying to beat Bill Tierney three times in a season. But I really think that the national Coach of the Year honors are going to come down to Kevin Cassese of Lehigh and Charley Toomey of Loyola. Loyola is better defensively than Denver is, but it’s going to be about faceoffs and possessions. [Junior] Chase Carraro was magnificent on Saturday against [sophomore] R.G. Keenan and North Carolina. Loyola struggled with [senior] J.P. Dalton. Does that mean that [junior long-stick midfielder Scott] Ratliff is going to have to take the draw? So that’s the most compelling game to me.