ESPN analyst Mark Dixon provided play by play for the Whitman’s Sampler Mile High Classic in Denver where he watched No. 14 Loyola defeat Air Force, 13-7, and No. 8 Notre Dame edge No. 3 Denver, 13-12, in overtime. The former Blue Jays midfielder, who can be followed on Twitter via @Dixonlacrosse, offered his perspective on the weekend’s most impressive result, No. 1 Maryland and No. 2 Cornell’s undefeated play, and No. 9 Johns Hopkins’ troubles.
What result from this past weekend impressed you the most?
Probably [No. 10] Syracuse beating Hopkins, 13-8. You look at that Orange team that lost their season-opening game, 16-15, to Albany, and you’re thinking, “OK, the defense was supposed to be the best part about this team, and they surrendered 16 at home? If they can’t stop anybody, it’s going to be a long year for Syracuse.” But when you look at every game since, they have not allowed double digits. They lost [sophomore defenseman] Brandon Mullins [to a torn right anterior cruciate ligament] against Virginia [on March 1] and they were playing a Hopkins team that had averaged 14 goals a game. Hopkins came into the [Carrier] Dome, and Syracuse got out on them very, very quickly and then went on another run late in the game to seal the deal. That Syracuse win – when you look at what they lost in the preseason and then the injury to Mullins on the defensive end – they had a great game plan. The faceguarding of [junior attackman] Brandon Benn completely shut him down with [sophomore defenseman] Sean Young. That’s the one that jumps out at me.
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Was there a result that surprised you?
I was little surprised that [No. 20] Duke beat [No. 4] Carolina again. It’s been 13 out of the last 14 and the last five. You just feel like something’s got to give in that rivalry. Carolina is so talented offensively that I thought this would have been the time to beat Duke, but they didn’t.
Between Maryland (6-0), which plays host to North Carolina this Saturday, and Cornell (6-0), which welcomes Bucknell on Tuesday and No. 12 Penn on Saturday, which team is more at risk of suffering its first loss of the season?
It’s Cornell. Bucknell is playing very, very good lacrosse, and they can definitely beat Cornell. But I think Penn has a better chance of beating Cornell than Carolina has a chance of beating Maryland. But if Bucknell were to beat Cornell, I wouldn’t be shocked. That’s a good lacrosse team. So I would say Cornell just for the very reason that they’ve got Bucknell and Penn. That’s two games in a week whereas Maryland can sit on Carolina.
Is there a significant gap between Maryland and Cornell and the rest of the teams in the country?
I think right here on Monday morning, yeah. But all it takes is one team’s effort to knock them off, and then all of a sudden, they’re right back here with everybody else. Look at Notre Dame. Notre Dame lost to Hofstra, dropped in the rankings, and the talk of Maryland and Notre Dame became Maryland and Cornell because they’re both undefeated. Now Notre Dame is right back into the discussion after beating Denver and seeing some of the teams that lost in front of them. Maryland and Cornell have bubbled up to the top right now as the top two teams in the country, and for good reason. Maryland’s got one of the best – if not the best – first midfields in the country, arguably the best long-stick midfielder in the country, and one of the best defenses in the country. Cornell’s got the best player in the country in [fifth-year senior attackman] Rob Pannell, they’ve got talent and depth all over the field, and the defense isn’t playing too shabby. Each team has liabilities. If you want to call Maryland’s attack a liability, there it is. For Cornell, the liability could be on defense and in the goal. But both teams have played well this year, and they’ve turned in efforts that are pretty darn good. Cornell beat Colgate, 19-3, against [2012 Tewaaraton Award winner] Peter Baum and [senior defenseman] Jason Noble did a great job on him and [senior goalkeeper] A.J. Fiore in that game made 15 saves. The defense can step up and the attack for Maryland can step up. Right now, it’s 1-2 with Maryland and Cornell and then three through 20, anybody can beat anybody on any given day. I think that’s what we’ve seen. All Maryland or Cornell has to do is slip, and all of a sudden, they could be ranked fourth or fifth. I think then this conversation would shift to, “Oh, boy, anybody can win this thing.” Right now, they’re undefeated, and they’ve beaten some pretty good teams, and they’ve done it in impressive fashion. We’re not even at the halfway point of the season yet.
There are several one-loss teams out there: No. 6 Ohio State (5-1), No. 7 Hofstra (5-1), Notre Dame (4-1), Syracuse (4-1), Penn (5-1), No. 13 Brown (4-1) and Bucknell (6-1). Which team would you choose to avoid playing against right now?
I don’t want to play any of them. But I think Syracuse right now is playing at a very, very high level. They’ve put things together, and they’re in the middle of this run and they made a goalie switch on Saturday. They brought in [junior Dominic] Lamolinara for [sophomore Bobby] Wardwell, and Lamolinara may start their next game. So even with that goalie “situation,” they’re still a very dangerous team. Hofstra is playing very well right now, and they’re one of those teams that lost a game early in the season – in their case, [No. 5] Princeton – and nobody talked about them. Then they beat Notre Dame and now we’re talking about Hofstra. That’s what I mean with the teams that are forgotten and then they score one big win and now you’re talking about them. I think Hofstra’s a very dangerous team. Hofstra knows their identity. They’re tough, they’re gritty, and they’re not going to change for anybody. They’re going to play their style and they’re going to play their game. But right now, I think the most dangerous one-loss team in the country is Syracuse.
Johns Hopkins has beaten the teams it was favored to beat, but lost to the two ranked teams on the schedule. How worried should the Blue Jays be?
You’re kind of reading my mind because for my Inside Lacrosse column, I’m going to do the math and see the combined records of the teams that Hopkins beat and the two teams that they lost to. So I think it’s concerning. I don’t want to disrespect any opponent that Hopkins has played, but it’s UMBC, Michigan hasn’t won a game, Towson’s been struggling this year. So to play the two best teams on their schedule in Princeton and Syracuse and you’ve lost 11-8 at home and 13-8 on the road, it’s not so much that you’ve lost, but how you’ve lost. With such a senior-laden team that Hopkins has, they have a big test coming up on Saturday against [No. 11] Virginia, and this is a Virginia team that’s struggling right now. This game on Saturday, the loser could really be on thin ice when it comes to the NCAA tournament. If you’re Hopkins, there are some things you really need to take care of. You’ve got to take care of the ball a little bit better, the defense has been really disappointing. This was a defense that came back ranked among the top three in the country with [senior goalie Pierce] Bassett between the pipes and [senior defensemen Tucker] Durkin and [Chris] Lightner and [sophomore Michael] Pellegrino back at long-stick middie and [junior defenseman] Jack Reilly, and in the two losses, they’ve given up double-digit goals. I think any time you lose games, it’s disconcerting. But is it the end of the world? No, because again, we’re not at the halfway point of the season, and you want to correct things sooner rather than later.