ESPN analyst Mark Dixon was in the network’s studio in Charlotte providing his perspective on each of the four games in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals this past weekend, and he will do the same this Saturday before appearing in person at Monday’s title game at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. The former Blue Jays midfielder, who can be followed on Twitter @Dixonlacrosse, discussed the most intriguing game of the quarterfinal round, top-seeded Syracuse’s 7-6 decision against Yale, and his thoughts on the Final Four.
What was the best game of the quarterfinal round?
I thought that with the exception of the Cornell-Ohio State game, that all of the other three games had very exciting elements and really fun aspects to them. But I would probably say that the Carolina-Denver game was the most entertaining, watching Denver come back from 9-4 at the half and just dominating faceoffs. They hit six pipes in the first half, and you kind of knew that Carolina was playing on … I don’t want to say borrowed time, but three of their goals were in transition and one was when Denver’s goalie was out of the goal. I think the attack for Carolina just never got on track. They didn’t have the touches. I just thought the Carolina-Denver game was really entertaining.
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What does that 12-11 win tell you about Denver?
I think it says that they can come back. In my opinion, I think [junior] Jamie Faus should be the guy in goal, and I think that it also says that if you don’t win faceoffs against them, they will beat you.
What does that loss tell you about North Carolina?
It compounds the frustration down in Chapel Hill. That’s a program that between 1980 and 1993 was in championship weekend 12 times. It’s just such a proud traditional program, and this seemed to be the year. They were the No. 5 seed that got disrespected and had a chip on their shoulder and a five-goal advantage, but you saw some of the things that have plagued Carolina lacrosse over the last couple of years, particularly in the third quarter. Just bad penalties and poor decisions and things of that nature. I think this just says that Carolina is still not there yet, and they have to wait another year to get back. 1993 was the last year they were in championship weekend, and I remember it well because they beat my Hopkins team in that game. This one is tough if you’re a member of that Tar Heel lacrosse family. I think you feel like you had it and you let it slip away. You didn’t make the plays, and Denver did, and that’s a tough pill to swallow.
Yale had a 6-4 lead through the first 10 minutes of the quarter before Syracuse closed out the game with three unanswered goals. Did the Bulldogs lose that game or did the Orange win that one?
Syracuse made plays, and Syracuse won that game. I think I look at two plays in particular that got them to where they wanted to be. After Syracuse made it 6-5, [Yale junior Dylan] Levings won the faceoff, but [junior long-stick midfielder] Matt Harris came off the wing and de-possessed him. Syracuse got the ball, and they’re back in business. If Levings won that faceoff and got it out of harm’s way and got it down to the attack, that’s probably another 30 to 45 seconds that is milked off the clock. So Matt Harris made an incredible play. And then you have to look at [junior goalkeeper] Dom Lamolinara with the save that he made when it was 6-6. Just right on the doorstep, great reaction, beautiful save, and not only did he not panic when he saved the ball, but he also ran the ball to the corner to get it out of the middle of the field where he could have potentially made a hasty outlet pass and turned it over. Those two plays are what enabled Syracuse to come back and win that game. Yale was also disorganized defensively. We highlighted one of the early goals that Syracuse scored, and that’s what happened on the last play. [Redshirt freshman attackman] Dylan Donahue was open for a good five to six seconds before [senior midfielder JoJo] Marasco found him. But Yale did not lose that game. Syracuse won that game. They made the plays they needed to make to win that game.
Seventh-seeded Duke edged second-seeded Notre Dame, 12-11, to advance to its seventh consecutive national semifinal. Can you put this achievement and John Danowski’s coaching ability into context?
I think this run by Danowski’s Blue Devils speaks to his coaching philosophy. You play for the end game when you want to play your best lacrosse in the month of May. So you take your lumps in February and March, and you let everybody else get excited about your program in terms of, ‘Duke is not going to be very good this year.’ Lo and behold, they turn it around, and they’re in their seventh straight championship weekend under Danowski. That’s a phenomenal accomplishment. Syracuse’s run of 22 straight is incredibly special, but a number of those appearances were when the field was eight and 12 teams where you needed to win just one game to get to championship weekend. Now you’ve got to win two. Duke beat the defending champ [Loyola] in double overtime and came back in that game and then after being down two to Notre Dame, they came back to win in that game. What about [sophomore goalie] Kyle Turri? Syracuse went 44 minutes before scoring a goal and getting back on track against Yale. He went 37 minutes between saves and makes that stop on [senior attackman Sean] Rogers that starts the transition and then they scored the goal on that slow break. I think it’s a phenomenal accomplishment for John Danowski.
What did you learn about Cornell in its 16-6 rout of third-seeded Ohio State Saturday?
I just learned that [fifth-year senior attackman] Rob Pannell is the best player in the country. [Senior attackman] Steve Mock is pretty good at getting open. If you pay too much attention to No. 3 [Pannell] in red, No. 6 [Mock] will burn you. I was also really impressed with their midfield play, creating slides. They just never allowed Ohio State to get into a defensive rhythm. They just kept the pressure on the Buckeyes all day long. And how about their faceoff man, [junior] Doug Tesoriero. He won the battle against [sophomore Charlie] Raffa of Maryland and then he won the battle against Ohio State. The biggest thing I took away from Cornell was if they can win faceoffs and they get to play a lot of offense, teams are in trouble.
Which of the four teams in the semifinals is well-rounded enough to capture the national championship?
I think that’s a hard question to answer when you look at the week-by-week results in 2013. No Maryland teams were in the quarterfinals for the first time ever. Three of the top five seeds were from the Midwest. Everybody had at least two losses coming into the tournament. So I think it’s really, really difficult to say who the best all-around team is. I think each of them has something that is going very, very well for them, and on the flipside, each of them has a flaw that can be exposed in the right setting. So I don’t think there’s one team that I can look at and say, ‘OK, they’re going to raise the trophy on Monday.’ I don’t even know who’s going to make it to Monday. That’s how wide open this thing is. You’ve got a [No.] 1 seed who everybody thinks is the worst 1 seed in the history of lacrosse, and I think that’s unfair. You’ve got a [No.] 4 seed that everybody says can’t play defense. You’ve got an unseeded team that many people felt like shouldn’t have even made the tournament after folding out in the Ivy League tournament game. And you’ve got a [No.] 7 seed that is 2-4 in the national semifinal round. The quarterfinals have been nirvana for Duke and Danowski, but the semis have been a different story. So everybody has really, really good things going for them, and everybody has flaws.