Paul Carcaterra will be offering commentary on Sunday’s highly anticipated matchup between No. 14 Syracuse and No. 1 Virginia as part of ESPN’s coverage, and the former Syracuse midfielder can be followed on Twitter via @paulcarcaterra. He provided his thoughts on the first few weeks of the college lacrosse season.
What has been the biggest surprise to you thus far?
When I look at the first couple weeks of the season, it’s hard to fully embrace storylines or early successes or early failures because of the Ivy League’s late start and the Ivy League plays a pivotal role in landscape of college lacrosse. So late February is kind of tough to put a full gauge on things. But with that said, I was very impressed with Princeton’s first win of the season over Hofstra. I think that’s a team that was injury-plagued a year ago, and there were a lot of questions about that offense, particularly last year when guys were injured and some pivotal pieces didn’t come back to the puzzle. So that was a team that I thought has its back against the wall coming into the season offensive. Everybody knows where they stand defensively, and I thought they did a really nice job against Hofstra. [Sophomore] Tommy Schreiber is certainly one of the finest midfielders in the country, and what I like so much about him and [former Princeton and current Maryland midfielder] Mike Chanenchuk – who were actually high school teammates at St. Anthony’s – is they’re probably the best dual-threat middies in the country when it comes to scoring and passing. I think Week 1 was a bright spot for the Tigers offense. Another team that I’m pretty impressed with early on is [No. 6] UMass. UMass is a team that has beaten some pretty good squads. They’ve beaten Army, and Army is a tough, well-coached team that prepares well and is always ready to play. They beat a good Bucknell team, and they beat a good [No. 11] Ohio State team this past week after Ohio State had that monumental win over Denver. So those are a couple teams that have stood out to me early in the season.
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Is there a team that has surprised you by falling short of expectations?
As well as they’re doing, the team that I feel has not found an identity is [No. 4] North Carolina. I know North Carolina has a nice win over [No. 8] Penn State early in the year and then they had a couple of easier games, but they really struggled against Navy, and I just find that North Carolina has so many talented pieces that it’s going to be very difficult to form an offensive chemistry. I say that because there are eight or nine Under Armour high school All American attackmen on that team, and they’re trying to find spots on attack and midfield. I understand they’re calling them offensive players, but at the end of the day, it’s really tough to get into a groove as an offensive player unless you’re on the field and playing quality minutes. There’s so many strong, elite players down there that it’s hard to keep them all happy. They struggled against Navy, and Navy outplayed them in most phases of the game, and they were lucky to get a W. They were down in the fourth quarter. North Carolina is a team that is being viewed as an elite team. I certainly think they have the potential to be at that level, but I think it’s going to be very difficult chemistry-wise with that offense. I think there will be games where they are scoring 20 goals, and I think there’s going to be games where they’re scoring seven or eight. I think that because it’s hard to find a niche for each of these guys.
What do you make of No. 9 Notre Dame? The Fighting Irish upended then-No. 1 Duke by four goals, but dropped a 4-3 overtime decision to Penn State last Sunday.
Notre Dame’s a team that you know what you’re getting defensively, and they’ve been playing rock solid defense for the last four years, maybe even more. That was never in question. Even when they beat Duke, they beat Duke handedly, but look at what their offense was able to produce – seven goals. So it’s not like we were wowed by that side of the field. They’re going to have some growing pains offensively. As good as they are defensively and as much as they have a fine system intact, they’re best playmakers from a year ago are gone – [midfielders] David Earl and Zach Brenneman. So they’re going to have to find some go-to guys offensively. Three goals is not acceptable, and until you find those guys that can break down a defense and assume those Alpha male roles offensively, there are going to be leaks like this. I tweeted [Sunday] that if Notre Dame lets up less than six goals, I’m pretty confident [in the team’s chances to produce a win]. But it wasn’t the case. Offensively, I just don’t think they have the firepower to produce huge amounts of offense. They need to find a leader or two on offense.
Which team’s record is more surprising to you: 0-3 Bucknell or 0-2 Hartford?
I’d say Hartford because if you look at Hartford with their scorers coming back and the expectations after winning the America East a year ago, I don’t think the Hartford lacrosse program would be looking at Week 2 and think they’d run into some problems with Holy Cross and lose in overtime. So I’m more surprised with Hartford. I thought Hartford would lose to Maryland, and they played them tough for three quarters. But I didn’t foresee them losing to Holy Cross. And Bucknell has lost to three quality opponents. They lost to UMass, they lost to Delaware, and they lost to [No. 5] Villanova by a goal. So I’m way more concerned with Hartford.
Every Division I school has played at least one game except for No. 3 Cornell, which had its season opener against Hobart on Saturday postponed indefinitely by inclement weather. Should the Big Red be concerned about getting a late start?
I think it’s certainly something that garners attention. The Ivy League is a league that has always stressed academics and limited fall practices to, I think, about 12. And then whereas some teams starting Jan. 7, the teams in the Ivy League are starting Feb. 1. That’s a significant amount of time. So when you see some of these Ivy League schools struggling in the early part of the season against non-conference foes, it really shouldn’t surprise you that much. That is a huge amount of practice time. This is becoming a sport where every day, every hour of practice counts because it is so tactical in its approach and teams are so systematic. So I think it is significant.
Will Sunday’s annual series between Syracuse and Virginia be another typical game between the two best teams in the country or are the Orange looking up at the Cavaliers because of the losses they suffered via graduation?
I think it’s an uphill battle. There’s so much yet to be determined with this Syracuse team. They lost seven senior All Americans from a year ago. So the face of the program, the leadership, and the actual play of this team is drastically different, and I don’t mean that with negative connotations. It’s just different. The way they play defense, the way they clear the ball, their offensive approach. I think this is a team that has a lot of potential and can surprise some teams, but I think going into this game, this is not your typical Syracuse-Virginia game with tons of proven firepower on both teams. There’s proven firepower with Virginia. You have [senior attackman and reigning Tewaaraton Award winner] Steele Stanwick, you have [senior attackman] Chris Bocklet, you have [senior midfielder] Colin Briggs and [sophomore midfielder] Rob Emery. Those are guys that are elite offensive players. You have five or six of those guys on Virginia, whereas you might only have two on Syracuse. And I think just the timing of this matchup heavily favors Virginia. But I wouldn’t be surprised at the end of the year that if these two teams were to play again, it would be a typical Syracuse-Virginia game. And I say that because I really do believe that Syracuse has talent, and when they put it together, they’re going to be fun to watch. Regardless of the outcome, I think lacrosse fans are in for a treat because of the tempo of the two programs. They like to get up and down, they like to take chances.
The other significant game of the weekend would appear to entail No. 10 Duke visiting No. 7 Maryland on Saturday. Can you outline one area that would be an advantage for Duke and one area that would be an advantage for Maryland heading into this Atlantic Coast Conference showdown?
The advantage for Maryland is [redshirt sophomore goalie] Niko Amato and [junior faceoff specialist] Curtis Holmes. People are really not paying attention to Maryland the way they should be because they have a very deep midfield. They’re a top-two or –three midfield in the country, and from a two-way aspect, I’m going to say they’re the best midfield in the country. Duke gets a lot of attention, Hopkins gets a lot of attention, but you have a team in Maryland that is so dangerous because you have Curtis Holmes at the X, a great group of two-way middies, and Niko Amato in the cage. That’s so valuable in terms of possessions they’re going to have. For Duke, it would be the matchup with [sophomore attackman] Jordan Wolf. Unless Maryland bumps [junior long-stick midfielder] Jesse Bernhardt down, I don’t think they have a guy who can cover Jordan Wolf. So I would say that Jordan Wolf is the X factor for Duke.