As part of ESPN’s coverage of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament Friday and two critical Big East contests Saturday, Paul Carcaterra will be offering commentary from the network’s studio. The former Syracuse All-American midfielder, who can be followed on Twitter via @paulcarcaterra, provided his thoughts on the top team in Division I, Duke’s mastery of Virginia and Villanova’s upset potential against Notre Dame.
With Virginia losing to Duke and Johns Hopkins falling to Maryland, which team did you have at No. 1?
Loyola. I feel like they have a few more quality wins than UMass, which was the other team I was debating about putting in that No. 1 spot. I think the Duke win – and in the fashion that Loyola actually beat Duke – weighs a lot heavier than any of the other teams that were in that debate. I really like Loyola’s wins over Duke, Fairfield and Denver, which are three quality teams. UMass’ best wins are Penn State and Bucknell. I kind of just looked at what each team did in terms of the toughest opponents on their schedule, and Loyola didn’t just beat Duke, but they beat them handedly. And who’s a hotter team right now after that Virginia win on Friday night than Duke? I mean, they looked like the best team in country. So I think that only helps Loyola’s position.
Speaking of Duke, the Blue Devils have won 12 of the last 13 meetings with Virginia. What does Duke do that makes it such a tough opponent against the Cavaliers?
There’s a lot of different things that play into that domination and one is, over the course of the last five or six years, you can say that Duke has been the most consistent, best team in the country over that span. They’re an incredible program with a ton of talent. And then I think the second piece is – and I’m convinced of this when I wasn’t a year ago – that Duke is in Virginia’s head. I feel that Virginia plays tighter because they think of the domination in the past and what has prevented them from beating Duke seems to rekindle every time they step on the field against each other. If you look at this domination, it’s not just a couple years. These seniors for Virginia have only beaten Duke once. It’s not a scenario where they’ve enjoyed any length of success against Duke. And I think Duke, on the flipside, plays with a confidence and a swagger against Virginia, that they have the upper hand mentally.
Would you then agree that Duke is the favorite to win the ACC tournament?
The ACC Tournament is different. I think that when Duke and Virginia play on that isolated date on their schedule like they did last Friday, I think the advantage rests with the Blue Devils. I think in the ACC Tournament, there’s a lot of lacrosse being played over a 48-hour period. So I think that actually gives Virginia an advantage in terms of being able to get off the schneid against Duke. I think the Cavaliers won’t have as much time to think about because they have to play North Carolina on Friday, and I think if they beat the Tar Heels, I think they have a better chance of beating Duke than if they had a whole week to think about it.”
Another significant game this weekend is No. 4 Notre Dame at No. 12 Villanova. How do you see that matchup?
Villanova is a really interesting team. I feel like they run a non-traditional offense because in this day and age, midfielders are attacking short sticks and breaking down the defense from up top. Villanova breaks down a defense with an extraordinary amount of off-ball movement, and that makes it very difficult to defend. I watched the entire Villanova-Syracuse game [which the Wildcats won, 11-10, March 25] and I was very impressed with the motion offense of the Wildcats. When you watch them play, they almost resemble a half-court basketball offense where everyone’s moving around and no one is standing still. And the way they set up their dodges allows the ball carrier more space because of all of that movement. And I think they’re a really difficult team to defend. Now if any team mentally is going to be able to prepare for that type of offense, it’s Notre Dame. They’ve played incredible defense over the last five years, and they play the best defense in the country. They’ll certainly break down a ton of film and be prepared for Villanova. But I think Villanova is a team that can upset Notre Dame if Notre Dame doesn’t shoot well. Notre Dame has an offense where if they hit around 30 percent or 35 percent of their shots, they’re very efficient and tough to deal with because they play such a great defense. But they’re not consistent in terms of their shooting. They can have games where they shoot 15, 18 percent, and it really prevents that offense from really getting into a flow. I saw them play against Denver this year, and they shot the ball extremely well and they put up big numbers [10-9 in triple overtime March 18]. I saw them shoot the ball really well against St. John’s, and they put up huge numbers [13-6 April 1]. They didn’t shoot the ball well against Penn State, they didn’t shoot the ball well against Drexel, and those were one-goal games. They lost to Penn State [4-3 in overtime Feb. 26] and they beat Drexel [6-5 March 3] and Hofstra [6-5 in overtime March 10] as well. So when they don’t shoot the ball well, they’re going to be in a dogfight, and they’re going to be in a one-goal game as they have been four or five times this season. I think it’s critical that in addition to defending the Wildcats and their non-traditional offense, shooting efficiency is paramount for Notre Dame.
With Villanova slated to play host to the Big East tournament May 3 and 5, what’s at stake for the Wildcats other than winning the regular-season title and the top seed?
I think because of what happened Saturday in North Carolina, I think you want the No. 1 seed because Syracuse showed against Rutgers what they can do when they win faceoffs and when they possess the ball and have offensive opportunities. This Villanova-Notre Dame game is huge just based on the fact that the winner will get the No. 1 seed, and they’ll likely not play Syracuse. Syracuse is one of those dangerous teams that is not playing well when you look at their entire body of work for the season, but they could be dangerous. A lot hinges on how they face off and actually break defenses down, but I saw firsthand on Saturday when [junior] Brian Megill was facing off as a close defender, he gave that team a completely different look because Syracuse hasn’t just struggled on the faceoffs. Syracuse has struggled mightily picking up any type of 50-50 loose ball off the faceoff. A telling stat to me was that a guy like [sophomore faceoff specialist] R.G. Keenan from North Carolina going into this weekend has 76 groundballs. Syracuse’s top two faceoff men [sophomores Chris Daddio and Ricky Buhr] combined had 25 groundballs. They’re just not in the mix from a faceoff standpoint. They did that on Saturday, and I saw a completely different team. So after seeing that, I think the No. 1 seed is bigger than ever in the Big East.
The field has been set for the Patriot League tournament with No. 15 Colgate, No. 16 Lehigh, No. 17 Army and No. 18 Bucknell in. Which team do you like to emerge with the championship and the automatic qualifier to the NCAA tournament?
Flip a coin. Colgate beat Lehigh 10 days ago, and Lehigh beat Bucknell, and these are all by a goal. It’s great for lacrosse, it’s great for the Patriot League, but it makes picking who is the favorite in the Patriot League virtually impossible. I think it’s going to be an incredible tournament because of the parity. Between Lehigh, Colgate and Bucknell, you can make a case for any of those teams to easily be the winner. I think Army is going to have a tough time breaking through the semifinals. With Lehigh, Bucknell and Colgate being so close in terms of the strengths of their teams, being the No. 1 seed is going to be huge because an easier semifinal game could rest some legs and put that team in a much better situation than the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds that are going to pound each other on Friday night to see who gets to the final.