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Q&A with ESPN's Paul Carcaterra

Former Syracuse All-American midfielder discussed, among other topics, which team should get the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament

By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun

3:09 PM EDT, April 22, 2013

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ESPN analyst Paul Carcaterra provided color commentary for No. 4 Notre Dame’s 13-9 victory over Villanova last Saturday, an outcome that lifted Fighting Irish into a three-way tie for first place in the Big East. The former Syracuse All-American midfielder, who can be followed on Twitter via @paulcarcaterra, will be part of the crew covering Saturday’s Konica Minolta Big City Classic pitting No. 7 Cornell against No. 12 Princeton and No. 4 Notre Dame against No. 5 Syracuse. Carcaterra discussed which team would get his vote for the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, which upset shocked him the most, and which game this weekend intrigues him.

If the season ended today, who should be the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament?

If the season ended right now, I think it would be Notre Dame, and I say that because of the amount of top 20 [RPI] wins they have. They have five top 20 wins, and no other team can measure up to that standard. Their quality wins – particularly head to head – outweigh their bad losses. They’ve beaten [No. 10] Penn State head-to-head, they’ve been [No. 1] Denver head-to-head, they’ve beaten [No. 3] North Carolina head-to-head, they’ve beaten [No. 2] Duke head-to-head, they’ve beaten [No. 9] Ohio State head-to-head. Those are monster wins. So I think when you look at their body of work and what they’ve done to the other teams in consideration, it’d be hard to argue with the Irish if the season ended today. They measured up to the top teams earlier in the season, and it paved the way for them to be rewarded on Selection Sunday if they take care of business from here.

Could Notre Dame lose in the Big East tournament and still get the No. 1 seed?

I think it all depends with North Carolina, Duke and [No. 6] Maryland in the ACC [tournament]. I think if Duke or North Carolina wins the ACC, it would be hard to put those teams ahead of Notre Dame because Notre Dame beat those teams. I think if Maryland wins out and Notre Dame stubs its toe between now and Selection Sunday, I think Notre Dame would probably lose that top spot in the NCAA tournament. But there’s still a lot of lacrosse to be played, and I think Denver’s loss [to Fairfield] takes them out of equation for the No. 1 seed. Notre Dame has to take care of business to be a No. 1 seed. It would make it interesting if North Carolina or Duke won the ACC and you put either of those teams ahead of Notre Dame when Notre Dame beat them, but I think if Maryland wins the ACC, [Notre Dame is] going to have to beat a couple of quality teams here or at least one in the championship game.

Which upset was more shocking: No. 5 Syracuse’s 13-12 loss to Hobart last Tuesday or Denver’s 10-9 overtime loss to Fairfield last Saturday?

To be honest with you, neither. Syracuse is a team that plays extremely balanced lacrosse, and outside of [senior midfielder] JoJo Marasco, they really don’t have a superstar on offense that can change a game. They have some really good complementary players. [Redshirt sophomore midfielder] Henry Schoonmaker has had some big games. [Junior attackman] Derek Maltz is good inside. I like their attack in terms of the way they move the ball, but if Syracuse isn’t clicking on all cylinders and struggles a bit defensively, anyone on their schedule can beat them. When they’re clicking, they can beat anyone. So they’re a team that I think has very little margin for error, and I say that because they’re not strong at the faceoff X. They’ve struggled there all season long. And when they’re not moving the ball and their offense isn’t clicking, it can be contained. When they click on all cylinders, that ball moves so fast, and they’re a hard matchup. But I think they really need to play a full-team game against anyone on their schedule. I think the defense struggled in that Hobart game. [Junior attackman] Alex Love had six goals and caused fits for the Syracuse defense, and it was a unit that didn’t play their best lacrosse. But that loss didn’t really surprise me because if you look at the rest of Syracuse’s schedule, they haven’t been blowing out anyone. They struggled against Rutgers, and they struggled against Georgetown on Saturday. Those were one-goal wins. It’s interesting to follow the Orange because you get that sense that when it’s time for the NCAA tournament, they can beat anyone. But they could also potentially lose in the first round, and it really wouldn’t shock me. But it wouldn’t shock me if they went to the Final Four either because I think they’re going to be in every game. Going to Denver, look at their schedule. They beat Air Force by one, and they beat Bellarmine by one. Fairfield is better than either of those teams on any given Saturday, and for that matter, it shouldn’t be a huge shock. Denver just ran out of the ability for the ball to bounce their way at the end of the game.

Two conference tournaments will be decided this weekend between the ACC tournament and the Patriot League tourney. Which one is more intriguing to you?

I actually think the Patriot League is, and I say that because outside of Colgate, those three other teams have played the best lacrosse of their season to date. If you look at [No. 18] Bucknell and [No. 16] Lehigh, Lehigh beat them a couple of years ago. Bucknell has made some tweaks, and you know they’re going to give their best effort in regards to the Patriot League championship. Army’s a team with [senior attackman] Garret Thul and [sophomore attackman] John Glesener. They’re one of the best 1-2 punches in the nation. You have a great playmaker in Glesener and an unbelievable shooter in Thul. They’re a matchup nightmare for any defense. Army’s a team that – if you look at their schedule – no one is blowing them out and they’re going to be in the mix. And then you go back to Bucknell and Lehigh, and these are teams that are thinking in the backs of their minds, “I need this. I need this conference tournament championship to get into the NCAA.” Is there a scenario where Bucknell can get in if they don’t win it? Yeah, they have some big wins. They beat Cornell, but at the end of the day, the Patriot League might very well be a one-team league and that’s all going to come down to this weekend. So this really is the playoffs for all four of those teams. In the ACC, Maryland, Duke and North Carolina – regardless of outcome – are all going to be in the mix.

There are two conferences too close to call with Denver and No. 8 Loyola at 5-1 and 6-1 respectively in the Eastern College Athletic Conference and Penn State and No. 15 Drexel at 5-0 and 5-1 respectively in the Colonial Athletic Association. Which team do you like to emerge from those leagues?

I really like the way Penn State has played sound defense, and their offense is starting to click. They have a good balance with [freshman attackman T.J.] Sanders finishing and [junior attackman Shane] Sturgis and [redshirt senior attackman Jack] Forster demanding attention from a playmaking standpoint. I think they’re going to be a tough matchup for anyone in their conference, and [coach Jeff] Tambroni has just done a fabulous job with their overall balance in the offense and the way they give you multiple looks and the way they move defensively. And then they’ve got [junior] Austin Kaut, who – from a talent standpoint – is probably the best goalie in the nation. I like Penn State in their conference tournament, and I like Penn State in the NCAA tournament. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they made it to the Final Four. I think they’re that good and Kaut can change a game, and you’ve seen what game-changing goaltenders have done in the month of May – from [Maryland’s] Brian Dougherty in the 1990s to [Virginia’s] Tillman Johnson 10 years ago. They have that kind of guy. Going to Denver and Loyola, flip a coin. Those two teams played to one goal just over a week ago, and lot depends on Denver’s health. Denver’s been a little bit nicked up. Loyola needs this really badly because if they don’t beat [No. 13] Johns Hopkins and they don’t win the ECAC, they may very well be out of the playoffs. Their best quality win would be Ohio State, which would put them in a situation to have their backs against the wall. People aren’t really touching on Loyola as a bubble team, but they are. If they beat Johns Hopkins, they can afford possibly not to have to win their conference tournament. But if they lose to Johns Hopkins Saturday, they have to win their conference tournament.

In addition to the ACC and Patriot League tournaments, there are a number of interesting games this weekend in Notre Dame versus Syracuse, Cornell versus Princeton and Loyola vs. Johns Hopkins. Which contest stands out to you?

I’m really intrigued to see Cornell versus Princeton because Cornell is a team that is ranked high in the polls and has a couple losses, but if you look at their schedule, before the year, if someone had told to you they’d have a Virginia win, you would think that would stand pretty tall. But that hasn’t worked out to the way they envisioned it. And then you have a team like Princeton that is struggling for some quality wins. Their best win right now is beating Johns Hopkins. So I think we’re going to learn a lot about Cornell and Princeton because we don’t really have a gauge nationally of how great Cornell is. They lost to Syracuse a week-and-a-half ago, and it didn’t look like a bad loss at all, but Syracuse lost to Hobart and struggled against Georgetown. So we need to learn a lot about Cornell on Saturday, and I think Princeton has the potential to get that big win that could maybe give them a little bit of a cushion going into the Ivy League championship. I think Cornell has a little bit of a cushion, but I think from an identity standpoint, we want to see how good this team is. Is [fifth-year senior attackman] Rob Pannell going to carry this team into Memorial Day? Cornell’s top six on offense is arguably as good as anyone’s, but do they have the depth and do they have the playmakers between the lines to really take that next step from good team to great team?

Albany’s Lyle Thompson recorded four goals and seven assists in last Friday’s 16-10 victory over UMBC. Has the sophomore attackman moved closer to Pannell in the race for the Tewaaraton Award?

Rob Pannell is one of the best attackmen in the last decade and one of the best attackmen I’ve seen for many years. I’ve been watching this sport for three decades, and he’s right up there on the list. But I think if you look at 2013 and isolate the year, I think Lyle Thompson – if the season ended today – would deserve the Tewaaraton, and I say that just because of what he’s done. He’s got 89 points, and he’s got a bunch of games left. He’s going to easily break the 100-point mark, and if you look at the competition, Albany plays a lot of good teams. Yale’s on their schedule, you have teams like Hopkins and Syracuse and Drexel. If you look at their schedule, there are really no dogs and teams that we thought would be better are on that schedule, teams like UMass. So it’s not like Lyle Thompson is only feasting on the scrubs. Every single week, he’s going up against really solid programs and good defenses. And his ability to pass is really incredible. He’s got one of the softest set of hands, and I love when he moves a lot.