As part of ESPN’s coverage of the Whitman Sampler Mile High Classic Friday night, Quint Kessenich will be in Denver offering commentary on a pair of contests pitting No. 6 Virginia against Penn and No. 4 Duke against No. 16 Denver. The former Johns Hopkins All-American goalkeeper, who can be followed on Twitter via @QKessenich, discussed Loyola’s staying power at No. 1, one traditional powerhouse’s recent troubles and the likelihood of a NCAA Tournament without Cornell, Denver and Syracuse.
I saw in your weekly column for Inside Lacrosse that you had 12-0 Loyola as your top-ranked team. Do you like the Greyhounds’ chances of staying there until the start of the NCAA Tournament?
Loyola has a tough road, and I mentioned that about two weeks ago. Their remaining schedule is going to be very challenging. They’ve got Hopkins although the good news is that Hopkins has bottomed out right now. But that’s still going to be a dogfight. And in the ECAC Tournament with the way the brackets are set, they’ve got to play Denver in Denver and then they’d have to win the ECAC championship against either Fairfield or Ohio State. So those are three very challenging games remaining before the playoffs.
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So it doesn’t look promising?
It’s hard to predict these days. You take them one at a time. The thing about Loyola that has impressed me this year is they’ve answered a lot of questions. They won some games early and developed momentum against some lesser competition and then their game on March 10 against Duke was a statement win because they have struggled against top 10 teams in the last 10 years. And then from that game, they maybe showed one slight letdown perhaps against Ohio State at the end of March. But then they had three on the road: at Fairfield, at Denver and at Hobart. I don’t think people can comprehend how difficult that is. To me, they’ve really validated themselves by going undefeated, but they continue to play at a high level when I thought somewhere along the line they might stub their toe and regress.
The other undefeated team in Division I is Massachusetts. The 12-0 record is impressive, but with a strength of schedule ranked 25th according to Laxpower.com, can the Minutemen lock up a spot in the NCAA Tournament without winning the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament?
That’s up to the NCAA selection committee, but I think in recent history, it depends on their RPI [which was fifth in last week’s rankings compiled and released by the NCAA]. As things have turned out, their schedule kind of comes up soft this year because their wins over Army, Bucknell and Ohio State in the first three weeks of the season, I thought were going to be excellent wins. They haven’t stacked up right now. Maybe Army or Bucknell will win the Patriot League. Maybe Ohio State will win the ECAC. Their out-of-conference schedule came up light this year. Harvard had a bad season. it’s unfortunate for UMass that they no longer play Georgetown and they no longer play Syracuse. They don’t play anybody in the ACC, and they don’t play Johns Hopkins. My question with them – while I like them a lot because they’re extremely balanced and they’re tough and they’re extremely well-coached – is they haven’t played the really athletic teams in college lacrosse. The Dukes, the Carolinas, the Virginias, the Johns Hopkinses, the really big, fast, strong teams.
Duke has won 10 in a row, is the only team in Division I with 13 wins, and just beat Maryland and North Carolina for the ACC Tournament crown. Are the Blue Devils one team you would want to avoid in the NCAA Tournament?
I don’t know. Last year, they struggled to put away Delaware in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. I see ACC schools on occasion struggle early in the NCAA Tournament. Virginia did last year against Bucknell. Duke’s bye is the last weekend of the regular season, that May 5th weekend, so they’ll come into the playoffs with a two-week break. That’s a challenge for coaches to keep their teams sharp, and sometimes that layoff can be detrimental.
Between Virginia and Johns Hopkins, which team’s recent play warrants more concern?
Definitely Johns Hopkins. They have similar problems, but Johns Hopkins to me is a team that doesn’t have any kind of attack-dodging presence. From [junior Zach] Palmer to [senior Chris] Boland, obviously [sophomore Brandon] Benn is not a dodger, and [freshman Wells] Stanwick can’t run by a quality pole. Their midfielders are kind of predictable in their moves from [sophomore Rob] Guida, [junior John] Ranagan, [junior Lee] Coppersmith and now [junior John] Greeley with the injury questions. Their shooting all of a sudden has gone really cold against Maryland and now Navy. And my biggest concern is there’s nobody coming off the bench, there’s nobody who’s been developed. The February and March games, while Hopkins won them, I’m not sure they created any stars of the future or guys who have an upward trajectory late in the season. That’s why Duke is doing well. They’ve got guys who didn’t play well in February and March but are coming of age now. I don’t know who on the Hopkins roster is coming of age right now.
What’s been plaguing Virginia, which has dropped its last three contests at home?
Their offensive depth isn’t great, and they don’t play a lot of people. In that third attack spot, going into the ACC Tournament, they only got eight goals and eight assists out of [redshirt freshman] Owen Van Arsdale. That’s a weak link. The midfielders have lately been hit or miss. [Redshirt senior] Colin Briggs always plays at a high level. [Sophomore] Rob Emery has been hot and cold. When he’s hot, he’s as good as any player in the country, but he has disappeared in a couple of games. They don’t get that much from the second midfield lately. And I just don’t see the dodging. This is a Virginia team where beating your man one-on-one used to come very easily for the Virginia Cavaliers. This team has to do a lot of two-man games, a lot of picks, and so that dodging dominance isn’t there. They’re not running very well from defense to offense, and they’re getting really no transition. And they don’t ride, so they’re not scoring as many unsettled goals this year.
Would it be fair that Syracuse, Cornell and Denver must win their respective conference tournaments to make the NCAA Tournament?
With two weeks to go, I’d be afraid to say that. I kind of take it week by week and look at the RPI as if the tournament [bracket] was to come out today. I say that because so many things can change. If you look at Navy last week, they came in with a losing record and zero top-10 wins. They beat Hopkins and the next thing you know, their RPI moved up. So thing can change so much depending on what goes on in the conference tournaments. Whether Colgate, Lehigh, Army or Bucknell can win the Patriot League, that’s a big deal for teams because they might be sitting on Colgate wins or Army wins or Lehigh wins. Cornell got a double whammy, I think. They lost to Brown and their win over Syracuse is completely thrown from being a top-10 win to possibly not even being a top-20 win now. And with the struggles of the Ivy League, both RPIs for Cornell and Princeton have dropped. So much of this revolves around upcoming games. Every game matters. There will be some games that people think are meaningless games, but they really impact everybody’s RPIs, and that final top 20 is what matters. The good news for Syracuse is they can play for the AQ this year because last year, the Big East did not have a tournament or an automatic qualifier. Denver can win the ECAC, and they still have to play Duke. Colgate still has to play Maryland. Army still has to play Hopkins. So there are more good games left on the schedule.