ESPN analyst Quint Kessenich provided color commentary for Saturday’s Whitman’s Sampler Independence Classic at PPL Park in Chester, Pa., where No. 12 Syracuse held off St. John’s, No. 14 Penn defeated Villanova, and Lehigh upset No. 11 Penn State. The former Johns Hopkins All-American goalkeeper, who can be followed on Twitter via @QKessenich, will do the same for Duke at No. 9 North Carolina on Wednesday night, No. 10 Johns Hopkins at No. 12 Syracuse on Saturday and the Metropolitan Lacrosse Classic at Citi Field in New York. Kessenich discussed No. 1 Maryland’s impressive 5-0 start, No. 4 Loyola’s weakening at-large bid, and the race for the Tewaaraton Award.
No. 1 Maryland and No. 2 Cornell are still undefeated and at the top of The Sun’s rankings. Do you agree or disagree that there’s a division between those two programs and the rest of the field in Division I?
By records, they’re the two best undefeated teams, and there are five undefeated teams. Cornell’s got wins over Colgate and Virginia. The Virginia game was by a goal. But I’m not willing to put Cornell in Maryland’s class yet. So I think it’s Maryland and then everybody else.
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What has impressed you about Maryland?
They’ve got a huge possession advantage this year. They’re averaging 11 more possessions per game than their opponents based on faceoffs, efficient clearing, a good ground ball game, and they’ve been extremely efficient with those extra possessions. They’re shooting 41 percent, which is off the charts. I think they have one of the best defenses. Seeing them in person when I was down there on the field against Duke, that defense is terrific. They’re got two guys down low in [junior] Michael Ehrhardt and [sophomore] Goran Murray that are a nice combination of size and power and then Murray being the speed guy. I think [senior long-stick midfielder] Jesse Bernhardt is the best pole in the country, and I think [senior] Landon Carr is the best short stick in the country, and they’re complemented by some good players around them. And [redshirt junior] Niko Amato is a top five goalie. They’re lighting up the scoreboard, but I think the strength of that team ultimately is the defense.
What kind of team will it take to beat Maryland?
A team that can even the possession battle, a team that can stand toe-to-toe with them in the faceoff game. [Sophomore] Charlie Raffa is on fire right now. They haven’t even had to use [senior] Curtis Holmes much. I think to beat Maryland, you’re going to have to even the possession battle and get a good game from your goalie. Goalies are really struggling against the Terps right now, and you’re going to have an athletic enough of a team to handle their speed. When the ball hits the ground, Maryland is playing like a bunch of banshees right now. I was so impressed with how hungry they were to get every loose ball in that Duke game. They have really good speed between the lines. So you have to be able to match that athleticism between the lines and then execute.
Were you surprised by No. 4 Loyola’s 9-8 loss to Duke Friday night?
Yes and no. You knew Duke would wake up. The question was, when? We covered their Maryland game, and they didn’t wake up. A week later, they tinkered with their defense and delivered a different performance. They’ve got top 12 talent. They were slow to come along in the defensive end, but they finally put it together. And this is a Loyola team that if I do a blind resume on Loyola right now, their wins aren’t that good, and they’re struggling. They haven’t jelled offensively, and I haven’t seen the eye of the tiger from them. I don’t see that hunger from dealing with the evils of success.
If Loyola does not win the Eastern College Athletic Conference tournament and the automatic qualifier that accompanies it, are the Greyhounds in danger of missing out on an at-large bid?
They still have regular-season games against [No. 8] Denver, [No. 6] Ohio State, Fairfield and [No. 10] Johns Hopkins. Not sure what those Ohio State and Fairfield games will mean in the long run, but I wrote in my poll that I thought they had to beat Denver or Johns Hopkins in the regular season to help their at-large resume. If they don’t do that, then they’re in a division where they’re going to have to win the ECAC tournament to get into the NCAA tournament because of their schedule. They’ve kind of boxed themselves into a little bit of a corner. They’ve picked up some wins, but their wins are against really low-ranked teams compared to what’s coming up in the next few weeks.
Johns Hopkins is about to dive into the meat of its schedule with upcoming contests against No. 12 Syracuse, No. 9 North Carolina, No. 13 Virginia, No. 19 Albany, Maryland and Loyola. Will this be a true barometer of the Blue Jays’ potential?
What was the Princeton game? Hopkins has played a really weak schedule. Other than Princeton, their teams are a combined 7-23. And it’s hard to improve as a team when you’ve got guys in and out of the lineup because of the suspension deal. Hopkins puts up some nice numbers against some inferior opponents, but I’ll believe when I see it against some quality teams. Losing to that Princeton team at home was eye-opening. The jury is still out.
What team enhanced its resume last weekend?
I thought Lehigh salvaged its season. That’s a Lehigh team that won 14 games last season. Like Colgate and like Loyola, they have struggled with success. They had some injury issues. Their goalie, [sophomore] Matt Poillon, returned, and if they can play the way they did Saturday as they did against Penn State, I don’t see anybody beating them for the rest of the regular season and I see them potentially winning their first playoff game ever. I was really impressed with what I saw in person from Lehigh in a game that they desperately needed. They played with a certain hunger that they’re going to have to maintain. I thought Carolina has been on the wrong side of a lot of close losses. So beating Princeton was a huge step in the right direction. And the same with Hofstra. Last year, nobody lost more one-goal games than Hofstra, and for them to beat [No. 3] Notre Dame kind of stamps them now on the national scene as a team in that mix.
What team did not do itself any favors?
Penn State, for the third straight week, had the lead in the fourth quarter. They led Notre Dame, they led Ohio State and they led Lehigh, and they lost all three ball games. Virginia losing at home to Cornell, still not quite sure. They proved they can play with Syracuse after losing by a goal, and they proved they can play with Cornell after losing by a goal, but they have to learn how to win.
How is the Tewaaraton race shaping up in your opinion?
[Cornell redshirt senior attackman] Rob Pannell is the clear-cut frontrunner [with 15 goals and 19 assists in five games]. [Sophomore attackman] Lyle Thompson of Albany – because of his play [12 goals and 19 assists in four games] – has got to be considered, but as long as Cornell is winning, Pannell is the leader. He’s averaging 6.8 points per game. And I think [junior] Tommy Schreiber, with the year he’s having at Princeton, his numbers as a midfielder [10 goals and five assists in four games] are never going to be quite as good, but that kid is a tremendous player.
Is there anything wrong with 2012 Tewaaraton winner Peter Baum (14 goals and nine assists in six games)? Or was it too much to expect the Colgate senior attackman to repeat his 67-goal, 30-assist performance from last season?
I think last [year] with Mike Murphy as a new coach in his first year, I think Colgate caught a lot of people off-guard with their up-tempo style. With the rule changes, everybody is playing a little up-tempo, and he’s not getting any complementary support from his midfielders. When Colgate enters Patriot League play, they’ll do better. They’ve really struggled in some areas not related to Peter Baum’s performance.