ESPN analyst Quint Kessenich provided commentary for No. 7 Syracuse’s 13-12 upset of No. 5 Cornell on Wednesday night and No. 2 Duke’s 19-16 victory over No. 16 Virginia on Friday night. The former Johns Hopkins All-American goalkeeper, who can be followed on Twitter via @QKessenich, will be on hand for Saturday’s tilt between Navy and No. 15 Johns Hopkins. Kessenich offered his perspective on the No. 1 team in the country, the 10 programs that could advance to the Final Four at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on Memorial Day weekend, and the issues plaguing No. 15 Virginia.
What did you come away with from this past weekend’s results?
I thought that Hopkins saved their future, and they’re still alive now. Denver’s win over Loyola was critical. Syracuse won two games this week, which was big. Both were close games, and the win on Wednesday night over Cornell puts them in the upper echelon. And then schools like North Carolina and Duke have caught fire and continue to roll.
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In your weekly column for Inside Lacrosse, did you have Notre Dame or Denver at No. 1?
I had Notre Dame at [No.] 1, but I kind of had them not very far apart. Notre Dame has the best resume and they beat the No. 1 team right now. I don’t think they’re playing the best in the country. Their style lends itself to them not playing pretty and not dominating people. They typically win ugly with defense, and that’s what they’re doing this year.
How critical was Denver’s 13-12 overtime win against Loyola for the Pioneers?
It guarantees that they’ll get a home game in the first round of the NCAA tournament. So that was a big step towards their playoff resume. And it also puts Loyola in a position now where they have a very weak at-large tournament resume. Loyola’s only significant win was against Ohio State. So the Greyhounds still have a lot of work to do – whether it’s winning the automatic qualifier which is a no-brainer or beating Hopkins. If they lose to Hopkins and don’t win the AQ, they’ve got some issues on Selection Sunday.
Which teams are in the running for the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament?
Notre Dame and Denver would be my guess.
Are teams like Syracuse, Cornell and Maryland on the outside looking in?
No, they’re national title contenders. I think there are about eight or nine teams that could win the national championship.
How unusual is that?
There’s always one or two teams that you knew were going to be there on championship weekend even if they played poorly in the quarterfinals. This year, that’s not the case. You have Denver, you have Notre Dame, you have North Carolina and Duke playing really well right now. You’ve got Syracuse, you’ve got Cornell and you’ve got Maryland. Penn State, I don’t think is a national championship-caliber team, but they can certainly make it to championship weekend. Johns Hopkins is in that mix. On their best days, they’ve proven that they can play that way. And same with Loyola. That would be my grouping of teams that could win a national title or make it to Philly.
Is there a team that no school would want to tangle with?
Albany is a team that because of their style, offers a lot of challenges. They’re 9-3, they’ve beaten Syracuse and Hopkins – both on the road, which is only the second time in lacrosse histort that's been done. They also beat UMass and Harvard. They’re a strong favorite in the America East, and they’re blowing up scoreboards. They lead the country in scoring, and they have three really dynamic attackmen in [sophomore] Lyle Thompson, [junior] Miles Thompson and [junior] Ty Thompson. So they present a unique challenge.
Who is your frontrunner for the Tewaaraton Award?
I think like the overall team race, the Tewaaraton picture has gotten cloudier. Lyle Thompson didn’t play a super game last week on TV although Albany beat Hopkins. And [Cornell fifth-year senior attackman] Rob Pannell got off to a fast start against Syracuse in a televised game, but after scoring a goal and then having three assists, he was kind of shut down the rest of the way. So I still think it’s wide open. Those guys are in the mix. I like [senior attackman] Marcus Holman of North Carolina. I think he’s played really, really well over the last four or five games. [Junior attackman] Kieran McArdle of St. John’s has had a great year. [Junior attackman] Justin Ward of Loyola would be another nominee.
Who would you vote for Coach of the Year?
Jeff Tambroni of Penn State is 9-3. Or Scott Marr at Albany. Those two guys would be high on my list right.
Since you called the Duke-Virginia game, what is your assessment of what is ailing the Cavaliers, who are in danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004?
Inconsistent faceoff play. Poor goaltending. They’re somewhere in the 50s in save percentage. Extremely low shooting percentage on offense, but they found themselves on Friday night. Their offense looked really good. They got high-quality shots. But prior to that, their offense just wasn’t generating quality shots. And then in their short-stick defensive midfield position, the loss of [senior] Chris LaPierre [to a knee injury] really hurt that position. They’ve had some good effort guys, but some guys who play offense have had to play. So they’ve had to play a lot of zone.
Running through the conferences with automatic qualifiers to the NCAA tournament, which team do you like to emerge out of the America East?
Albany’s the favorite there with Stony Brook being their main challenger.
How about the Big East?
It’s interesting because Villanova is 4-0 and atop the Big East. But I think that’s going to come down to either Notre Dame or Syracuse. I’ll take Notre Dame.
Who do you like in the Colonial Athletic Association?
The surprise of the Colonial is the fact that UMass is at the bottom of the league. The middle is kind of jumbled, and Penn State is the strong favorite.
The Eastern College Athletic Conference?
Denver or Loyola.
How about the Ivy League?
I like Cornell. Cornell’s offense is excellent. Their first attack unit of [sophomore] Matt Donovan, Rob Pannell and [senior] Steve Mock and then you throw [sophomore] Connor Buczek out there in the midfield with [senior] Max Van Bourgondien and [senior] Connor English, a lefty Virginia transfer, that’s a really strong group. They can give anyone fits. The problem that Cornell has is an undersized defense, I don’t love their short-stick defensive midfielders, and I don’t love their offensive depth.
Who do you like in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference?
Marist. They beat Jacksonville last week by three. Marist is 8-2, and they’re having a nice season.
The Northeast Conference?
Finally, what about the Patriot League?
I’ve got to go with Lehigh. They beat [No. 13] Bucknell last week. I don’t think Colgate or Army is quite as good. But that’s a good tournament. Those teams are fairly closely-matched.