Mark Dixon teamed with Booker Corrigan on ESPN’s broadcast of the No. 1 seed Maryland men’s lacrosse team’s 14-11 win against Robert Morris on Sunday in a first-round game of the NCAA Division I tournament.
The former Johns Hopkins midfielder will help Westwood One Radio cover the national semifinals and final on May 26 and 28 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. Dixon, who can be followed on Twitter at @DixonLacrosse, gave his perspective the tournament’s first-round results, the favorite among the eight quarterfinalists to win the national championship, and the quarterfinal games he is eager to watch.
How you sum up the first round of the tournament?
I think they went the way we thought they were going to go. We knew that [No. 4 seed] Duke was going to cruise, and we knew that Robert Morris was going to show up, and I think we knew that [No. 5 seed Johns] Hopkins-Georgetown was going to be a really competitive game. I don’t think we anticipated the five-goal hole that Hopkins had to dig out of. So I think Saturday was pretty predictable, and it kind of went according to script. And Sunday was a little bit more unpredictable, and I think that’s the way people thought it was going to be. My biggest takeaway was that all of the criticism of the selection committee played out. I don’t want to keep dumping on Villanova because they’re a great bunch and I’m a big [Wildcats coach] Mike Corrado fan and the kids play incredibly hard, but having them in the tournament against Duke was not appropriate. Robert Morris should not have had to play Maryland after winning a play-in game. They deserved better than the play-in game. They should have been at [No. 2 seed] Albany. And then it jibed out again with [No. 8 seed] Syracuse and Cornell. Syracuse in no way, shape or form deserved that home game. That game should have been at Schoellkopf Field, and if it was, I think Cornell would have won by three or four instead of winning by one and holding on at the end.
With that in mind, there were no surprising results to you?
The Denver-[No. 7 seed] Notre Dame game was a pick-em. Even though Notre Dame was rolling after the ACC tournament and they throttled Army, this is a Denver team that features [senior faceoff specialist] Trevor Baptiste and if you look at their track record, they lost to Georgetown by scoring only three goals in the Big East championship game. But the last time that happened when Georgetown lost to them 6-5 in what was the lowest scoring output for a Bill Tierney team, they came back a week later and hung 22 on Villanova, including 18 in the first half. So you knew that Denver was going to respond and that they were going to rebound. So maybe the Denver result over Notre Dame is a mild upset, but other than that, there were no surprises in the first round.
Is there a favorite among the eight quarterfinalists?
It is so wide open that it’s not even funny. I can’t remember a time where this field was so wide open with teams with obvious strengths and glaring weaknesses, and I think we saw a lot of it play out this weekend. [No. 6 seed] Loyola [Maryland] got a big lead against Virginia and then had to fight off a furious rally. Johns Hopkins dug itself into a hole and then had to fight back to win. Maryland has now had two games in a row – the Big Ten championship game against Hopkins and now the Robert Morris game – where they came out in the first half with no energy and really no oomph to their game, and then they got bailed out by the guys who have been doing it all year long. Those are just a couple of examples, but there’s no one team that you would say, ‘Oh yeah, these guys are a 2-to-1 favorite to win the national championship on Memorial Day.
How realistic is it to expect that the top four seeds will advance to the semifinals next weekend?
It’s possible, but it’s not a done deal. Every game has a line of intrigue. Let’s start with Denver-Albany. You’ve got the two best faceoff men in the nation go head-to-head with each other. Does Albany have enough juice offensively, and can [senior attackman] Connor Fields be a presence on the field against a Denver defense that is playing incredibly well? And on the reverse side, can Denver muster up enough offense and can they get enough possessions going up against a guy like [sophomore faceoff specialist] TD Ierlan. [No. 3 seed] Yale-Loyola, Yale is the favorite there, and I think Yale will win this game. But will they be able to corral [junior attackman] Pat Spencer, and if they do that, are they going to have enough to limit the supporting cast and keep them from beating them and can they eliminate a lot of the bang-bang plays that Virginia wasn’t able to prevent? Hopkins-Duke, that’s a [Nos.] 4-5 matchup. [No. 4 seed] Duke has owned the Blue Jays in the postseason the last couple of times they have met up. This game is a pick-em if I ever did see one. And then Maryland-Cornell, can the Big Red continue their momentum and what type of game plan will the Terps incorporate against [sophomore attackman] Jeff Teat and will they show up with the energy and urgency needed to advance to another championship weekend? So it’s not out of the realm of possibility for the top four seeds to advance to Foxborough, but there are so many other sticking points and so many other potholes along the way that it’s not a done deal by any stretch.
Which quarterfinal game is the most interesting to you?
I’ll give you two, and Hofstra is the place that has the two most intriguing games. When you look at Yale and Loyola, you’ve got two Tewaaraton finalists going head to head with their teams battling in [senior attackman] Ben Reeves from Yale and Pat Spencer from Loyola. And this is the first time these teams will have met in the postseason since 1990 when Loyola – led by goalie Charley Toomey – beat Yale.
This game has similarities to that. Yale had Jon Reese in that game, and at the time, he was Yale’s all-time leading scorer. Now it’s Ben Reeves. I think Yale had a better goaltending situation back in 1990 than they do now. Loyola is coached by Charley Toomey and Pat Spencer is their main guy. They’ve got a lot of capable and athletic midfielders that can get things done. So that Yale-Loyola game is intriguing. And then Denver-Albany, this is what everyone has wanted all year long – TD Ierlan versus Trevor Baptiste starting at the faceoff dot. And then you’ve got Bill Tierney with seven national championships going up against [Albany’s] Scott Marr, who has never been to championship weekend as a head coach. It just seems like the whole lacrosse world wants the Dane Train up in Foxborough. So that game has so many different storylines and subplots to make it really intriguing.
Did you agree or disagree with the five finalists announced last week for the Tewaaraton Award or were there any snubs?
We’re talking about the five top players. What are we going to do – expand it to 10? It’s a hard job for the committee. I think if you’re looking for a player that could have been included in that quintet, it would be Jeff Teat from Cornell based just on the numbers that he has put up and the performances he has put up consistently in 2018. But I’ve got no problem with the five invited to D.C. They could have maybe waited a little bit because this award is so heavily predicated on postseason success. If I had to pick today, it would come down to Ben Reeves and [senior midfielder] Connor Kelly from Yale and Maryland, respectively. But the loser of the Spencer-Reeves and Loyola-Yale game could be eliminated from contention for the Tewaaraton.