ESPN analyst and former Johns Hopkins midfielder Mark Dixon will provide analysis for Friday night's game between UMBC and No. 8 Maryland. While offering his perspective on the state of UMBC's program for an article slated to run in Friday's edition of The Sun, Dixon also shared his thoughts on a a few national topics.
Question: Can anybody beat top-ranked and undefeated Syracuse?
Answer: I think so. They're clearly the No. 1 team in the country right now. We always say their seven seniors, but I think [midfielder] Josh Amidon has really struggled in 2011. So it's really been the six seniors getting the job done for them. And [sophomore attackman JoJo] Marasco's played well, and you've got [sophomore defenseman Brian] Megill playing well. And [Tuesday] night, [junior attackman] Tom Palasek had a big one for Syracuse. I don't think they're unbeatable. I think they're great early in games. They got up early on Denver, they got up early on Army, but Army battled back. I think Virginia met them punch-for-punch, but their defense was a little undisciplined and had a lot of fouls, and then you had an offense that decided to stand around and watch [senior midfielder] Shamel Bratton in the fourth quarter. Virginia, I think, could beat them. Maryland is a team where, if they can get it together on a consistent basis, they've got talent. So I don't think Syracuse is unbeatable, but right now, they are the best team in the country, and they've played a pretty robust schedule up to this point. They've knocked off a decent Albany team, Army, Virginia, Denver. That's a really nice schedule that they've played.
Q: How significant was No. 19 Villanova's 10-9 win over No. 11 Princeton on Tuesday night?
A: They're a good team, and it all starts in the defensive midfield with [senior] Brian Karalunas. He's terrific. He's a Major Lacrosse League pick by the Long Island Lizards. He's already caused 33 turnovers in six games. That's pretty good for a long-stick middie. He's great on ground balls, good in traffic, a tremendous leader. But the two attackmen, [sophomore Jack] Rice and [junior Kevin] Cunningham, are really getting the job done. They really remind me of the team that went to the 2009 NCAA tournamernt. Karalunas is doing great things, and they've got a nice, strong attack. They've got good balance. That's a huge win for them. They beat Penn, they beat Drexel. To beat Princeton, that's a landmark win for that Villanova program, and they're doing a great job. The sky's the limit for them. Obviously, when you look in the Big East, Syracuse and Notre Dame are your top two teams, Georgetown has seemed to figure itself out on the defensive end for at least one week, and Villanova is a team that can definitely challenge for an AQ in the Big East. They don't have the depth that some of the other teams have, but if you look around the country, what team really is all that deep? … Villanova is a dangerous team. I guess the bad news for them is the cat's out of the bag. No one's going to be taking them lightly, especially after knocking off Princeton.
Q: What's plaguing Princeton, which is 1-3?
A: Princeton's just had a lot of injuries. [Senior attackman] Jack McBride hasn't been playing, and I think that's a huge loss on the attack end. He's a leader, someone who definitely can take the ball to the goal and take a lot of pressure off of their guys. Their best offensive player so far has been a freshman in [midfielder] Tom Schreiber. If you take into account the loss before the season in [sophomore midfielder] Mike Chanenchuk, that's a huge loss. This is a team built on defense, but the defense has been shallow quite a bit. The offense has been hot early. They've gotten out to three 3-0 leads but lost two of those games. They won one of those against Hopkins, but I think they're demonstrated that they've struggled against some of the elite offenses in the country – North Carolina, Hofstra. I wouldn't put Villanova in that elite category, but Villanova was beating them and then Princeton stormed back. So I think it's a team that's inconsistent. They've got one of the country's best goalies in [junior] Tyler Fiorito. One-on-one, I think they're defense has been pretty good. [Senior defenseman] Long Ellis has been outstanding, but for whatever reason, as a team, they're struggling defensively, and they're really struggling on faceoffs as well. That's an area that has to get better for them.
Q: How do you see Thursday night's game between No. 7 Duke and No. 9 North Carolina unfolding?
A: Two teams that are back from the dead. I think it's going to be a great game. You've got Carolina that's doing great things at the faceoffs with [freshman] R.G. Keenan. He's been a difference maker for them. Their freshmen have grown up very, very quickly – Duncan Hutchins and Mark McNeill in particular. We all knew what [attackman] Nicky Galasso brought to the table, but with Hutchins and McNeill in the midfield, it's really given them a shot in the arm and taken a lot of pressure off of [junior midfielder] Jimmy Dunster. [Senior attackman Billy] Bitter is Public Enemy No. 1. He's being blanketed by everyone, but they've got [junior attackman] Thomas Wood and [sophomore attackman] Marcus Holman playing great. And then you look at the goaltending, which I think is the big Achilles heel for North Carolina. R.G. Keenan not only gets the offense possession, but he also keeps the heat off of the defense and [senior goalkeeper Chris] Madalon. And then you look at Duke, a team that everybody kind of turned their back on after they lost to Penn. They've come back and beat Maryland and Loyola. This is a team that keeps getting better and better, and I think that speaks to [coach] John Danowski's teaching and coaching. I think there's also a number of kids back from the team that won the national championship a year ago – [junior long-stick midfielder] C.J. Costabile, [senior defenseman] Tom Montelli, [senior attackman] Zach Howell and [junior midfielder] Justin Turri – but like Carolina, they've had a lot of contributions from freshmen. [Attackmen] Jordan Wolf and Christian Walsh have done a great job. So I think it's going to come down to faceoffs. You've got Keenan and probably Costabile going at it. But it's also going to be what defense will continue to play at a high level.