Team on top: League championships are unfamiliar territory for Johns Hopkins, which had been an independent until agreeing to join the Big Ten as an affiliate member in men's lacrosse. But the Blue Jays' first year in the conference could be a fruitful one. Seven starters from last year's squad that earned a spot in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals are back for Johns Hopkins, and a balanced mix of experience and youth could prove to be the right formula this spring.
Team on the rise: A program that advanced to its third Final Four in the past four years usually doesn't qualify as an under-the-radar surprise. But as strong as Maryland has been under coach John Tillman, this year's team does have some big questions to answer. Who will replace departed attackman Mike Chanenchuk as the scoring leader? Who will badger opponents' top midfielder as long-stick midfielder Michael Ehrhardt did so efficiently? Who will stonewall opposing offenses as adeptly as goalkeeper Niko Amato did during his four-year career as a starter? Still, the Terps have enviable talent throughout their roster and have demonstrated a knack for maximizing their players.
Team on the decline: In 2013, Ohio State captured the Eastern College Athletic Conference tournament and made it to the NCAA tournament quarterfinals. But after a 2014 season in which that squad went 6-8 overall and 3-1 in the ECAC, the Buckeyes now move to the Big Ten where they will tangle with Johns Hopkins, Maryland and Penn State. A defense that was tied for 11th in Division I after allowing just 8.6 goals must replace three starters in two close defensemen and the goalie.
Prime-time player: Senior attackman Wells Stanwick will again be expected to spark Johns Hopkins' offense this spring. Stanwick finished last season tied for fifth in the country with 44 assists and 10th with 67 points. He could surpass those numbers playing with teammates like junior attackman Ryan Brown (40 goals and 14 assists in 2014), junior midfielder Holden Cattoni (29, 6) and sophomore midfielder John Crawley (12, 6).
Underrated player: In a conference filled with prodigious faceoff specialists like Maryland senior Charlie Raffa, Penn State sophomore Drake Kreinz and Johns Hopkins senior Drew Kennedy, Joseph Nardella doesn't get nearly the shine that he should. The Rutgers senior ranked fifth in the nation with a .632 faceoff percentage and fourth with 9.8 ground balls per game. Nardella's prowess could determine whether an emerging Scarlet Knights offense continues to develop.