Mark Dixon provided color commentary for the Big Ten Network's coverage of No. 5 Maryland's 8-7 win at Michigan on Saturday. The former Johns Hopkins midfielder will help the network during its broadcast of the Terps' road game at No. 14 Penn State on Sunday night. Dixon, who can be followed on Twitter at @DixonLacrosse, offered his thoughts on a shakeup in the top 3 of Monday's media poll, a pair of dark horses in the back half of the top 20, and his projections for the four teams advancing to championship weekend.
Although Yale edged Penn, 11-10, in overtime, Monday's Cascade/Maverik media poll dropped the Bulldogs from No. 1 to No. 3 and bumped up Notre Dame from No. 2 to No. 1 and Brown from No. 3 to No. 2. Agree or disagree with the movement?
I still had Yale No. 2. I put Notre Dame at No. 1 this week and Brown at No. 3. What have you done for me lately? That's what the weekly poll is, and honestly, I don't have a problem with that. It's who's playing the best and who's got the most impressive result. When you have Notre Dame going into the Carrier Dome and Syracuse is celebrating their 100th anniversary and all the greats of Orange past are there and they just stomped on Syracuse and played like a top-ranked team, that was an impressive performance from Notre Dame all over the field. Then you look at Yale and they were at home against Penn, and they needed overtime to beat the Quakers, who were playing their third game in eight days. So now everybody thinks, 'OK, Yale is not that impressive.' And Brown at home destroyed Princeton. So obviously this team can play, and they had the midweek win over [then-No. 6] Villanova. It's fun, and it's great to talk about, and it's great to debate, but it really doesn't matter. These ratings and the rankings and the polls, they really don't matter. You've got Brown and Yale heading for a collision course on April 16. If both take care of business this week, that is a titanic matchup and then we'll see who should be ranked higher between Brown and Yale after that game. Right now, I don't put a whole lot of stock into it, but it's interesting. It's not like we're playing musical chairs with Notre Dame, Denver, Hopkins, Syracuse, North Carolina. It's Brown and Yale, which is intriguing and sums up the 2016 season quite nicely.
Does Notre Dame's 17-7 smashing of Syracuse speak more about the Fighting Irish or the Orange?
I think you can take both. What I loved about Notre Dame was [senior attackman] Matt Kavanagh. I think we're seeing the Matt Kavanagh we saw two seasons ago – aggressive, athletic and healthy and just playing with that determination and drive and athleticism that I think we all really missed as he struggled through injuries last season and is getting up to speed in 2016. So I loved his effort. They've got the young guy, [freshman attackman Ryder] Garnesy, stepping up, and [sophomore attackman] Mikey Wynne (St. Paul's) had another big game. And I think the return of [junior defenseman] Garrett Epple (Calvert Hall) was a shot in the arm for Notre Dame. They missed him the last few weeks. I think he gives them a little more swagger, a little more versatility because they can move other guys to other spots on the field. And he gives them more toughness. Not that Notre Dame is not a tough team, but he gives them a lot more toughness. On the flipside, you're Syracuse and you've got this grand weekend with a huge celebration and you get run off the field. You haven't been beaten on that field like that since 1987. I think if I'm Syracuse, I'm worried about [junior] Ben Williams on faceoffs. He looks tired. He looks worn down. He's faded in the fourth quarter of the last few games, and I think I'm worried big-time about the defense. The off-ball play for Syracuse is not what it needs to be at this point, and the goaltending has been uneven. [Senior] Warren Hill has come up with some pretty big saves, but now that the defense is playing better competition and not playing as well, he's been exposed a little bit. They brought [redshirt junior] Evan Molloy into the game, and I don't think a starter has been named for the midweek game against Hobart. Here's the other thing: they get Hobart and Cornell, and on paper, you're like, 'OK, these are breather games.' They're anything but. They're rivalry games, they're both on the road, and they come at a time when Syracuse is trying to re-establish themselves.
Not only are there two teams from the Ivy League in the top 3, but there are two teams from the America East in the top 10. What do you think about No. 7 Albany and No. 8 Stony Brook being there?
I think Albany and Stony Brook are really good lacrosse teams. They both have very talented offenses, and both can play decent defense, but that's not what they hang their hat on. They're head-and-shoulders above the rest of the America East. Stony Brook has lost to Brown and Albany, and Albany has lost to Syracuse and Maryland. They're on a collision course to meet for the America East championship. Albany beat them by six goals a few weeks ago, but if you think about the last couple of years when Albany ruled that conference and they had the Thompsons, Stony Brook is the team. They were the team that always challenged them. It's definitely between those two teams in the America East. But I'm not sold that they're as good as some of the ACC teams or Big Ten teams at this point. I think Penn State and Maryland and Hopkins and Duke and North Carolina and Duke have played better schedules, and they've got better competition. So I think the jury is still out, but they're very good lacrosse teams and on any given day, they can beat anybody.
Is there a team in the back half of the top 20 that is lurking in the background?
I like [No. 12] Air Force. I think that's a team with [sophomore attackman Chris] Walsch on offense and [senior midfielder Christopher] Allen, I think they're very talented. I think they're well coached. They're in the Southern Conference that's on a bumpy ride. Richmond has beaten Duke, but then got shut out by Virginia. High Point has the win over Virginia and played Maryland tough, but they've been struggling a little bit as of late. So I like Air Force, and I'm starting to like this Penn State team more and more. Obviously, we're aware of the emotional component that this team is going through with the passing of [redshirt sophomore goalkeeper] Connor Darcey and honoring him this season and honoring his spirit by playing hard. But [redshirt junior faceoff specialist] Drake Kreinz came back and faced off a little bit yesterday. They're starting to play better lacrosse. So Air Force and Penn State are two teams in the bottom half that I've got my eye on.
What teams do you like to make championship weekend in Philadelphia?
I think [No. 4] Denver and Notre Dame are the two best teams in the country right now. So I think you can pencil them in. After that, I think it's wide open. It would be hard to bet against Maryland since they've been to four of the last five championship weekends. Is this the year an upstart gets back? Does Yale get back for the first time since 1990? Does Brown get back for the first time since 1994? I'll write about it in my piece that will be published tomorrow morning for Inside Lacrosse, but since 2001, Towson in 2001, Navy in 2004, UMass in 2006, Delaware in 2007 and Loyola in 2012 are the only teams that have made one appearance on championship weekend. That's five teams out of 60 that have made one appearance on championship weekend. Every other team has made multiple appearances. So everybody talks about parity. I think parity exists in the regular season, but it really hasn't shown itself on the sport's biggest stage. So I like Denver and I like Notre Dame. But then you have a host of teams vying to be the third and fourth teams and at this point in the season, nothing should surprise us about who gets the third and fourth spots.