Here is the second part of Monday's Q&A with ESPN and Big Ten Network analyst Mark Dixon. The former Johns Hopkins midfielder, who can be followed on Twitter at @DixonLacrosse, offered his thoughts on No. 8 Loyola Maryland's 11-4 win at No. 13 Virginia and No. 6 Johns Hopkins' 12-11 double-overtime decisions at No. 16 Navy.
Do you agree with the sentiment that then-No. 11 Loyola Maryland's upset at then-No. 7 Virginia was significant for the Greyhounds, but not that detrimental for the Cavaliers?
No, I don't agree with that. I agree with the first part of that. Loyola had lost the last two season openers by a goal to Virginia, and when you think about the season that Loyola had with six one-goal losses and giving up about 10½ goals per game with some goaltending issues in the beginning of the season, I think this result speaks to the improvement that the defense has made following the graduation of players like [defenseman] Joe Fletcher and [short-stick defensive midfielder] Pat Laconi and [goalkeeper] Jack Runkel. [Sophomore Grant] Limone with 14 saves played really, really well. The offense has always been there for Loyola, and it was on display this past Saturday. But the defensive effort was something that Loyola really struggled with a year ago and it was maybe a primary culprit in them losing six one-goal games and going 7-8. I think you have to take note of that improvement on the defensive end. Virginia, on the flipside, let's keep in mind that in 2013, they didn't make the NCAA tournament. In 2014 and 2015, they were bounced in the first round. I know they were decimated by injuries last year and gave up 11 goals per game. … But they got smoked at home by Loyola, and that comes on the heels of two lopsided scrimmages. I know scores aren't kept in scrimmages, but from all reports, Maryland and UMBC hammered Virginia in those two scrimmages. So if you take the last couple of seasons and the scrimmages and you thrown in the 11-4 result, I think you've really got to be concerned if you're the University of Virginia. Now, they're going to have opportunities to play their way out of it. Everybody does. With Loyola being in the Patriot League and Virginia being in the ACC, you might look at that and say, 'OK, that was a bigger win for Loyola than it would have been for Virginia,' and maybe that's the case. But it's not like Loyola beat them by a goal or two. Loyola beat them badly at home. So I think it's a significant loss for Virginia in terms of the work they need to do to get back to where they want to be, and that's competing for a spot on Championship Weekend.
What did you take away from Johns Hopkins' narrow win at Navy?
I think what you can take away is that you can't leave [Blue Jays senior attackman] Ryan Brown alone. That's the first thing. The second thing is, I think Hopkins with [senior] Craig Madarasz back and working with [sophomore] Hunter Moreland, they've become a much better faceoff team. For the Naval Academy, I think you have to feel pretty good about your offense. Not only did they come back from trailing by three goals on three different occasions, but they scored the last few goals in regulation to tie that up. We knew that Navy has one of the better defenses in the country with a really good goaltender, but to have the offense to come back against Johns Hopkins and tie that game and come back and beat Air Force, I think if you're Navy, you have to feel pretty good about the development of your offense, which was thought to be a liability coming into the season.
How significant is Saturday's game between Johns Hopkins and Loyola?
It's a big game. It's a big early-season game. It wasn't played last year. It's typically played at the end of the season, but with Loyola in the Patriot League and Hopkins in the Big Ten, this is where it landed. I think first and foremost, you have to appreciate the fact that the game is being played. It wasn't able to be played last year due to scheduling difficulties. So I think it's great that the game is back on the docket. If you're Hopkins, you're 1-0 and you're coming off an emotional double-overtime win against Navy. If you're Loyola, you're coming off a win that makes you stick your chest out after pounding Virginia down in Charlottesville. Both teams have momentum, and both teams feel pretty good about themselves. I think if you're Hopkins, you need to play better defense the way that Loyola played defense against Virginia. And you've got two offenses that are very balanced and can make plays. Hopkins obviously found a way to win against Navy minus [sophomore Joel] Tinney and [senior Connor] Reed, their top two dodging threats from the midfield. I think Hopkins is going to have to continue to find ways to score goals and guys to score goals, and I think they can. I think this is going to be big in the faceoff game. You've got [Loyola junior Graham] Savio going up against Moreland and Madarasz. And of course, there's the goaltending. Limone played very, very well against Virginia, and [sophomore Brock] Turnbaugh played pretty well against Navy. There was a question mark as to who was going to start for Hopkins coming into the season. So I think all the way around, it's a very even matchup on paper, but I think it's going to come down to defensive stops for these ball clubs, and right now I think you have to give the nod to Loyola in that department.
How critical is a win or a loss for either team?
I don't think it's make-or-break at this point in the season. When you win a game, you feel pretty good about it, and you want to learn as much as possible from it. When you lose a game, you don't feel as good, but you still want to learn from it as much as possible. The Loyola game used to hold so much significance for Hopkins especially because it was always at the end of the year and it seemed like in the past couple of seasons, Hopkins was either playing for their playoff lives or playing for seeding. But it's not make-or-break for either team. Whoever wins that game is going to feel a whole lot better about themselves because they're going to own Charles Street for the next 12 months.