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Q&A with ESPN, Big Ten Network analyst Mark Dixon

Mark Dixon has joined Dan Flynn for an hour-long weekly podcast every Wednesday for Inside Lacrosse that delves into lacrosse and non-lacrosse subjects. The former Johns Hopkins midfielder will also help cover games for ESPN and the Big Ten Network with his first game of the season occurring on Feb. 28 when Wagner visits Rutgers. Dixon, who can be followed on Twitter at @DixonLacrosse, shared his thoughts on results from the past weekend, three teams that have impressed him, and two teams that have caught his attention.

What was the most significant outcome of the past weekend?

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I think [No. 5] Johns Hopkins win over [No. 9] Loyola Maryland was a huge win for the Blue Jays. They had lost three straight in a rivalry that used to be called "The Charles Street Massacre" because Hopkins had dominated that for such a long period of time. But Loyola not only had gotten the better of Hopkins in the last couple of years, but they also have a national championship more recently than Hopkins with the one in 2012. I think that was just a fantastic game. From a confidence standpoint, Hopkins got a huge win over a bona fide championship weekend contender in Loyola. And I just thought it was a great lacrosse game. Who could ask for anything better? It was 70 degrees in February with almost 6,000 fans in the stands. If you didn't know any better, you would have thought it was Homecoming Weekend at Hopkins with the atmosphere and the weather and the play on the field. That was a fun lacrosse game to watch. The other result that stands out to me is [No. 2] Maryland beating High Point, 19-5. That's a pretty good High Point team. I've seen them play this year, and they are not a bad lacrosse team by any stretch of the imagination. To have Maryland really just dominate them the way that they did, I thought that was really impressive.

Which team has impressed you?

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My Top 3 in the Inside Lacrosse Maverik poll is Maryland at No. 1, I've got North Carolina at No. 2, and Denver at No. 3. I've been impressed with Maryland considering all the midfielders that they lost and their scoring efficiency. In particular, I've been really impressed with [Terps senior attackman] Matt Rambo. His performance in the last eight games stretching back to last season, his point production is staggering, and that's against Big Ten opponents, in the Big Ten tournament, in the NCAA tournament, and through the first two games of 2017. So Maryland is a team that has really impressed me. I'm also impressed with Hopkins. They're 3-0 against two teams where one was a quarterfinalist from a year ago and one was a national semifinalist. And then [No. 7] Virginia is another team that I'm incredibly impressed with offensively. The 16 goals against Loyola and 18 goals against Drexel show that they're going to be able to score a lot of goals this season. They've just got to figure things out defensively. But Maryland, Hopkins and Virginia are the three teams that have impressed me the most coming out of the gate.

Which team is fading fast?

I think it's too early to designate anybody as fading fast. This past weekend was the first true weekend of competition. So I think it's a little unfair to say that anybody is fading fast. Obviously, Loyola wishes they weren't 0-2, but they've got two one-goal losses to two pretty good lacrosse teams. [No. 17] Navy turned it around this weekend with a nice win over Delaware, 11-5. But if there's one team that we got excited about was [No. 14] Air Force. They had a big win over [No. 15] Duke, and that was the second year in a row that they had beaten the Blue Devils down in Durham. Then they followed that up with a loss to [No. 1] Denver, and there's no shame in that, but the way in which the Pioneers won that game was pretty impressive. And then Air Force lost this weekend to Marist, 10-4. Again it's way too early to condemn anybody, but I think if there's a team that might be a little nervous right now, it could be the Air Force Falcons.

Is there a team flying under the radar?

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It's easy to say [No. 11] Penn State, but I've been talking all preseason about how the two most improved teams will be Penn State and Virginia in 2017. Penn State's got three wins. They're scoring a lot of goals. [Attackman] Mac O'Keefe, the freshman, has filled the role of their biggest loss of the offensive end, T.J. Sanders, quite nicely. He's just pumping in goals and scoring points at a pretty ridiculous clip. It might be a stretch to say they could overtake Maryland in the Big Ten, but they're going to be there in the end. Another team that I was impressed with this weekend that I haven't given much love in the preseason is [No. 4] Notre Dame. They might be better than I thought they were going to be in 2017. They lost [attackman] Matt Kavanagh, they lost [defenseman] Matt Landis, and they lost other key players from a team that was designated as Notre Dame's best chance to win a national championship a year ago, and they lost in the quarterfinals to North Carolina. The thing I've been saying all preseason is that Notre Dame could be the 2017 version of 2016 North Carolina. In 2015, Carolina graduated [attackmen] Joey Sankey and Jimmy Bitter and that was a team that was supposed to break the hex and get back to championship weekend for the first time since 1993 for North Carolina. Last year, not a lot of people were paying attention to them, and they went on that magical run to win the national title. That could be Notre Dame this year. People obviously have them ranked pretty high at No. 4 in the polls, but that's a team that's going to be a little bit better than I thought they were going to be.

What game this weekend will you be interested in watching?

[No. 8] Yale at Maryland jumps off the page for me. Yale has had Maryland's number in the last two years playing up in New Haven, and now that game is in College Park. And the status of [junior attackman] Ben Reeves is up in the air after he left the game against Villanova this past weekend with an injury. So I think that's an intriguing game. Hopkins-Carolina is another one. Carolina is the defending national champion, and they've had the better of that rivalry over the past few years. So that's going to be interesting to see if Hopkins can reverse their fortunes against them. Another game that I think is really interesting is Penn-Virginia. Penn is a team that some folks have as a challenger to Yale in the Ivy League in a year when Princeton and Cornell are both down a little bit. And there's Villanova-Penn State. Villanova always plays Penn State real tough, and they got stung in the first week with an upset loss to Monmouth, and they lost to Yale this past weekend. Can they get things back on track? Or will Penn State keep their offensive train rolling?

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