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Q&A with ESPN/Big Ten Network men's lacrosse analyst Mark Dixon

Mark Dixon pulled a doubleheader on Saturday. First, he provided commentary for the Lax Sports Network for No. 13 Towson's 10-8 win against No. 14 Hofstra in the afternoon at Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson. Then he helped call No. 1 Maryland's 12-5 rout of No. 10 Johns Hopkins for the Big Ten Network that night at Maryland Stadium in College Park. The former Johns Hopkins midfielder will provide analysis again for the Big Ten Network's coverage of the conference tournament at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, on Thursday and Saturday. Dixon, who can be followed on Twitter at @DixonLacrosse, discussed his top seed in the NCAA tournament if it started today, No. 9 North Carolina's run from potential elimination to Atlantic Coast Conference tournament champion, and his five finalists for the Tewaaraton Award.

If the NCAA tournament began today, which team would be your No. 1 seed?

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I'd probably go with Maryland. When you look at their body of work, they have the No. 1 RPI, and their strength of schedule is probably going to be in the Top 3. And with the wins that they have, I think I would go with the Terps.

Aside from the Big Ten regular-season title and the top seed in the league tournament, what did Maryland gain from that victory over Johns Hopkins?

I think they take away a tremendous amount of confidence. First of all, [junior goalkeeper] Dan Morris played extremely well, and he has been a risky proposition all season long. When he's on, he's very good. When he's not on, he's a liability. There really hasn't been a ton of gray area in the games that I've seen with Dan Morris. On Saturday night, I thought he was terrific, and I thought their defense was excellent. You could tell how buttoned up they were when they killed those first couple of man-up opportunities for Hopkins. If I recall, Hopkins didn't get too many good shots off on the EMO, and that's saying a lot with how potent the Blue Jays' EMO has been in 2017. So I think you take away Dan Morris playing extremely well, and I think you look at that offense and feel really good that [senior attackman] Colin Heacock was able to return from that ankle injury. He had three goals in the game, and he balances that field so well for [senior attackman Matt] Rambo, and his presence just opens up things a lot for guys like [redshirt junior midfielder Tim] Rotanz and [junior midfielder Connor] Kelly.

What can Johns Hopkins learn from that game?

You take away the fact that you just got jumped, and there was nothing you could do about it. I think you have to be incredibly disappointed with the way things went in front of nearly 15,000 people and on prime-time television and with the No. 1 seed on the line, and that's how things worked out for you. The game was over within six minutes. I think you have to look at the defense and how it slid so unnecessarily. [Coach Dave] Pietramala said that to us at halftime, especially on Matt Rambo. The guy hadn't even made his move and Hopkins was already sliding, and he just got good backside looks. I think you have to be concerned with [junior attackman] Shack Stanwick and his reported foot injury. He played, but in the first half, Hopkins lost four shots out of bounds. Is that because of poor positioning or is that because Stanwick has a bad wheel and can't get to the end line? I'm tending to think it's more of the former, but you have to consider the latter. And I think the third thing is, you have to ask, 'What is the goaltending situation going to look like now for Hopkins?' I don't look at any of the goals that [junior] Brock Turnbaugh let in as soft goals. Would it have been nice for him to steal one or two of those? Absolutely. But I didn't think to myself, 'Oh my God, that was a soft goal. He's not seeing it tonight.' The shooters he was facing were in great spots with their feet set and time to pick their spots, and I thought they just did a great job. But [graduate student] Gerald Logan came in and made some incredible saves in that game. So now heading into their most important game of the season, is there a goalie situation for Hopkins?

How crazy of a week did reigning national champion North Carolina experience with going from being possibly left out of the NCAA tournament to winning the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament crown and possibly earning one of the top eight seeds and a home game in the first round?

I think it's a microcosm of the season with just the unpredictability, and once you think you have everything figured out, a surprise development happens. Carolina is a team that should have beaten [No. 3] Syracuse in the regular season. They had a lead on them late at home on Senior Day and in the very last game played at Fetzer Field, and they coughed it up. This is a very talented North Carolina team. If they had lost yesterday, they would have been out of it completely. So I think they put themselves in a tremendous position to get a home game. Their RPI is in the Top 10, and their strength of schedule is going to be in the Top 3, I would imagine. So I think it just speaks to the crazy nature of 2017 and how evenly matched these teams are and how on any given day things can happen. What I see in North Carolina is more offensive leadership emerging and less reliability on one-on-ones. Of course they're going to have great one-on-one capability. They're the defending national champions, and they've got a bunch of studs on the offensive end. But watching them play this weekend, they shared the ball a lot more, many more goals were assisted, they didn't have guys trying to do it all on their own, and that's what they had last year. It's looks like they're going out and just playing, and instead of one or two people trying to do it all or too much, they spread it out, and once you get everybody involved, that's when you're going to have success. I think you have to be a little concerned with Friday night and the lead they almost coughed up against Syracuse again. But what they accomplished this weekend in winning those two games as a No. 4 seed and playing their way into the NCAA tournament, that can't be overshadowed.

Which No. 1 seed has the most tenuous grip in its conference tournament?

[No. 17] Yale might after losing to Harvard this past week. They've had some question marks in the goal. They have a great faceoff unit and a terrific offense, but defensively, they've struggled a little bit. And you've got Penn, which is starting to put it together after beating Virginia, 17-11. So Penn is starting to hum a little bit, and you always have to be worried about Brown with [senior attackman and 2016 Tewaaraton Award winner] Dylan Molloy and getting into track meets. So I think Yale has to be careful in the Ivy League, and there's a tremendous amount of pressure in that league because that's a one-bid league. But if any coach can turn a negative into a positive, it is Andy Shay at Yale. He does a tremendous job.

Which potentially unseeded team looms as the most dangerous opponent in the NCAA tournament?

All of them. All these teams are good. I do think it's pretty cut-and-dry with the field. If [No. 5] Albany wins the America East and [No. 2] Denver takes the Big East, I don't see any other at-larges getting in other than your ACC schools and then four Big Ten teams. But if you're talking about a team that could be unseeded and is the most dangerous, I think that team is Albany. [Junior attackman] Connor Fields is a Tewaaraton Award finalist, if not the winner. They have a very good faceoff man in [freshman] T.D. Irelan that can get possessions, and they have an offense that can put a lot of pressure on you. They've got a defense that is very much upgraded from a year ago even with the loss of [goalie] Blaze Riorden. And they've got other guys that can step up and score. [Senior midfielder] Bennett Drake is a player that comes to mind immediately. So Albany could be the most dangerous unseeded team. Now with that being said, they could also pull what they pulled last year and lose in the semifinals of the America East tournament. That's how topsy-turvy 2017 is with lacrosse. Another team that could be dangerous and unseeded if they get a bid is [No. 15] Villanova. But if Denver wins the Big East and Albany wins the America East, I don't see Villanova sneaking in as an at-large.

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You mentioned Connor Fields. Who would be your other four finalists for the Tewaaraton Award?

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I like Matt Rambo from Maryland. I think there's no question that he will be a finalist for the Tewaaraton. [Sophomore attackman] Pat Spencer of [No. 11] Loyola [Maryland] would be another one. I would go with [senior attackman] Connor Cannizzaro of Denver, and I might also go with [junior attackman] Ben Reeves from Yale. He had a monster game this past weekend even though Yale lost to Harvard. I know that a lot of people are giving [junior faceoff specialist] Trevor Baptiste some credit as he leads the country at 75 percent. Am I opposed to that? Not really, but he's a specialist. In a way, that's almost like having [Ravens kicker] Justin Tucker for MVP in the NFL. He does one thing. He does it better than anybody else, but is that what the Tewaaraton is? I'm not really sure. I could see Trevor Baptiste getting an invite to D.C. for the Tewaaraton along with [Ohio State senior faceoff specialist] Jake Withers, but traditionally, you'd have some defensemen be finalists with no chance of winning the award. I think this is very much an offensive award like the Heisman Trophy is.

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