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Q&A with ESPN men's lacrosse analyst Paul Carcaterra

Well into his eighth year as an ESPN analyst, Paul Carcaterra witnessed No. 2 Notre Dame's 11-10 overtime win at No. 15 Virginia on Saturday. The former Syracuse midfielder will travel to Atlantic Coast Conference territory again to break down Saturday's showdown between No. 10 Maryland and No. 14 North Carolina. Carcaterra, who can be followed on Twitter via @paulcarcaterra, discussed the biggest surprise of last weekend, the staying power of the four remaining unbeaten teams and his choice for the top-ranked team in Division I.

What was the most eye-opening result of the past weekend?

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Definitely what [No. 4] Ohio State did to [No. 7] Denver [in Sunday's 16-7 rout]. I know Ohio State was coming in with an 8-0 record, but there were some questions still regarding their strength of schedule and some of their opponents. However, I watched that game from start to finish, and I was super impressed – specifically with Ohio State's early offense. I think they came in with a great game plan because [Pioneers] coach [Bill] Tierney's teams have been so good defensively, and the longer you're in possessions against Denver, the harder it is to score. So I was really impressed with Ohio State, their early offense, their game plan overall, and defensively as well. That was without question the biggest eye-opening game of this past weekend because I thought Denver after the Notre Dame game and being No. 1 again with a lot of guys that won the championship in 2015, those are the types of teams that can handle winning the big game and then competing the next week and continuing to stamp their season. But Ohio State dominated them from start to finish. There was one player I was super impressed with – Tre Leclaire, the freshman from Ohio State. He plays a little attack, a little midfield. He kind of reminds me of [former Denver attackman] Wes Berg. He shoots like him, he's a Canadian, right-handed, wears No. 14. He was on fire with five goals and two assists.

No. 1 Rutgers (8-0), No. 3 Penn State (8-0), Ohio State (9-0), and No. 5 Hofstra (6-0) are the remaining teams with perfect records. Of the four, which one has the most staying power?

Hofstra just because of their schedule. The Big Ten is top- and bottom-heavy. If you look at the two teams sitting in the back half of the Big Ten right now, they're two of the perennially richest of the rich in terms of lacrosse in Maryland and [No. 17] Johns Hopkins. No one has played any Big Ten action yet, but my fear is they're all going to cannibalize each other because the league is so strong, and there's really no weak team in that conference. All six are ranked. To get out of that conference undefeated, I just don't see how that's going to be possible. I think to get out of that conference with one loss would be an incredible feat. I wouldn't be surprised if the top two teams have a couple losses. I just think that league is so hard to pinpoint with regards to which team is clearly the best because if you watched the first eight or nine weeks of lacrosse, can you really tell me that Penn State is better than Ohio State? Or that Ohio State is better than Rutgers? You could argue for any of those three undefeated Big Ten teams, and you could also argue that Hopkins on a good day can beat any of those three, and the same could be said for Maryland. So this Big Ten season is almost like a completely separate season because there will be five straight weeks of them playing each other and it's going to be incredible. So I don't see how any of them walk out undefeated.

Rutgers is No. 1 in the Inside Lacrosse media poll, while Penn State is the top choice for the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association coaches poll. Which team is No. 1 in your mind?

I'm kind of torn between [No. 2] Notre Dame and Rutgers, but I have to go with Rutgers right now after more thought because they don't have a loss. They've beaten some pretty good teams. They've beaten [No. 8] Army and [No. 13] Princeton. Princeton's losses right now look pretty good, don't they? They've lost to Rutgers and Hofstra, and they smoked Penn this past weekend, and they smoked Johns Hopkins. I've watched [Rutgers] on tape a few times, and this team is legit. They haven't just beaten up on some inferior opponents. The way they play, the style, how athletic they are, they're super fun to watch. They press out on defense, the kid [junior Max] Edelmann in goal has an incredible first step. And offensively, they're hitting on all cylinders with two-way midfielders and a really skilled attack led by [junior attackman] Jules Heningburg. I just think that this Rutgers program now has an identity. Coach Brian Brecht has been able to find the diamond in the rough-type recruits. He knows who he's looking for, they all fit in his system. And keep in mind they're missing four top-end players. [Sophomore Zackary] Franckowiak who was an All-Big Ten Tournament player as a freshman short-stick defensive midfielder, is on a Mormon mission in Russia right now. [Sophomore Garrett] Bullett, the long-stick midfielder from Utah, is out for the season with an injury, and the same could be said for [redshirt sophomore attackman] Adam Charalambides, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, and [senior] Christian Trasolini, one of their top midfielders. And they're all coming back next year. So this team isn't only built for this year. Next year, on paper, they're going to be incredible. I just think that Brian Brecht has figured this out, and it just tells you that in the sport of lacrosse with the way that the sport recruits, patience is key.

Which team needs a win more this weekend than the others?

Johns Hopkins. Johns Hopkins can lose to Virginia. If they do really well in the Big Ten because the Big Ten is so strong, they can easily turn things around with four losses and make a run here. However, I think mentally this team really needs a win just because of what has transpired over the last few weeks. You have that bad loss to Princeton, and then you follow up with a couple more losses with that heartbreak to Syracuse. With the three straight losses and how we haven't seen them come out and look like they did at the beginning of the season, I think this team really needs a W against Virginia to feel good about themselves before they enter Big Ten play. I really feel like this isn't a do-or-die game in terms of their record or their quality of wins with how strong the Big Ten is, but I just think mentally, this could be the turning point for their season. If they lose to Virginia, I just think it's going to be tough to head into this Big Ten stretch and just turn it on. I think they have to turn it on before they go into the Big Ten.

Saturday's contest between Maryland and North Carolina is a rematch of the NCAA tournament championship game that ended with the Tar Heels prevailing, 14-13, in overtime. But the Terps have lost two straight and are 4-2, and North Carolina has dropped three of its last five and is 5-3. Does this game still have the same attraction as it had in the preseason?

Obviously not with one team having three losses and the other team having two. But the way that last season ended, I think it sets the stage for this game and having an identity. We had two of the most traditionally rich programs in one of the best championship games ever. So I think there's enough there. You have a lot of the same cast of characters. You have [Tar Heels junior attackman] Chris Cloutier, who had that incredible 14-goal performance over two games on Memorial Day weekend. You have [senior attackmen Matt] Rambo and [Colin] Heacock for Maryland. It's not like you have two totally different teams because they graduated a huge senior class and now have guys that weren't major storylines in last year's game. … And you can put this on the record. Anyone who tells you that they are completely confident in picking these games is a liar, and I mean that because it is so ridiculous. How can Johns Hopkins beat UNC, which beat Denver, which got blown out by Ohio State and then Johns Hopkins gets blown out by Princeton? It's so crazy this season. So to make long story short, this season is nuts, but we still can take a minute to reflect on last year and how crazy and awesome the ending was, and the majority of that cast of characters is back. So I just think this game has huge meaning. And at the end of the season, this will be a game where we can compare the ACC to the Big Ten, especially if UNC can go on a run in the ACC and Maryland can go on a run in the Big Ten.

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