Quint Kessenich and lacrosse on ESPN have been inseparable since 1995 when he was hired as an analyst. The former Johns Hopkins goalkeeper provided analysis for No. 19 Princeton's 18-7 upset of the No. 7 Blue Jays on Friday and will help call No. 5 Denver's visit to No. 16 Ohio State on Sunday, March 19. Kessenich, who can be followed on Twitter via @QKessenich, offered his perspective on the spate of upsets over the weekend, teams aiming for the NCAA Division I championship, and early candidates for the Tewaaraton Award.
The top six teams in last week's Inside Lacrosse media poll lost this weekend – co-No. 1s Denver and Maryland, No. 3 Johns Hopkins, and No. 6 Yale. What does that tell you?
I think it's indicative of what we've seen now. I don't think there's any superstar team. At the beginning of the year, I might have made that case, but at this stage, it looks like everyone's going to have a loss or two by the end of the year. There's a handful of teams that seem like they're better than everybody else, but I think the pool of potential champions has never been deeper.
Which upset was the most shocking?
The Hopkins-Princeton game was most eye-opening because when you watched Princeton on tape against Hofstra [in a 10-8 loss on Feb. 25], they really struggled for the first 45 minutes of that game. They were bad. They got [junior midfielder] Austin Sims back in the lineup, and they were able to win faceoffs, and their confidence just grew and grew. Meanwhile, the Hopkins team who played so hard and with great energy at North Carolina [in a 13-5 victory on Feb. 25] was nowhere to be seen in New Jersey last Friday.
So what teams have a shot at the NCAA title?
[No. 1] Notre Dame and [No. 2] Maryland have been in the hunt forever. [No. 9] Loyola [Maryland] has proven that they're in the mix. And if Loyola's in the mix, that puts [No. 11] Virginia in the mix. [No. 6] Syracuse, obviously. It seems like the Ivy League may be a tad down this year. [No. 20] Yale, I would have put [in that group] at the beginning of the season, and we'll still see. Remember, at this time last year, Maryland had back-to-back losses where they hardly scored, and North Carolina had lost to Denver, UMass, and Hofstra. They were 3-3 after their first six games. So I think we're at a similar spot this year. You can't write anybody off based on one bad loss – whether that's Johns Hopkins or Yale.
How much weight do you give a relative newcomer like No. 3 Penn State or No. 10 Penn?
I see no reason why those teams can't make a run and get to championship weekend. Penn State is very explosive on offense, and if they can get the ball, they're going to score. Penn has a really great sophomore class, and I like their attack a lot, and their defense is tall and rangy. If you win the Ivy League, you should be able to win your first playoff game, and once you get to the quarterfinals, anything can happen. I think we've seen recently that if you get to championship weekend, it's not like there's any dominant teams like way back when. There were shoo-in teams to the championships like the great Syracuse and Princeton teams. So that means that all you've got to do is stay alive. Survive and advance, and who knows where you may be. Look at Towson last year with their little run, and look at Loyola's run. Loyola's regular season last year wasn't exactly dominating. They got better and better and were playing their top ball at the end of the year. They had lost to Towson, Duke, and Navy, and then they reeled off a bunch straight, and they got hot at the end of the year and started winning some of those close games and scoring goals. So I think what's more important is what lies down the road and how these teams handle their victories and failures in the month of February and early March because they're still developing talent, finding lineups, messing with schemes. At this time last year, [then-junior] Colin Heacock was playing midfield and not attack, and then Maryland moved him to attack and all of a sudden, they found the right chemistry. So I think coaches are very much still trying to find the right ingredients.
Is there a team flying under the radar?
The weird thing about lacrosse is, there are teams that have played four or five games, and there are teams like Virginia that have played a very difficult schedule. They've played great quality and I think we understand how good or bad they are. They've played Loyola, Penn, and Syracuse. But then you have others that haven't played anybody like [No. 16] Ohio State. A team like Hofstra beat Princeton, and Hofstra may be pretty good. [No. 15] Boston University is undefeated [at 6-0], and they beat Navy [when the team was ranked No. 17]. So maybe they're better than we're giving them credit. [No. 8] Rutgers is undefeated, and they have a huge game coming up this week against [No. 14] Stony Brook. So it's difficult to tell when some teams haven't played a quality schedule yet.
You dropped Yale and Towson out of your Top 20 poll. Does that mean that you like another team in their respective conferences – Ivy League and Colonial Athletic Association?
Towson I can see easily getting back in there, but at the end of the day when I look at Towson, what does Towson have that gets them into the Top 20? There are other teams that have beaten better teams. They'll have a chance. They play Hopkins, Ohio State, and Denver coming up before their conference [schedule]. I still think the CAA right now looks like a Hofstra-Towson matchup. I liked Yale a lot coming off their loss to Maryland by a goal. And then they laid an egg against Bryant. So that requires further investigation. Until they win some games and until they have a resume, I can't put them in the Top 20 over a team like Boston University, which is undefeated.
Who are your early candidates for the Tewaaraton Award?
The usual suspects. There's [senior attackman] Connor Cannizzaro from Denver. [Loyola sophomore attackman] Patrick Spencer has to be at the top of the list. The Maryland guys took a step back this weekend. [Senior midfielder] Zach Currier from Princeton was outstanding in their win over Johns Hopkins. [Johns Hopkins junior midfielder] Joel Tinney has been a guy who has played extremely well.