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Q&A with ESPN lacrosse analyst Paul Carcaterra

Paul Carcaterra provided analysis for ESPN during No. 2 Notre Dame's 9-0 victory over No. 15 Ohio State on Saturday and No. 1 Syracuse's 19-7 thumping of No. 6 Duke on Sunday. His next assignment ia Saturday's showdown between the Orange and the Fighting Irish. Carcaterra, the former Syracuse midfielder who can be followed on Twitter @paulcarcaterra, discussed both games he watched as well as an area team that has moved into the conversation for the 2015 national title.

Does Syracuse's rout of the three-time reigning national champion Blue Devils say more about the Orange or Duke?

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I think the biggest takeaway for me from the Duke-Syracuse game as really how important in a big-time game [sophomore faceoff specialist] Ben Williams is to the Syracuse offense and to the overall success of this team. You basically saw the script flip from last year's regular-season game down at Duke and the national title game in 2013 when Duke had Brendan Fowler and Syracuse had no answer for him. It was the exact opposite this time around. I think Ben Williams had a run where he won 10 of the first 11 faceoffs and Syracuse got into a flow offensively. Duke had no rhythm on the other end of the field to allow any type of run for their team, and what I mean by that is for an offense like Duke's that is scoring 16 goals per game, they're a high-volume offense. Their shooters have to get into a flow and their offensive guys need to get touches. Ben Williams and that Syracuse offense just didn't allow that to happen. I looked at the matchup prior to the opening faceoff and thought Syracuse had an advantage in terms of their attack against Duke's inexperienced defense. Duke's defense is going to be very good, and individually, they're excellent players. But they just don't have the experience to go against an offense that is really poised and great off-ball. So it was like a double whammy on Duke from the standpoint that you put pressure on this young unit defensively and you don't allow your offense, which has been your strength for the first part of the season, to get into a flow.

Duke junior midfielder Myles Jones finished with zero goals on eight shots. What was Syracuse able to do against the Tewaaraton Award candidate that no other defense had been able to do against him?

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I think a lot had to do with the fact that they didn't even let Jones and the offense get into a flow. Jones is an emotional player, and he feeds off of their success. When he gets going early, he's almost unstoppable. But it was three-quarters through the first period, and I think I saw him on the field twice. So he didn't get the reps. Syracuse didn't allow him or the Duke offense to get into a flow. I will say this though: it was the first time in two years that I saw a team go after Myles Jones from a physical standpoint. They really went after him, and I was surprised because the kid is 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, and that's not really the mentality and the approach that most teams take. But they were physical with him, they went after him, they hit him. [Redshirt junior defenseman] Brandon Mullins was extremely physical in any opportunity that he had – going after a ground ball against Jones or sliding to him. I thought their long-poles, [sophomore long-stick midfielder] Scott Firman and [redshirt senior long-stick midfielder] Peter Macartney, did not play with some type of insecurity at all. They were the aggressors in that matchup, and that's not something I've seen in the past. It was a tough day for Myles Jones from the standpoint that he didn't get touches and when he did, the Syracuse defense was really, really aggressive toward him.

How impressive was Notre Dame's shutout of Ohio State?

I thought it was big-time impressive based on the fact that Ohio State was ranked No. 15, had scored 13 goals the week before in a win against [then-No. 3] Denver, and has some big-time lacrosse players on that team in terms of offensive firepower led by [senior midfielder] Jesse King. I thought [junior defenseman] Matt Landis defensively held King in check and dominated that one-on-one matchup. So you take a superstar out of the mix and it didn't look like any other player on that Ohio State team was able to generate any offense. Notre Dame's defense was smothering, was dialed in, and was super-efficient in terms of the way they approached the ball, their off-ball play. I was blown away by the fact that Ohio State came away with zero goals in that game. I think at times, when their offense was being completely dominated, they needed a different look because it looks like Notre Dame had every answer for their two-man game that Ohio State likes to play. They like to play a box-type, hybrid field game where there's a lot of basketball-type principles in that offense, and Notre Dame was all over every single thing that Ohio State threw at them. I thought they needed some kind of a north-south dodging approach, generate something in transition to not be faced with that six-on-six defensive situation where there was no hope for Ohio State. That's a game where if you're [Buckeyes coach] Nick Myers, you don't want to talk about it too much with your team. Maybe point out a few things early in the game that they could've done differently where they had opportunities, and try to keep it positive because if you dwell on this one, you'll pound your head against the pavement.

Maryland's inclusion in the top five of last week's poll may have raised some eyebrows. But does Saturday's 10-8 win against then-No. 2 North Carolina validate that move?

Absolutely. I look at this team playing in the Big Ten and right now the Big Ten is probably not where they want to be as a conference in terms of their national presence. If you look at Maryland's schedule, that win was a monster in regards to their resume and how their seeding may shake out because they're not going through the [Atlantic Coast Conference] anymore where they have to play Duke, Virginia, Syracuse, North Carolina and Notre Dame in back-to-back-to-back weeks. They're going into Big Ten, and with all due respect to the Big Ten, there are some teams in that conference that Maryland should get wins fairly easily if you look at the overall success they've had this year. So I think they capitalized on a monster, circle-your-calendar type of game for them. Their schedule has changed, their mindset, the way that they map out their season has changed due to being in the Big Ten. I think the Big Ten will be a power in lacrosse for a long time. It's just not at the level of the ACC right now. So when you pick off a team like North Carolina and have that huge out-of conference win and you're going into conference play, I'm just super-impressed with how they're playing as a team. I thought Maryland was not a top 10 team coming into the season. I just looked at them on paper and everything that had happened in the offseason in terms of graduations and transfers, and I said, "How is this team going to be a top 10 team?" They've surprised me and they've done it with a tenacious defense, great goaltending and coach John Tillman is coaching through the strengths of this team. So this is a team – and I mean from the standpoint that there might not be any superstars – but it's a team and it epitomizes the selfless attitude and approach to the game of lacrosse that when you have all of these smaller parts, it's powerful when you put them all together.

Which team should make the biggest move up in the polls?

I'd have to say Maryland. Maryland, you could argue right now, should be the No. 3 team [which is what happened in the latest Cascade/Maverik media poll]. I think Maryland is also in a position – based on everything I said earlier – that it can really cement itself in that top four of the remainder of the season, and it wasn't a team that a lot of people thought would be possible. You had the five power teams going into the last five weeks of the early season – it was Notre Dame, Syracuse, North Carolina, Denver and Duke – and it looks like Maryland is going to break into that discussion of being a challenger for the national title where a lot of people didn't think that a team outside of those five could compete. So I think Maryland moves up high. I think Georgetown moves up high, too [which it did to No. 14]. If you look at their last week, they beat Marquette, which was ranked No. 9 in the country, and they beat [then-No. 14] LoyoIa. That's a signature win for that program. Kevin Warne has really turned the corner with that program in Year Three. I think this is a program built to be really good in the future because they're young, he's recruited really well, he's got some studs coming onto campus next year. So I look at what Kevin Warne is doing, and he's probably a year ahead of schedule in terms of where I thought this team could be. They're playing fast, they're playing physical, and they have a ton of energy. When I watched that Loyola game, I was super-impressed with the Hoyas. I look at Georgetown to probably be the most significant in terms of how many spots they're going up because they were probably unranked in most polls. But I think the Maryland one is the most intriguing in terms of the top-echelon teams.

Which team is going to make the biggest drop?

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I think Ohio State, even though they beat Denver and were ranked 15, when you have a performance like that against Notre Dame where you don't even score a goal, I think that stays in people's minds in terms of where this team should be. So I think Ohio State drops a little bit in regards to where they were in the previous weeks. And Hopkins will drop out of the top 20. [Johns Hopkins remained at No. 20.] If you look at their season – although I do think they're a good team after losing to Virginia by a goal and playing Syracuse in the fourth quarter – they haven't put together or been consistent enough to win games. They're sitting on five losses right now, so you can't rank them right now.

Is it fair to say that all eyes will be on Saturday's ACC showdown involving No. 1 Syracuse at No. 2 Notre Dame?

Absolutely. I look at that game as two teams that everyone thought would be in the mix for the national title and they haven't disappointed early in the season. Syracuse and Notre Dame are extremely consistent when you look at their players from end to end. They look alike in some respects. They have great attacks, two units probably in the top four overall in the country. They have attack units that complement one another with superstars like [senior attackman] Kevin Rice and [junior attackman] Matt Kavanagh, with guys that play off-ball like [freshman attackman] Mikey Wynne and [redshirt junior attackman] Dylan Donahue. So when you look at them as pieces to a puzzle, they're very potent and complement each other offensively really well. Obviously, Nortre Dame has been playing great team defense for so long and has a shutdown defender in Matt Landis. But Syracuse has a shutdown defender in Brandon Mullins. I think those are probably the two best defenders in the country right now. They're both going to get tough matchups, and I think you'll walk away with a good feeling on who might be the best defender in the country after next weekend. This is a really evenly matched game. The big factor here is Ben Williams. Notre Dame is using [senior] Nick Ossello at the faceoffs, and he's probably their second-best midfield option outside of [sophomore] Sergio Perkovic. Ossello is a strong, tough kid who can get down the alleys and score goals. But they're asking him to face off a lot, too. So if it's a high-scoring game, I think it favors Syracuse because I just don't know how Notre Dame is going to match up against Ben Williams if Ossello has to take 20 draws. That's probably Notre Dame's only question mark.


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