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Q&A with ESPN men's lacrosse analyst Mark Dixon

ESPN’s Mark Dixon called play-by-play for the No. 1 Maryland women’s lacrosse team’s 17-9 victory at No. 18 Johns Hopkins on Wednesday night. The former Johns Hopkins midfielder will provide analysis for the Big Ten Network’s ESPNU's coverage of No. 11 Ohio State at Rutgers on Saturday and then rush down to help cover Johns Hopkins at No. 2 Maryland later that night. Dixon, who can be followed on Twitter at @DixonLacrosse, opined on the controversial end to No. 1 Notre Dame’s 15-14 win against No. 2 North Carolina, Maryland’s comeback 10-9 overtime win at Ohio State, and the favorites in a pair of conference tournaments this week.

What did you take away from this past weekend's games?

The two big games were Ohio State-Maryland and North Carolina-Notre Dame. Notre Dame-North Carolina was No. 1 vs. No. 2, and Notre Dame scored three goals with the extra-man at the end of regulation. It was the second time in three years that [junior attackman] Matt Kavanagh put the dagger in the Tar Heels' heart. That was an incredible lacrosse game, the environment at Arlotta [Stadium] and the athletes that were there. And then Maryland for the second week in a row trailed late and it's their offense that bails out the defense. The fact that they do it with different people, a week ago, it was [sophomore attackman] Matt Rambo up at Rutgers. This time, it was [senior attackman] Jay Carlson (St. Paul's). This is the first Maryland team that I can remember in the last 10 or 12 years that can come back from a deficit. They're without [senior Charlie] Raffa at the faceoff, and they're doing it by committee. I think Rambo is the bull in the china shop behind the goal who kind of gets defenses moving a little bit, but the fact that they've been able to do it by committee and on that road, that was impressive.

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What was your reaction to the officials of Notre Dame's 15-14 win assessing North Carolina junior defenseman Evan O'Connell (Calvert Hall) a 2-minute, nonreleasable unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for plowing Kavanagh that gave the Fighting Irish a man-up opportunity for the final 1 minute, 26 seconds and allowed them to rally from a 14-12 deficit?

I thought it was a fair call. Referees have to make decisions in a bang-bang play like that very quickly. They don't have the luxury of instant replay. Without instant replay like college basketball had to determine if it was a flagrant foul and to the degree it was, I equated that hit to a quarterback sliding and he's defenseless and he's giving himself up. Kavanagh was in the crease, the ball was rolling away, and then No. 99 for Carolina came in. I think the fact that Kavanagh went into the goalie for Carolina and went into the goal was a mess. In football, that's a 15-yard penalty. For lacrosse, you grade it for one, two or three minutes, and they went with two minutes. I don't have a problem with the call, but I'm also a referee, and I know what it's like to be in that situation. I've gotten a lot of feedback from people over the weekend. Guys who play offense have said, 'Great call.' Guys who play defense say, 'That's terrible.' And guys who referee say, 'I hope I have the guts to make that kind of call in that type of game at that moment.' And that's what the referees did in the Notre Dame-Carolina game. It's a mixed bag, but from where I was standing, it was a fair call.

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There are a couple conference tournaments this week. In the Atlantic Coast Conference, is Notre Dame the clear-cut favorite?

I don't think there are any clear-cut favorites in the ACC. The teams are so close in talent. They're excellent lacrosse teams. I think right now – and this sounds funny to say – [No. 6] Duke is the long shot coming into this thing. They didn't win any ACC games other than beating [No. 9] Virginia, but they played North Carolina extremely tough. They got handled pretty well by Notre Dame and [No. 4] Syracuse. Your three favorites right now are Notre Dame, Syracuse and North Carolina. Those are teams that were separated in the regular-season matchups by very little in terms of play on the field. But Duke is a team that always peaks in late April and May. So you have to watch out for the Blue Devils. But I don't think there are any favorites this weekend at PPL Park [in Chester, Pa.].

What are your thoughts on the Patriot League tournament?

The Patriot League is completely upside down when you look at what people thought the conference was going to be. I thought one of the coolest things was that the Patriot League owned Friday night. All of their teams played their last regular-season games that night. We did have an Ivy League game between Harvard and [No. 14] Princeton, but all of the games were played at the same time and as the results were trickling in, you saw the pieces fall into place. I don't know who's going to win the Patriot League tournament. Look at Lehigh. They're the No. 6 seed going in with a losing record, but they've won three in a row and they resuscitated their season with wins over Princeton and [No. 19] Stony Brook and they beat Lafayette by a goal. Loyola had an opportunity to get better seeding, but lost in overtime to [No. 20] Bucknell. Army had two chances over the last couple weeks to improve their positioning, and they lost to [No. 15] Navy and [No. 18] Colgate. Colgate was considered dead in the water a couple weeks ago, but they're not the No. 2 seed. So it's going to be a wild tournament. There's not much separation between these teams. Anything is possible. Loyola kind of ran away with it last year, and people thought they were going to do the same this season. And if Loyola didn't run away with it, people thought Army was going to. If you look right now, they're the No. 4 and 5 seeds. So it's a league defined by one-goal games, and we're just going to see how this thing plays out.

There are five teams battling for four spots in the Ivy League tournament. Who do you like?

I would've said [No. 12] Cornell until [No. 10] Brown beat them by nine goals on Saturday. Brown's an explosive team, and they can control possession with the best long-stick middie in the country in [sophomore] Larken Kemp. I think that's a wide-open situation. Princeton is at the top of the standings right now at 4-1, but if you look at this Princeton team, you can see how wildly up and down they've been this season. Cornell has the league's best player in [senior midfielder] Connor Buzcek. And then you have [No. 8] Yale, which is a very dangerous team with [senior attackman Conrad] Oberbeck and [sophomore attackman Jeff] Cimbalista, and I think [junior defenseman] Michael Quinn is one of the best defenders in the league. And Penn's not out of it yet either. You've got to give Penn a lot of credit. They were 0-3 to start the season, but did what they had to do and won their last three games. But Penn's done. They can't do anything else with respect to the Ivy race, and they have to wait and see how everything shakes out. Again, there's no clear-cut favorite. I give a slight edge to Cornell, but that's with an asterisk.

In the Colonial Athletic Association, five teams have a shot at the top seed and homefield advantage in conference the tournament. Who has the edge?

Hofstra is a team that lost to UMass and Drexel. They're having a tough season and they came into Towson and throttled the [No. 16] Tigers, 9-2. If you're Shawn Nadelen and the Towson Tigers coming into the stretch run, that's a little disturbing. But everybody can have a bad day, and Towson has been pretty darn good until this past Saturday. So I still think they're in the driver's seat. They have a big game this week against Drexel, but Drexel lost a golden opportunity to seal the deal and put itself into the CAA tournament with that [12-9] loss to UMass. I like to compare the CAA to the NFC Central where Green Bay, Detroit, Minnesota and Chicago are just beating each other up. Despite the hiccup, I think Towson is still the favorite, but on any given day, someone can knock you off. And Drexel is a team that is very talented offensively with [senior midfielder Ryan] Belka and [sophomore attackman Cole] Shafer. They're really, really good.


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