ESPN analyst Mark Dixon will provide play-by-play coverage during Saturday's game between No. 7 Harvard and Penn State. The former Johns Hopkins midfielder, who can be followed on Twitter at @DixonLacrosse, talked up No. 1 Notre Dame's victory over Maryland, No. 2 Denver's overwhelming offense, and the best team in the Ivy League.
What was more impressive: No. 1 Notre Dame beating No. 11 Maryland 9-4 despite just two goals from senior attackman Matt Kavanagh and junior midfielder Sergio Perkovic or the play of a defense that still hasn't allowed more than seven goals in a game thus far?
I think both are equally impressive. When you think about Notre Dame, obviously Perkovic and Kavanagh are the marque players. But a team like Maryland is very good defensively and they're very good at taking away the knowns. So I think Maryland did a nice job of defending both Perkovic and Kavanagh, and in that situation, for a team like Notre Dame that has national championship aspirations, you've got to find other ways to win and other sources of offense, and they did. Going into [Sunday's game against No. 2 Denver], they have [senior] Matt Landis, the best defenseman in the country, and [junior] Shane Doss has developed into a really good goaltender. And they have other guys like [junior defenseman Garrett] Epple who can play great defense. You know you're going to get a great defensive effort when you play Notre Dame. So again, for them to go where they want to go, to get a win like that in a neutral site, I think that's pretty impressive, and that's what is expected of Notre Dame these days, to find guys to score goals when Perkovic and/or Kavanagh are being limited a little bit and to play that great defense, especially against a Top 15 team like Maryland.
Can anyone stop a Denver offense that has scored at least 10 goals in every game?
They're so unique. The offense is dangerous enough with the flow, with their coordination, with their stickwork, with their unselfishness. But I remember that Carolina went up by a goal in that game with 1:06 left in the contest and [sophomore faceoff specialist] Trevor Baptiste won the [ensuing] faceoff. You know they're going to get the ball. The only way Carolina got the ball on the previous faceoff that led to them scoring that goal was Baptiste won it and then misplayed it. I think it went off his leg. So as long as you have Baptiste, no game is ever lost because he's going to get you possessions 70 to 75 percent of the time. And then that offense is just so dangerous. Think about the shot toward the end of regulation that [junior attackman] Connor Cannizzaro took from the restraining line. If [Tar Heels redshirt sophomore goalkeeper] Brian Balkam was halfway asleep, that ball goes in. They're not impossible to defend, but they're pretty darn close. I think we're going to see a real test. Not that Denver hasn't been tested so far after beating Duke by two and needing overtime to beat North Carolina, but much like most defenses haven't seen an offense like Denver's, most offenses don't see a defense like Notre Dame's. So it's going to be interesting to see how this one shakes out.
Three Ivy League schools are in the Top 10 in No. 4 Yale, No. 5 Brown and No. 7 Harvard. Which team has the upper hand in that conference?
I like Yale simply because I think they have the best defense of the three, and what I mean by that is they play a pace that is very opportunistic, very methodical and they capitalize on mistakes. Out of the three, they have the most NCAA postseason experience in terms of having some success. They went to the quarterfinals a couple years ago. It's early March, but I think Yale is the most well-rounded team. I think Brown has the best offense and the most firepower. And then you have Harvard, and I really like their defense. This is a group that in 2011, they were the No. 3 recruiting class according to Inside Lacrosse, and in 2012, they were No. 4. Guys like [senior defenseman] Bobby Duvnjak and [senior defenseman] Stephen Jahelka and [senior midfielder] Sean Mahon and [senior midfielder] Keegan Michel and [senior long-stick midfielder] Jack Breit, they were part of those classes. They've had some off-field issues, and they've had some injuries. Now everybody is back together, and I think we're seeing the results of those guys just playing good lacrosse. But I think overall, Yale is the more complete package of those three teams.
I counted five upsets this past week. Then-No. 12 Harvard defeated then-No. 4 Duke 14-9, then-No. 11 Towson surprised then-No. 5 Loyola Maryland 10-8, Georgetown upended then-No. 9 Hofstra 11-6, Ohio State stunned No. 17 Marquette 12-8, and Penn beat then-No. 18 Penn State 11-7. Which one was the bigger upset?
I think it had to be Georgetown over Hofstra. That's a Georgetown team that was 0-3. OK, they lost to Notre Dame and OK, they lost to Towson. But then they dropped a home game midweek to Mount St. Mary's. They were leading in the game, but they just couldn't keep it together. Give credit to Mount St. Mary's, which played a great ball game, but you just saw some mistakes out of Georgetown in that contest that left you scratching your head. Then they went to Hofstra that had a win over Carolina and an overtime win over Princeton, and here's Georgetown going into the lions' den, and they played terrific and won the game by five goals.
Notre Dame and Denver will meet Sunday, but how significant is that game for a pair of teams already widely expected to qualify for the NCAA tournament?
I think it's more significant for fans and guys like me to give us more talk and chatter. They play each other every year, and it's always a great game decided by one goal or in overtime. But I think it's a good litmus test. What you're going to see on ESPNU on Sunday is best offense in college lacrosse versus the best defense in college lacrosse. I think it's a good litmus test to see where both teams are. Don't be surprised to see this game be played again on Memorial Day weekend. That's how talented these two teams are. It's not a conference game. No postseason aspirations are on the line. But these teams want to win. Both teams want a home game in the second weekend of May [during the first round of the NCAA tournament]. But right now, it's just worth seeing where these teams are. Whoever wins the game is going to be the No. 1 team in the country. So that's an added motivation, but the last time I checked, a championship trophy has never been handed out in the second weekend of March.
Who would get your vote as the best player in Division I?
I still think [Duke senior midfielder] Myles Jones is the best player. I know he struggled this weekend and got only one assist against Harvard. But Myles Jones' body of work, which includes the fact that he still has 19 points in the first six games, he's averaging still better than three points per game. So I still think that Myles Jones is the best player. Other guys who have really stepped up are Connor Cannizzaro. You've seen his development as a leader in Denver, taking over the reins of that offense a little bit more from guys like Wes Berg and Erik Adamson. I also think you have to be super-impressed with [Brown junior attackman] Dylan Molloy. I think he's a player who is very special and has added assists and more vision to his game. But I think if you're going to talk about anyone who is challenging Myles Jones at this point for National Player of the Year, you might have to look at [redshirt senior attackman] Dylan Donahue of Syracuse. Five of the top six scorers from Syracuse graduated. You had [Kevin] Rice and [Randy] Staats at attack last year, and I know Donahue had a monster season a year ago, but a lot of people didn't give him credit simply because he was the third guy and he was probably getting the third defender in every game. Now we're seeing Dylan Donahue. You saw it in January when the Charlotte Hounds drafted him No. 2, which was a surprise because a lot of people didn't have him going until six or seven or maybe even later in the draft. And now you're seeing him just put together a terrific start to the season as the conductor of that Orange offense.