ESPN analyst Paul Carcaterra served as sideline reporter for the network's coverage of the NCAA Division I tournament quarterfinals at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis on Sunday. Carcaterra, the former Syracuse midfielder who can be followed on Twitter via @paulcarcaterra, discussed the results from Sunday and Saturday's quarterfinals at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver.
Was there a result from the weekend that impressed or surprised you the most?
I was just really surprised by the [No. 6 seed] Maryland-[No. 3 seed] North Carolina game [that the Terps won, 14-7]. I thought after Maryland beat North Carolina [10-8] in March and held the Heels offense in check like no other team did this year, they would have come out and made some adjustments and it would have been a different story in Round Two. Credit Maryland, which played incredible defense. I was so impressed with their approaches and their angles. They just didn't give Carolina's dodgers any type of openings and ability to generate offense because they just put them in really tight spots. And [redshirt junior goalkeeper Kyle] Bernlohr was asked to make some saves that a lot of goalies probably couldn't make, but I also thought it was a result of just great defense that allowed him to get into a groove. On the other end, Maryland has been tagged as a team that likes to play slow six-on-six. But through the first three quarters of the game, I thought Maryland played really fast on offense. Not end-to-end fast, but in the six-on-six settled sets, they were outstanding. They just moved the ball really well, they found the matchups, and they were selfless. It was a tale of two teams with totally different mindsets to the game. I thought Maryland end-to-end was completely dialed in and hustled and played so hard, and Carolina just didn't show up.
Were you equally shocked by Johns Hopkins' 16-15 upset of No. 2 seed Syracuse?
I thought it would be a really close game just because the last time they played up in the [Carrier] Dome, Hopkins wasn't even playing great lacrosse, and it was a one-goal game in the fourth quarter [before the Orange won, 13-10]. Hopkins' strength is ball movement, a lot of picks, and a lot of movement off-ball, and Syracuse hasn't been strong in defending off-ball offense. They were really poor against Duke in the [Atlantic Coast Conference] final, and I would have thought that they would have cleaned it up. But Hopkins' strength was Syracuse's weakness. So I wasn't completely shocked. I thought Syracuse would have played a cleaner game defensively, and I thought they had the senior leadership to get to the Final Four, but Hopkins was just way more dialed in offensively, and the Syracuse defense was a major disappointment.
What did you come away with from No. 1 seed Notre Dame's 14-10 victory over Albany on Saturday?
I think Albany's a team where I wouldn't have been surprised if they had made the final four. But for Albany to win in the style that they like with really quick offensive possessions, in a game like Saturday's, you have to ask [junior goalkeeper] Blaze Riorden to be exceptional. He was really good for three quarters, but didn't play his best fourth quarter, and when Blaze doesn't play his best against a top-caliber team like Notre Dame, Albany's not going to win because you're giving the opposing team so many more chances because of the tempo you like to play if you're Albany. They like to attack within the first 15 seconds of a possession, and that puts a lot of pressure on the defense. I also thought Notre Dame was just really physical in the middle of the field. They dominated ground balls and physically, I thought they won that game. I was impressed with the team defense on [senior attackman and 2014 co-Tewaaraton Award winner] Lyle Thompson. I thought they had a really good game plan. [Junior defenseman] Matt Landis had a really good game as well, but I thought the overall scheme was what stood out. They were very definitive in their approach to Lyle Thompson. It wasn't wishy-washy at all. It was almost like they had a roaming free safety ready for him at all times outside of his one-on-one matchup.
What did you take away from No. 4 seed Denver's 15-13 win against Ohio State?
It was funny. I was watching the Denver-Ohio State game with a couple of friends, and it was 7-1, and I was getting texts [that read], 'This is all over. Ohio State is going to the final four.' I said, 'Slow down. This is the first quarter.' When it was 7-3, I almost felt like I knew Denver was going to win because it was just a matter of time for that offense to get in sync. You saw the run coming, and then when they started getting really close and tied it up, I just thought they had total control of the game. The momentum had completely changed, and I would have been shocked if Ohio State had won that game. I felt like Denver figured it out offensively, and [senior attackman] Wesley Berg was exceptional. He put that team on his back from a shooting standpoint. He's a Tewaaraton finalist and he proved his worth with his shooting and his ability to shoot under pressure. The kid is so strong, I thought he took over that game in the second quarter.
There's a line of thought that the winner of the Notre Dame-Denver semifinal will be the NCAA champion. Do you agree or disagree with that sentiment?
I think if you were looking at the field from a talent standpoint, you might think Denver and Notre Dame have probably separated themselves slightly from Hopkins and Maryland, but I don't think that's the case at all. You have to look at the Denver-Notre Dame and how much effort is going to be exerted in that game and how beat-up those teams are going to be and what type of team can play on shorter rest and respond. Hopkins has proven they can do that by winning the Big Ten championship. They beat Penn State and then turned around and beat Ohio State convincingly. So I wouldn't count out Hopkins, and I wouldn't count out Maryland and Charlie Raffa with how well they're playing and how hard they're playing. They played so much harder than North Carolina yesterday. If you were to ask me who are the two best end-to-end teams in the tournament, I would probably say Notre Dame and Denver, but I wouldn't say that team is going to win the national title. How are they going to respond with two days of rest? And I look at a team like Hopkins and who is hotter than them offensively? If you look at them over the last three weeks, they've been as good as anyone – if not better. They've been playing with tremendous purpose and they've gelled together. I was right next to them on the sideline and that team is playing with purpose, as is Maryland. A month ago, if someone had told me that Maryland and Johns Hopkins would be playing in the semifinals, I would've seriously doubted them. But looking at them yesterday and what they've done the last few weeks, it's not really that big of a surprise. It's not always the best team. It's the team that's clicking, it's the team that is peaking at the right time and is confident.