ESPN's coverage of the first round of the NCAA Division I tournament opened on Saturday with analyst Don Zimmerman and play-by-play man Mike Corey covering Towson's eventual 12-8 victory over No. 7 seed Penn State. That was Zimmerman's third game as an analyst for the network after he worked on a pair of Johns Hopkins games against UMBC on Feb. 11 and the Nittany Lions on April 15. The former Johns Hopkins and UMBC coach shared his perspective on the Tigers' win and other first-round matchups from this past weekend.
Was there a result in the first round of the NCAA tournament that stood out to you as perhaps the most shocking?
I just thought it was a terrific first round with some of the matchups that we saw. North Carolina playing [No. 8 seed] Albany in a first-round game [on Saturday night]? The defending national champion playing one of the hottest teams in the country? You don't see that normally in a first-round game. But I think that just demonstrates where Division I lacrosse is right now. There are a lot of good teams, and each week, teams have to be ready to go out and fight hard for a win. The [selection] committee had a tough assignment to put together the tournament, and I think they put together a real good one.
Which team in the first round looked the most impressive?
The game I did between Towson and Penn State, that was certainly impressive. It was a tight game throughout with two very evenly matched squads. The way Towson pulled away in that fourth period on the road where they have been very successful all year, I thought that was very impressive. And I was an eyewitness to that, so I got caught up in the excitement. When you're there live, it's a different perspective. And the way Duke came up to Homewood and really took control of [No. 6 seed] Johns Hopkins, that was very impressive. Duke has shown in the past that they start slow, but boy, when it comes to tournament time, they're firing on all cylinders, and I think that was the case Saturday against Hopkins.
Is there a team in the quarterfinals that gives you pause based on its first-round performance?
Look, the first round is tough. Everybody thinks that the championship game is tough, but the first round is tough because it's a tournament and the pressure and what's on the line just increases. Teams that on paper may look like their prohibitive favorites, there's a lot of pressure on them. When you're expected to win and you know you're playing a good team, that puts a lot of pressure on the coaches and the kids. Sometimes those first-round games are a little tighter than what you might expect, but the bottom line is, you walk away with a win. You're advancing. It may not have been our best performance, but it got the job done and now you move on. There's something about being one of eight teams that is out there practicing today. That really is a special feeling. The games were obviously exciting, but when those eight teams are out there today practicing, they know, 'We're one of eight, not one of 69.'
Which of the quarterfinal games are you most interested in watching?
Right off the bat, [No. 1 seed] Maryland and Albany [on Sunday at 2:30 p.m.] is the most interesting game. I think Maryland is playing its best lacrosse in three years. They seem to have all the pieces together in place. Their goalkeeping has gotten better than solid. [Junior Dan] Morris has really turned his game around. … Maryland is solid. Albany is fun to watch. They're dangerous offensively, and I think defensively, they've picked it up. And they've got a terrific faceoff man who is gaining possessions for that dangerous offense. So not only does that dangerous offense have the ball, but Albany's also playing great defense because the offense has the ball. So I just think that's going to be a tremendous matchup. And also Towson-[No. 2 seed] Syracuse is a terrific matchup. [No. 5 seed] Denver and [No. 4 seed] Notre Dame, those two teams probably know each other as well as anybody. And Duke-[No. 3 seed] Ohio State, Duke's coming off a tremendous win, and for that team that young, boy, that's going to give them a load of confidence against Ohio State, whose goalie played great and their faceoff guy has been great all year and they're athletic. That's a team that could go all the way. So I just think these are four great games, but the Maryland-Albany game to me would be the marquee.
With Loyola Maryland sophomore attackman Pat Spencer and Yale junior attackman Ben Reeves and their respective teams getting bounced from the tournament, has the Tewaaraton Award come down to either Maryland senior attackman Matt Rambo, Albany junior attackman Connor Fields, or Denver junior faceoff specialist Trevor Baptiste? And which one looms as the leading candidate?
The team that continues on, the Tewaaraton Award nominee for that team, his chances increase because he gets more exposure and he has another opportunity to show his talents and what he means to that particular team and how he plays lacrosse. Spencer and Reeves were terrific candidates, and I think they deserved to be on that list. But now, they're not going to be seen again, and three other terrific players will be seen. I think Rambo has meant so much to Maryland during his career, but especially this year. He's breaking records and playing his best lacrosse. So I would say that he's obviously right there. Fields, look at what he's done and how he plays. And Baptiste being a faceoff guy, he would be something different as a faceoff specialist winning the Tewaaraton. But it is obviously a very important position – right there with the goalie. So I think that Rambo, Fields, and Baptiste have a chance to show their stuff next weekend and go from there.