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Q&A with ESPN men’s lacrosse analyst Paul Carcaterra

The three-member crew of Anish Shroff, Quint Kessenich, and Paul Carcaterra helped ESPNU cover the release of the NCAA Division I tournament Sunday night. The former Syracuse midfielder will provide analysis for first-round games pitting reigning national champion North Carolina (8-7) at No. 8 seed Albany (14-2) on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Yale (10-5) at No. 2 seed Syracuse (12-3) on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Carcaterra, who can be followed on Twitter via @paulcarcaterra, shared his perspective on the 17-team field.

Were there any surprises in the bracket?

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I think my biggest takeaway was the sport still has a ways to go in regards to not being so heavily biased towards the geographical ramifications. I'm well aware that there's a lot of money involved and pieces to a puzzle that the [selection] committee has to adhere to. But it's just a little disappointing when you see some of the higher seeds playing tougher games than some of those lower seeds. If you look at the brackets and you're a Top 8 seed, they just place the teams geographically way more than I think they should. Case in point: [No. 2 seed] Syracuse is playing Yale in the first round. Syracuse is the No. 2 team in the nation, and Yale is not the second-easiest opponent. And for Ohio State, playing Loyola [Maryland] is not a reward for being the No. 3 [seed]. So in my estimation, as long as Denver and Notre Dame were Top 8 seeds, they were getting Marquette and Air Force. That's the one thing we need to address more as we move forward – these predetermined matchups.

In terms of the eight seeded teams, which one was overvalued and which one was undervalued?

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When I was messing around with my brackets prior to the weekend, I actually had [Johns] Hopkins and Albany switched. I had Albany somewhere in that range between [Nos.] 4 and 6. Hopkins ended up being [No.] 6, and Albany ended up being [No.] 8. I just look at Hopkins' overall body of work with some really nice wins in there, but to me, Albany is 14-2. Yeah, they don't play the schedule that the Big Ten does, I get it. But their two losses were to the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the nation [in Maryland and Syracuse, respectively] and both by a goal. I'm just one of those guys that the eye test weighs heavily on me. I try to watch a dozen games per week on tape or through streaming, and what I see with a team like Albany is they are not the eighth-best team in the nation. They're better than that.

What team has the biggest gripe for being left out of the tournament?

It would be Rutgers for me. A lot of people say Army because of their wins over Notre Dame and Syracuse, but I just think Rutgers beating Ohio State and with their RPI, this is a really tough pill to swallow. They were a bubble team last year and a bubble team this year. For [Scarlet Knights coach] Brian Brecht and his staff, I couldn't imagine going into the locker room and addressing the team because on Thursday before Marquette upset Denver [in the Big East tournament semifinals], I think everyone had Rutgers in it, and no one would have had a problem with Rutgers in the field. I think they're a tournament-worthy type of team. The issue now is when Denver lost in the Big East, that chewed up two spots instead of being a one-bid league, and Rutgers lost out. Who are you going to bump in the field right now for Rutgers? Rutgers is certainly a tournament-worthy type of team with regards to their talent and body of work. Just some things they couldn't control happened this past weekend, and they got the short end of the stick.

Which seeded team has the most difficult first-round game?

Out of the Top 4 teams, I would have to go back and forth between Syracuse playing Yale and Ohio State playing Loyola. I mentioned earlier the eye test. Loyola is a different team now. They've figured it out defensively compared to when they struggled earlier in the season. They have [sophomore] Pat Spencer, who is for all intents and purposes the perfect attackman. You draw up a kid like this when you want an attackman. He checks off every single box. He's a matchup nightmare. That offense is really good, and they're starting to figure things out defensively. They went to the Final Four last year. So this is a program that knows how to win. [Coach] Charley Toomey and his staff have won a national championship. This is a really tough matchup for Ohio State, a team that should be rewarded with an easier game in the first round. The other high seed that has a tough matchup is Syracuse. Syracuse has struggled in some of those early tournament games. Look at the loss to Bryant in 2014 and the loss to Army in 2010. So for me, a team like Syracuse that has an 8-2 record in one-goal games, Yale is a tough team to prepare for. [Junior attackman] Ben Reeves is one of the top players in the nation. He can do everything and is a lot like Pat Spencer in that there are no flaws in his game. He's going to be a tough matchup. [Freshman attackman] Matt Gaudet, who plays the inside now for them as a crease guy, kind of reminds me of one of the old Syracuse guys in Stephen Keogh. I think with their inside-outside presence, they put a lot of pressure on you with Reeves behind the cage, Gaudet in the middle and [senior] midfielder Eric Scott stretching the defense from the outside. They're a tough matchup for any defense, and I expect that to be a really close game in the [Carrier] Dome on Sunday night.

Would it be fair to say that the pod with No. 1 seed Maryland, Albany, and North Carolina has the toughest road to the Final Four in Foxborough, Mass.?

Definitely. Before the seeds came out, there were parts of me that had all three of those teams potentially going to the Final Four. When you think of teams and their trajectory, North Carolina had their backs against the wall, but won the ACC. Albany has one of the best offenses in the nation, and now they have [freshman] T.D. Irelan, who is one of the top faceeoff guys. Albany's Achilles heel for the last 16 years was faceoffs, and now they have one of the best guys. And then Maryland is as complete as anyone. There are no flaws with that team. They're rock solid in every level of the field. So that's definitely the toughest pod to look at and try to make predictions. As I said on the selection show, I'm hitting my head on the desk not knowing which way to go, and I still really don't.

Which seeded team may have the easiest path to the Final Four?

It's weird because I look at some of the matchups in the first round as being really tough like Syracuse and then I almost look at their second-round games as possibly being easier. Not that is to say that [No. 7 seed] Penn State and Towson in that Syracuse bracket are easy, but I think if Syracuse can get through Yale, I like their shot at getting to Foxborough. But if you were to look a team and where it is right now on paper and with injuries and personnel, I think [No. 5 seed] Denver is in a pretty good spot. Denver plays Air Force and then plays the winner of [No. 4 seed] Notre Dame and Marquette. If Notre Dame [senior midfielder] Sergio Perkovic and [sophomore attackman] Ryder Garnsey are not healthy, I would feel pretty good if I was a Pioneers fan because we've seen that team play without those two stars and it didn't work out well against Army. You saw when both of those guys were limited in the ACCs, and Perkovic really struggled to get his shot off and Garnsey struggled to get separation from a dodging standpoint.

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I know you picked Syracuse, Ohio State, Denver, and Albany to get to the Final Four. Is there an unseeded team that has the potential to make a surprise appearance?

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Well, it wouldn't be the craziest surprise if unseeded, defending national champion North Carolina made a run, too. When they play with pressure, that's when they're almost their loosest. And they know how to play in big spots, too. They have guys like [junior attackman] Chris Cloutier, who scored 14 goals in two games of the Final Four last year. So they like the big stage, and that's a sneaky unseeded team. I like Loyola as well. Although I picked Ohio State to go to the Final Four, Loyola could easily upset Ohio State. This is a team that has played in big spots and went to the Final Four last year. They have a really veteran midfield group to complement Spencer – guys like [seniors] Romar Dennis and Brian Sherlock. So that would be another unseeded team that I think could be sneaky-good.

Twitter: @edwardleesun

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