Separating facts and opinions as college lacrosse season's midpoint nears
By Quint Kessenich
For The Baltimore Sun|
Mar 13, 2015 | 12:15 AM
In Baltimore, at least, the snow has mostly melted and college lacrosse wins and losses and have taken on greater importance after more than a month's worth of games.
As we head toward the season's midpoint, trends are beginning to emerge. Here's my take on what we've seen thus far:
Fact: Duke midfielder Myles Jones is averaging 5.1 points per game with 15 assists from the midfield. The Blue Devils are 6-1 while scoring 16.1 goals per game.
Opinion: Jones is on pace to record a historic season for a midfielder, putting his name alongside legends such as Gary and Paul Gait (Syracuse 1990) and Jon Reese (Yale 1990). It's been a quarter century since we've seen awe-inspiring domination like this.
Fact: Johns Hopkins is 3-3 after wins over UMBC, Villanova and Navy. The Blue Jays have lost to Towson, North Carolina and Princeton. The remaining schedule features Syracuse this weekend, then Virginia before the Big Ten Conference regular season.
Opinion: Hopkins will have to beat either Syracuse or Virginia to have a shot for an at-large bid. The Blue Jays match up better with the Cavaliers than the Orange. The defense, or lack of it, is the biggest problem facing coach Dave Pietramala. Execution has been inconsistent. An upset this weekend hinges on faceoff man Drew Kennedy and goalie Eric Schneider having strong performances in the Carrier Dome.
Fact: Loyola Maryland's scoring defense is ranked 43rd in the country.
Opinion: The Greyhounds aren't making enough saves and have been fleeced by Virginia and Duke. They still are a major player in the Patriot League because of offensive talent such as Zach Herreweyers, Nikko Pontrello, Brian Sherlock and Romar Dennis.
Fact: Marquette is 7-0 and ranked No. 10 in its third year as a Division I varsity program.
Opinion: The Golden Eagles are a tremendous feel-good story about the growth of lacrosse — but they haven't beaten a team in the current Top 20. If they were a stock, I'd be selling. Tests against Georgetown and Villanova will reveal whether Marquette has staying power. I don't think it'll be an NCAA tournament team, but it's undeniable that coach Joe Amplo has done a fabulous job in Milwaukee.
Fact: Maryland's scoring defense is ranked No. 1 in the country.
Opinion: Army led the nation defensively in 2014, Penn in 2013, Notre Dame in 2012, Hofstra in 2011, Bryant in 2010, Notre Dame in 2009 and Siena in 2008. Army, Penn and Siena weren't NCAA tournament teams. Hofstra scored five goals in a first-round loss to Hopkins in 2011. Notre Dame scored three goals in a 2009 first-round home loss to Maryland. Only the Irish in 2012 were able to parlay defensive dominance into in a semifinal appearance. The Terps' long-term hopes hinge on offensive improvement; in the playoffs, opponents are really good. You have to be able to score goals during critical possessions to keep pace.
Fact: Maryland goalie Kyle Bernlohr leads the nation with a .696 save percentage.
Opinion: For my money, the best and most talented goalie in the country is Detroit's Jason Weber (.634), who gets pelted and blasted on a weekly basis. Weber made a school-record 28 saves last week in a win over Mercer.
Fact: The five-team Atlantic Coast Conference has a 26-2 nonconference record; both losses have come against Denver.
Opinion: The national champion will be an ACC school (Duke, North Carolina, Notre Dame or Virginia) or Denver. The ACC, by a large margin, remains the power conference because of scholarships, facilities, compensation for coaching staffs, recruiting budgets, tradition and warm weather.
Fact: The Big Ten is 20-17 out of conference in its inaugural season. Maryland, Johns Hopkins, Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan and Rutgers have not beaten a top 10 team.
Opinion: This year's NCAA lacrosse tournament features 10 automatic qualifiers (conference tournament champions) and eight at-large selections. With a low conference RPI, the Big Ten isn't assured of more than its automatic qualifier. Hopkins and Maryland have a lot of work to do to polish their postseason resumes. It might take the Big Ten a decade to catch up with the ACC.
Fact: The Ivy League hasn't won an NCAA title since 2001.
Opinion: With early recruiting (the recruitment of ninth- and 10th-graders), along with programs in the ACC and Big Ten plowing money into lacrosse budgets, it'll be a long time until a team from the "Great 8" hoists the gold trophy. Overall, the league is strong this season — 23-10 out of conference. Cornell is a top-10 squad, and Harvard, Brown, Princeton and Yale have style and substance. Princeton, on its best day, looks like a playoff team. Dartmouth continues to sink into oblivion.
Fact: Bucknell was quickly forgotten when it lost to Delaware, which had lost to High Point. Holy Cross has upset Loyola and Army.
Opinion: The Patriot League is too wide open to ignore anybody but Lafayette. I expect the unexpected. The Bison are 4-2 and Holy Cross has stamped itself as a title contender with two massive upsets. My money is on Army, but it needs to find complementary scorers not named John Glesener and Cole Johnson.
Fact: Brown has the No. 1 scoring offense in the country, and Dylan Molloy is averaging 8.3 points per game.
Opinion: Coach Lars Tiffany lured Sean Kirwan away from Tufts, where the offensive coordinator showed his brilliance. The Jumbos set an NCAA record for all divisions for goals in a season, scoring 423 in 2014. Brown is on a similar trajectory and has exceeded preseason expectations. With the Bruins' state-of-the-art system, Molloy can continue to lead the pack.
Fact: Of the 69 teams that play Division I lacrosse, only five remain winless (NJIT, Manhattan, VMI, Mercer and Canisius).
Opinion: Manhattan faces Canisius this weekend with the Griffins favored over the Jaspers. Manhattan plays NJIT on March 31 for what likely will be the reverse survivor Bottom Feeder Bowl. VMI plays Mercer in April.
Fact: Towson is 4-2 with wins over Johns Hopkins, Georgetown and UMBC.
Opinion: The Tigers are on my radar as the favorites in the Colonial Athletic Association based on their eighth-rated scoring defense. Success in the league depends on coach Shawn Nadelen improving an offense that ranks 50th in scoring.
Fact: Last week, Albany lost to Cornell at SMU and spent more the 48 hours on a bus traveling home from Dallas after its flight was canceled.
Opinion: February lacrosse needs to be outlawed. Playing in snow and subfreezing temperatures is not beneficial for the student-athlete, fans and general health of the sport. Attendance never has been worse. Stop the madness and push the championship game off Memorial Day and into June.
Fact: Bryant played North Carolina to a 10-9 loss Tuesday. The Bulldogs are 1-5 a year after shocking Syracuse in the NCAA tournament's first round in May.
Opinion: Tuesday showed Bryant's capabilities as a bracket buster. The Bulldogs will need to win the Northeast Conference's automatic qualifier to gain entry into the Big Dance, and if they do, look out. It's not where you start that matters; it's where you finish.
Fact: There are eight high school seniors from the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association on Insidelacrosse Magazine's 2015 Top 50 senior recruits list.
Opinion: Although Baltimore still is heavily recruited by college coaches, the league no longer can say it's the country's top conference. Schools from Philadelphia and Washington routinely are beating MIAA foes. On Tuesday, Haverford (Pa.) topped McDonogh and Gonzaga dominated Boys' Latin. Top college coaches are looking across the country (California, Texas, Florida) and in Canada for talent. It's not just about Baltimore and Long Island anymore. Denver has no native Baltimoreans in its starting group, Duke has just one (Deemer Class), and Syracuse has no starters from Maryland high schools. Baltimore-area youth coaches have to look hard into the mirror and make changes — playing more indoor lacrosse five-on-five during the winter and summer makes sense, and focusing on speed and strength training is essential. Many of the MIAA's most skillful players just don't stack up as athletes.