It's time to hand out midterm grades for the men's college lacrosse season, and two perennial powers in the state are at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Maryland's defense earned an A-plus for it's dominant first half, but Johns Hopkins — staring at the possibility of missing the NCAA tournament for the second time in three seasons — has failed thus far.
With a whole half left to play, there's still time to improve, but it's getting awfully late for some to earn a passing grade. Here's a how I filled out my gradebook.
A+ Maryland (7-1) defense
The Terps have surrendered fewer than five goals per game. Statistically it's the best scoring defense in over a decade. Maryland is led by Casey Ikeda, Matt Dunn, Mac Pons, Matt Neufeldt and goalie Kyle Bernlohr (.688).
"Our players are proud to carry on the traditions set by those who have come before them," said defensive coordinator Kevin Conry. "There are no new or novel ideas. Our philosophy is simple. We take selfless and smart kids with strong work ethics and put them into a system. We try to support on-ball defenders, and we have really good communicators on the field to help with the recoveries."
A+ Syracuse (7-0)
The Orange have been dominant in wins over Cornell, Army, Virginia, Johns Hopkins and Duke. With Kevin Rice and Dylan Donahue, their scoring margin is a plus 7.7 per game.
Balance and depth are strengths. I can't isolate a weakness. Syracuse ranks No. 3 in scoring offense and No. 8 in scoring defense. Ben Williams is a faceoff-winning machine — his work contributed to a 13-1 halftime lead over Duke last Sunday, in a blowout win.
Syracuse faces its biggest challenge this weekend at No. 2 Notre Dame.
A+ Tewaaraton Front-Runners
If the season were to end today, these eight players would be my choices for recognition: Lyle Thompson (Albany, attack), Myles Jones (Duke, midfield), Jimmy Bitter (North Carolina, attack), Kyle Bernlohr (Maryland, goalie), Kevin Rice (Syracuse, attack), Dylan Molloy (Brown, attack), Mike MacDonald (Princeton, attack) and Matt Kavanagh (Notre Dame, attack).
A Brown (7-1), Georgetown (6-3), Princeton (6-1), Boston U (6-2 ) and Marquette (7-1)
Boston University and Marquette, both young programs, are ranked in the Top 20 and have taken a quantum leap forward. Last year the Terriers (6-2) were 2-12 in their first varsity season. They have four consecutive wins over Vermont, Colgate, Lafayette and Bucknell and lead the nation in faceoff win percentage (.670).
"Last year we — coaches and players — had to build everything from scratch — practice modules, game plans, culture — those are things established teams don't have to dwell on," BU coach Ryan Polley said. "This year, guys know what to expect."
The infusion of freshmen talent — three of BU's top-five scorers are rookies (Jack Wilson, Ryan Hilburn, Hayden Ruiz) — has turned the tide.
"With basically all freshman and sophomores, consistency in everything we do can be challenging," Polley said. "We typically get very high when things are going well and very low when things are tougher. Trying to stay level and consistent is a daily goal."
The Terriers travel to Navy Saturday.
Marquette sits at 7-1 in year three of the program The Golden Eagles have been recruiting hungry late bloomers and are a contender in the Big East Conference. They haven't played a home game yet.
A- Albany (6-1)
The Great Danes were seriously compromised by the miserable February weather but have managed to win five straight, including Wednesday's 21-18 victory over Harvard.
Thompson, the 2014 Tewaaraton winner, is heating up and averaging 7.3 points per game.
The Danes like to short-circuit scoreboards with their 60-minutes-of-mayhem approach. Coach Scott Marr's squad is a strong favorite to win the America East Conference.
A- The Atlantic Coast Conference
The five-team ACC has a 32-3 record out-of-league. That's dominance. Losses to Denver (twice) and Maryland are the only blemishes.
Barring a complete collapse, all five are locks to make the NCAA tournament. The ACC will take four of the 10 at-large bids.
Meanwhile, the Big Ten is a combined 28-24 out of conference, with only Maryland holding a postseason-worthy resume.
B+ Cornell (6-2)
The Big Red are the favorites to win the Ivy League after notching wins over Albany, Yale, Colgate and Penn. Connor Buczek and Matt Donovan provide the star power.
Cornell is a hard-working group that whose players treat every shift like their its last. The Big Red is well-coached and tough, but lacks the ideal depth and defense needed to win two games in three days — whether in the Ivy League tournament or NCAA tournament.
B North Carolina (9-1)
The Tar Heels took their first loss last weekend against Maryland, but have knocked off Johns Hopkins, Denver and Harvard.
Attackmen Jimmy Bitter (5.2 points per game) and Joey Sankey (4.4) have terrorized opponents.
Carolina's schedule ramps up with ACC rivals Duke, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Virginia and then the ACC tournament in late April. Carolina tends to peak in April and spoil in May.
B Navy (6-3), Notre Dame (5-1), Virginia (7-2), Stony Brook (6-2), Yale (5-2), Denver (6-2) and Bucknell (6-3)
After two sub-par years, Navy has played itself into national relevance with the influx of talented Plebes.
The Midshipmen have seven freshmen who play regularly. Jack Ray (14, 3) is a starter at attack. Dave Little is the fourth attackman off the bench and plays in extra-man opportunities (he scored the game-winner against Holy Cross).
Freshman Spencer Coyle (St. Mary's) is a starter at midfield. He's shifty and slippery to cover. Casey Rees (Boys' Latin) runs on the second midfield with D.J. Plumer and they have come alive lately, building confidence.
Joe Varello shares time at the faceoff spot, giving veteran Brady Dove some rest. Ray, Little, Coyle, Rees and Plumer have combined to score 28 of the 90 goals (31.1 percent) and 39 of the 141 points (27.7 percent).
B- Towson (6-3)
The Tigers are winning ugly, and there's nothing wrong with that. Low-scoring close games are their signature and a win over Hopkins is the crowning glory.
Towson is imbalanced: the defense ranks fourth but the offense sputters at No. 50, lacking style and sophistication.
Towson is the lukewarm favorite in the Colonial Athletic Association, but when scoring is difficult, the margin for error is slim.
C Loyola Maryland (5-4), Army (6-3), Villanova (5-3), Ohio State (7-3), Harvard (4-4) and Michigan (4-4)
Its hard to give the Greyhounds a high grade with losses to Virginia, Holy Cross, Duke and Georgetown. Loyola's goalies haven't been up to par and the team gets no offensive production off the bench. The slow-to-slide defensive scheme is easy to game-plan against.
The offense — with Zach Herreweyers, Nikko Pontrello, Romar Dennis and Brian Sherlock — is the lone positive. The Patriot League is a compelling race this spring with the improvement of Navy, Boston U and Holy Cross.
F Johns Hopkins (3-5), Bryant (2-6), St John's (2-7), UMBC (3-5), Manhattan (0-9), Delaware (4-6), VMI (0-10) and Lehigh (3-7)
The Bulldogs are 2-6 a year after appearing in the 2014 NCAA quarterfinals. Goalie Gunnar Waldt saved 59 percent of shots last year, but has saved just 50 percent in 2015.
The offense has fallen off by three goals per game, now scoring just 7.6 goals per game. Winning the Northeast Conference automatic qualifier can salvage the season.
The Blue Jays, meanwhile, have discovered a variety of ways to lose winnable games — a trend that is difficult to shake.
The defense is porous, ranked No. 46 in the country. Individual mistakes, poor technique, blown assignments and insufficient goaltending explain the 3-5 record. Goalie Eric Schneider has saved 40.9 percent of shots in Hopkins' five losses.
Offensive players have taken turns showing up. If and when they post on the same day, look out. Hopkins is down to their final lifeline — they must win the Big Ten tournament to be assured an NCAA tournament berth.
Quint Kessenich covers college sports for ESPN and writes for The Baltimore Sun during lacrosse season.
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