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It could be a compelling first round of NCAA men's lacrosse tournament

It could be a compelling first round of NCAA men's lacrosse tournament
Virginia's Carlson Milikin pursues Johns Hopkins' Cody Radziewicz in their March game at Homewood Field. The Cavaliers won, 16-15. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

The first round of the NCAA Division I men's lacrosse tournament has a little bit of everything: compelling rematches, challenges for the highest seeds, and possible Cinderella stories.

It's the first stop on the road to Philadelphia and the Final Four on May 23-25, with eight games at home sites on Saturday and Sunday.

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Some of the storylines to watch in the first round:

•Can Cornell shut down Albany and Lyle Thompson again?

•Will Maryland get retribution at home against Yale after losing to the Bulldogs on the road in February?

•Does No. 1 Notre Dame end the dreams of a Towson team that won a play-in game Wednesday and wants to prove it belongs among the nation's elite?

•Can the Johns Hopkins-Virginia rematch live up to the 16-15 overtime thriller won by the Cavaliers during the regular season?

Here's a breakdown of this weekend's games, all on ESPNU:

Albany at Cornell, noon Saturday

The Big Red routed Albany, 16-9, in February in icy weather. These are two teams moving in opposite directions late in the year. Cornell is leaking oil, and the Great Danes have won nine straight with the nation's highest-scoring offense. Fans get to see the brilliance of Lyle Thompson in an elimination game. He's a once-in-a-generation type player, who has an improvisational style and instincts you can't teach. Teams have thrown junk defenses at him, and none have worked.

Cornell faceoff specialist Domenic Massimilan has won 65 percent of his draws, and his work could give Cornell the opportunity to play keep-away from Thompson. Albany's Achilles' heel is its defense, so expect Connor Buczek (39 goals, 13 assists) and Matt Donovan to keep pace with Thompson.

Yale at Maryland, 2:30 p.m. Saturday

The is the rematch of Yale's 10-6 win Feb. 21. The Bulldogs are balanced, well coached and have a track record of success. They beat Penn State on the road in the NCAA tournament two years ago, then nearly beat Syracuse in the quarterfinals. The Terps haven't played well in their past five games but will be fired up for revenge. Maryland's defense is legit; the offense comes sold separately.

If Maryland plays its A game, it wins. If the B game shows up, the Terps will lose. The health of faceoff man Charlie Raffa is critical. Joe Locascio can score from any range. Goalie Kyle Bernlohr, after a sensational start, has struggled recently. The Terps must cut back on sloppy clears and turnovers while getting back to being a great ground-ball team, and play like a refreshed, hungry team, not the worn-out bunch we've seen lately.

Yale is disciplined and makes you pay for mistakes, managing the clock and scoring to perfection. Watching the Ivy League final, a win over Princeton, you had to be impressed with the stickwork and defensive double teams and recoveries. The Bulldogs have one star, Conrad Oberbeck, but the sum of the parts, in schemes and fundamentals, is impressive to watch. Yale won't beat itself.

Towson at Notre Dame, 5 p.m. Saturday

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The Fighting Irish, who made lacrosse a varsity sport in 1980, have an experienced and balanced team that represents the program's best chance at a title.

Left-handed attackman Matt Kavangh is Mr. Clutch. Midfielder Sergio Perkovic, aka the Motor City Hit Man, can stretch a defense. Defender Matt Landis is on the short list for defender of the year. Notre Dame will use its loss to Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament semifinals as a wak-eup call. The Irish are a big favorite in round one.

Towson fell behind 5-0 in the first quarter Wednesday night but ripped off eight straight goals in beating High Point, 10-8, in a play-in game. The Tigers play cement-tight defense and get standout saves from goalie Tyler White. But it's tough to defeat Notre Dame with the No. 58-ranked scoring offense.

Ohio State at Duke, 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Ohio State has been up and down. The Buckeyes offense' is a slow cooker. Left-hander Jesse King is the primary playmaker, with a proven mix of moves. On paper, they have a better defense and better specialists than Duke. Coach Nick Myers' squad features some tricky nine- and 10-man rides. The Buckeyes are battle-tested and beat Denver earlier in the season. My gut tells me the Buckeyes will give Duke a scare.

Duke has appeared in eight consecutive final fours and knows what it takes to be the last team standing. Coach John Danowski's crew has made improvements at faceoff, in goal and on defense, and has won five of its past six games. Offense is a proven commodity with Case Matheis, Justin Guttering and Deemer Class (Loyola Blakefield) complementing Myles Jones, who has been unstoppable. But the Blue Devils won't win another title without a step forward from their young defense.

Johns Hopkins at Virginia, 1 p.m. Sunday

The Cavaliers stole one in Baltimore during the regular season. Ryan Tucker (Gilman) had five goals in that overtime game. Midfielders Zed Williams and Tyler German must dodge against Hopkins' shoddy short-stick defensive midfielders. Greg Coholan has become Virginia's go-to guy. Goalie Matt Barrett was the ACC's best goalie this spring. The Wahoos are faster but not deep and will be challenged to cover the Blue Jays' picks behind the goal. The Cavs are a vulnerable No. 7 seed.

Hopkins was 4-6, then won five straight to earn the Big Ten Conference's automatic qualifier and extend its season. Ryan Brown has a wicked shot, Wells Stanwick (Boys' Latin) has 39 assists, and the midfielders are finally living up to their press clippings. The emergence of freshman Hunter Moreland (Boys' Latin) has sparked the faceoff unit. Hopkins has drawn a ton of penalties and has a razor-sharp extra-man unit, but in the NCAA tournament, officials usually swallow their whistles. The defense has problems despite the recent uptick. The Blue Jays' midfield defense has been a weekly scramble in front of unpredictable goalie Eric Schneider. After a rocky season, Schneider starred in the Big Ten tournament final — the best game of his career.

Brown at Denver, 3 p.m. Sunday

The Pioneers roll into May on a long winning streak buoyed by faceoff specialist Trevor Baptiste and a multithreat offense. Connor Cannizzaro (Maryland), Wesley Berg, Zach Miller, Eric Adamson, Tyler Pace and Jack Bobzien make defenses look silly with dizzying ball and player movement. They are patient in their half-field set and work the ball crisply for dunks.

Brown lost in the Ivy League tournament semifinals and was the last at-large team selected over Princeton. Coach Lars Tiffany has done a super job with his young team, reinventing its identity and thriving in an up-tempo system. Dylan Molloy (59 goals, 30 assists) is a beast and the Bears' most productive player. Brown will be eager to prove it belongs, but its chances are slim.

Colgate at North Carolina, 5:15 p.m. Sunday

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The Raiders are a tough draw, with Ryan Walsh leading an offense that shoots 35 percent while grinding deep into the shot clock. Faceoffs have been a worry for the Patriot League champs, winning at just a 38 percent rate. They rely on a zone defense and goalie Brandon Burke. North Carolina hasn't been a stellar zone offense this year.

The Tar Heels come in off a bye week after back-to-back one-goal losses at Notre Dame and to Syracuse in the ACC tournament semifinals. How sharp is their edge? North Carolina has a significant speed and quickness advantage with Jimmy Bitter and Joey Sankey. Senior midfielder Chad Tutton leads a team looking to re-establish itself as a national power.

Marist at Syracuse, 7:30 p.m. Sunday

Syracuse is trending up after winning the ACC tournament, then disposing of Colgate last Saturday. The Orange is built around the nation's most lethal attack: Kevin Rice, Dylan Donahue and Randy Staats, with a healthy dose of midfielders Nicky Galasso and Hakeem Lecky. Faceoff man Ben Williams has been a game-changer, but communication and off-ball defense were poor in the ACC tournament.

Marist won its first NCAA tournament game in program history, defeating Bryant, 10-6, in a play-in game Wednesday night. Marist is much better than you'd anticipate, with one-goal losses to Brown and Penn State. The Orange was upset by Bryant in the first round of the tournament last year. The memories are fresh for the Syracuse players, who won't let that happen again.

Quint Kessenich covers college sports for ESPN and writes for The Baltimore Sun.

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