Analyst Paul Carcaterra was part of the ESPN team that provided coverage of the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic at M&T; Bank Stadium in Baltimore last Saturday. The former Syracuse All-American midfielder, who can be followed on Twitter via @paulcarcaterra, will be part of the crew covering No. 14 Brown at No. 10 North Carolina on Wednesday night and No. 1 Maryland at No. 13 Virginia on Saturday. Carcaterra discussed parity in the sport, the new No. 1 team in some polls, and the team with the most wins in Division I.
What was the lasting impression of this past weekend’s results?
This has been a season where you kind of have to expect the unexpected. I thought we had parity in the sport three or four years ago, but it doesn’t compare at all to the current state of the game with regards to the level playing field. We have a new No. 1 in some of the polls in Notre Dame, and they went up to Rutgers [Sunday] and squeaked out a one-goal game against a team that only has two wins. Maryland, we all thought, was a cut above the rest because of the competition, but a very talented North Carolina team traveled to College Park and beat the No. 1 team in the nation and previously undefeated team, which is kind of a surprise in terms of the way the season has gone for Carolina but not from a talent standpoint. I think you saw that when all three of those attackmen are clicking on all cylinders, they’re borderline unguardable. Those guys have great games from one or two of them, but all three of them played at an elite level against the Terps and just changed the dynamic of that game. Johns Hopkins was extremely impressive after a loss up at the Carrier Dome against Syracuse last week. You had a team that looked a little bit exposed and confused on defense, and they countered with an incredible defensive effort from a communication and attentiveness standpoint against Virginia. They rebounded and showed that they’re a team that has the resolve and will be formidable down the stretch based on their talent and their leadership and their coaching. Overall, I thought it was a great weekend in lacrosse, and it was exciting to see some of the results. I don’t remember a season with this level of parity and the scores being so close week in and week out.
With that in mind, should a team avoid having the No. 1 ranking – and the accompanying target?
It depends on if you’re used to handling success. I think being No. 1 is something that you can embrace. Notre Dame is the No. 1 team in the nation, and it’s great exposure for your program, it’s a reflection of the hard work that the players and coaching staff have put in front of you, and I think personally, you want to be No. 1. The goal is to be the best you can be, and if the best you can be is to be the No. 1 team in the nation, then I think you take it. It’s just about how you handle that success. I don’t think it’s a season where we’ve seen a ton of flip-flopping with that No. 1 poll position. Maryland had a good grip on it for the last few weeks and let go on Saturday, but I think it’s something you need to embrace. If you rest on your laurels and you think that it’s your ticket to the Final Four, you’re crazy. But if you look at it as a direct reflection of the hard work and effort you’ve put into the season, I think it’s a great thing.
Agree or disagree with Notre Dame moving to the top?
I agree with Notre Dame being the No. 1 team in the nation. Regardless of how many one-goal games that they’ve had, they’ve also beaten five top 20 teams, and no one can compare to that in terms of their overall body of work. Each week, they’re playing a playoff-caliber team, and they’ve succeeded more than they’ve failed. So I’m all for Notre Dame at this moment being the No. 1 team.
No. 20 Bucknell leads Division I in wins with eight and has just one loss. What do you make of the Bison?
Bucknell is a team with seven straight wins, too. They’re very difficult to game plan for. They run a 10-man ride, which you don’t see many times in college lacrosse. It’s almost like a full-court press in basketball. They take chances with an aggressive defense that slides early and some offensive guys that can make plays. I love the feeding ability of [sophomore midfielder] David Dickson, who is their X-type quarterback. He distributes the ball and gets teammates involved. They have probably the best freshman middie in the country in Thomas Flibotte, who is just a tremendous athlete and a lacrosse player. He’s making that team versatile on the offensive end because they have goal scorers and great production out of the attack and he’s headlining a midfield that is challenging to game-plan for. Bucknell has been a strong factor in college lacrosse the last few years, and I think they will continue to be. They have a great coaching staff with Frank Fedorjaka, and the way they do things a little bit different makes them hard to game-plan for if you’re the opposition.
I think the league is ultra-competitive. If you look at a team like Yale that has three losses now that played Cornell extremely tight into the fourth quarter two weeks ago and they lost another nailbiter to Princeton, they’re certainly in the mix. They’re a team that if they get into the Ivy League tournament, they can certainly beat any team and make a run at the Ivy League championship. There’s just tremendous depth in that league – not only in terms of the teams, but also the player pool. There’s some great players in the Ivy League. You have a headliner in a guy like [Cornell fifth-year attackman] Rob Pannell and then you have a freshman [attackman] from the D.C. area in Henry Blynn from Brown who’s doing an outstanding job leading that offensive charge. Yale is a team that continues to be competitive week in and week out, and I think Penn made a statement earlier in the year with some big wins, most notably over a Duke team that has turned it around and is back in the race again. So the Ivy League is certainly a league that has always played great lacrosse, but now I think you’re seeing the depth of the league from a player and team standpoint.
Is there a team that helped itself with its performance last weekend?
I think it was North Carolina going up to the home turf of the No. 1 team in the nation and beating them. They controlled the majority of the game. It was a 10-8 game, but it was never really that close. I just think that based on what they’ve been doing the last couple weeks when they struggled against Duke and they beat a Dartmouth team, you were still kind of waiting to see how they would stack up against the talent of the Terps, and I think they played hungry, they played with urgency, and they certainly made a statement. The other team that I really believe made a statement was Johns Hopkins based on the last week or so. Just being exposed defensively [by Syracuse] and not having much of an offensive flow to their game, they did the exact opposite against Virginia. They dominated them. I think the score was 11-1 at one time, but that game – from an emotional standpoint, from a game-planning standpoint – the Blue Jays went from potentially dead in the water to getting right back in the race, and I think they did it with great attitude that makes you think that they can be a fixture in this thing.