There are quite a few things up for debate at the midway point of the college lacrosse season, except for the two teams that have distanced themselves from the rest of the field.
It’s No. 1 Albany (9-0) and No. 2 Maryland (7-1).
And Albany deserves to be the favorite because the Great Danes beat the Terps, 11-10, in a great come-from-behind victory in College Park on March 10.
As for which team has the most overall balance, it’s a toss-up, which in itself is a compliment to Albany coach Scott Marr. We might not find the answer until the NCAA championship game in about two months.
“There are two teams that have separated themselves from the pack, two legitimate front runners who have to be considered the favorites to hoist the gold,” Big Ten Network and ESPN lacrosse analyst Mark Dixon said. “Right now, Albany is the most capable team. They have that high-octane, frenetic-pace offense, but now they have a defense that can complement that high-risk, high-reward style.”
Fellow ESPN commentator Paul Carcaterra likes Maryland.
“They are the most balanced,” Carcaterra said. “Maryland has a tradition of playing strong defense and they still do that. They have an All-American in the midfielder (Connor Kelly) and a good goalie (Dan Morris). But there are still questions about both teams.”
There will be a lot of lacrosse fans rooting for Albany because it’s great for the sport to get a smaller Division I school like an Albany, Towson or Loyola Maryland into the championship instead of traditional favorites such as Syracuse, North Carolina, Johns Hopkins and Maryland.
With Albany, the Great Danes finally have a faceoff guy in T.D. Ierlan (168-for-205 this season) and a goalie in J.D. Colarusso (.647 save percentage) who can keep them in games if the offense has a bad day.
Dixon also likes Albany’s short-stick midfielder duo of Jack and Alex Burgmaster.
“It’s all a tribute to the coaching staff,” Dixon said. “They knew what they needed and went out and recruited those players. With Irelan, they have the ability to dominate any game and he showed that against Maryland. When was the last time you saw Maryland give up that many goals in that time span and lose a lead like that at home?”
Maryland has played well despite having one of the toughest schedules in the country. The Terps also have a strong tradition on their side having been a recent regular in the final four and championship game.
The Terps don’t rebuild; they just reload.
“Maryland lost a lot of pieces and they play one heck of a schedule,” Dixon said. “They can play the possession game and defense if needed. They can grind you down.”
But one problem is Maryland’s lack of overall talent at the short-stick defensive midfield position, which hurt the Terps against Albany.
“Maryland also has some young attackmen,” Carcaterra said. “Someone from that group has to step up and take some steps forward.”
After Albany and Maryland, it’s a free for all for any of the other top 18 teams. Duke (8-2) has tradition, a good coach and the reputation for getting hot at the end of the season. Notre Dame (4-2) plays some of the best defense in the country.
Johns Hopkins (6-2) had one of the best comebacks in recent history, rallying from a seven-goal deficit at halftime to beat then-No. 10 Virginia, 15-13, on Saturday.
“After you get out of that top tier of like five or six teams, the rest are filled with inconsistencies,” Carcaterra said. “They’ve had some highs that were really high and some lows which were really low.”
According to Carcaterra, the most feared team is Denver (6-2) because of faceoff specialist Trevor Baptiste, the most dominant force in the college game.
“He can take any game and dominate,” Carcaterra said. “He can single-handedly suck the life out of any offense.”
Sleepers? Notre Dame and Loyola (5-3) might be put in that category even though both have established programs. Rutgers (7-2) might become that team because the Scarlet Knights roster is loaded with seniors.
Also keep an eye on Cornell (5-3), Yale (6-1) and even Hopkins after the big win against Virginia. As far as conferences, the Big Ten has firmly established itself as the best and the top coaching award won’t go to but should be presented to Towson’s Shawn Nadelen.
The Tigers are only 3-5, but have made tremendous progress after losing a lot of talent from a season ago and then getting blown out by Hopkins, 14-6, in the season opener.
But those honors will come later in the season. Right now, it appears Maryland and Albany might be headed for a rematch in a game that will have much higher stakes at the end of the season.