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Q&A with Big Ten Network/ESPN men’s lacrosse analyst Mark Dixon

Mark Dixon provided analysis for the Big Ten Network’s broadcast of the Maryland men’s lacrosse team’s 13-12 win at No. 14 Penn State on Sunday night – an outcome that lifted the reigning NCAA champion Terps to the top spot in Monday’s Maverik media poll.

The former Johns Hopkins midfielder will help the network cover Saturday’s game between Ohio State and Michigan and Sunday night’s primetime matchup between No. 8 Rutgers and Maryland at 7 p.m. at Maryland Stadium in College Park.

Dixon, who can be followed on Twitter at @DixonLacrosse, offered his thoughts on the No. 1 seed in his NCAA tournament bracket, No. 4 Johns Hopkins’ seven-game winning streak, and his picks in the Atlantic Coast Conference and Patriot and Ivy leagues.

If the season ended today, would Maryland be the No. 1 seed in your NCAA tournament bracket?

They would not. The reason is I would put Albany as the No. 1 seed. If you look at all the criteria, Albany has the higher RPI and the other thing is right now, Albany may have better wins. Obviously, they have the head-to-head win against the Terps, which is huge. They also have a win against [No. 7] Syracuse, which is really big right now. And they have a win against [No. 9] Cornell, which is really big right now. If you look at Maryland, their really good wins have taken hits recently. Most notably, [No. 15] Notre Dame, [No. 13] Villanova, the North Carolina win isn’t as big as it could be. Penn has decent numbers, but they have a losing record right now. And they lost head-to-head with Albany. I think Maryland deserves to be the No. 1 team in the polls right now that came out this morning because they’re playing better lacrosse right now and because Albany losing to UMBC [11-7 on Friday night] is a bad loss. But I think Albany’s overall body of work is more impressive right now than Maryland’s.

Is Johns Hopkins as good as its seven-game winning streak would suggest?

You can only take care of what’s in front of you, and that’s what Hopkins has done. I do think this is an improved Hopkins team from a year ago. I think they’re playing loose, I think they’re having fun, I think they look fresher, they’ve been able to erase leads recently against [No. 8] Rutgers and [No. 12] Virginia and been able to come back. They have an offense that is very capable of going on runs – the run against Syracuse, the run against Virginia. [Sophomore] Cole Williams is a dynamic presence on the offense that they didn’t really have last year, an attackman that can draw slides and really make you respect not only him driving to the goal but also his ability to post up and blister you with good outside shots. He’s also added some feeding to his game over the last couple of weeks. So I think Hopkins is a really good team. Some trouble spots are [senior faceoff specialist] Hunter Moreland hasn’t been that great the last couple of weeks. I think Hopkins has an offense that is predicated on ball control and they need those possessions to get into a sync and get into a rhythm. And defensively, they’ve been a little inconsistent over the last couple of weeks. I think [senior goalkeeper] Brock Turnbaugh has been really good in spots – in particular late in the Rutgers game. He struggled a little bit on Saturday against Ohio State. But I think Hopkins is a really good team right now. I think when you look at the Big Ten, the two teams that are going to challenge Maryland are Rutgers and Johns Hopkins. I do think Hopkins deserves their ranking. They’re much improved, and not only are they improved from a year ago, but they also are improved from that North Carolina loss [on Feb. 23] up until now.

What did you make of No. 3 Denver’s 22-6 rout of then-No. 7 Villanova on Friday night?

I really thought Villanova had a chance to win this game. They were at home and playing really good lacrosse and scoring a lot of goals. And they were getting a Denver team that was on its second straight East Coast road game and was coming off a 6-5 victory at Georgetown where they scored only six goals – their lowest offensive output during Bill Tierney’s tenure as the Pioneers head coach. I didn’t know if Villanova was going to win this game, but I thought they had a good chance. I would have called it a pick-em. But the fact that Denver blew them out and scored 18 goals in the first half, that’s crazy. That is ridiculous offense, and I think it really speaks to how good the Denver offense can be when they execute and when they score and convert [senior] Trevor Baptiste’s faceoff wins into goals. That’s how scary good they can be offensively. So yes, I was surprised that they blew Villanova out by that many.

Is Syracuse the team to beat in the Atlantic Coast Conference?

They are based on their body of work and the fact that they have beaten [No. 5] Duke, which is, I think, their stiffest competition in the ACC. I still think that in my heart of hearts, Duke is the best team in the ACC. They just need to play a complete game and show some consistency. Defensively, I think they’ve been wildly inconsistent. They can struggle at the faceoff dot a little bit. They need more offensive depth, and they can’t continue to rely solely on [senior attackman] Justin Guterding to bail them out in a lot of situations. I think [junior midfielder] Brad Smith has picked up a lot of the slack, but you need guys like [graduate student midfielder] Peter Conley to be more consistent. Syracuse has definitely earned that No. 1 seed, but I think when it’s all said and done, Duke is going to be that team coming out of the ACC.

Which team do you like in the Patriot League?

I do like [No. 10] Loyola [Maryland] although [No. 11] Bucknell is playing at an incredibly high level right now with wins over Loyola and a nice win over [No. 6] Yale in the middle of the week up in New Haven, Conn. But I think at the end of the day, Loyola will put it together. [Junior attackman] Pat Spencer is so terrific, and I think their pieces on that offense are starting to come together and help him out. Defensively, I think Loyola is really good. I think [senior defenseman] Foster Huggins is a first-team All-American type of player. I think their defensive middies are really good. If Loyola can get consistent production out of their offensive midfield, they’re going to be in great shape. And in a lot of cases, I think the short-stick D-mids for Loyola might play a little too much, might stay on the field a little too long. I do think that Loyola is going to win the Patriot League. [Junior] Jacob Stover is a really nice goaltender. Faceoffs are a trouble spot as they are for a lot of teams not named Denver, Albany or Maryland. But I do think when the dust settles, Loyola will probably emerge as the best team in the Patriot League. But I tell you, that Bucknell team is really good. I think [senior attackman] Will Sands is terrific, they do things different defensively, they throw different looks at you, that 10-man ride is legendary under [coach Frank] Fedorjaka. So keep your eye on Bucknell. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s a two-bid league. [No. 17] Navy’s a team that has played really well recently, but Loyola handled the Midshipmen [15-9 on March 17], and I just don’t like the way they match up against Loyola.

Can Cornell challenge Yale in the Ivy League?

There’s no question that they can. In a year where the Ivy League has been defined by blowouts, that is one close game where you saw Yale won 13-11. Two terrific dynamic offensive players in [senior attackman] Ben Reeves for Yale and [sophomore attackman] Jeff Teat for Cornell. But I give the advantage to Yale because I think they have better scoring support with guys like [sophomore attackman] Jackson Morrill. And they just have a better faceoff man. [Senior] Conor Mackie is a difference maker for the Yale Bulldogs. They can get possessions, control the tempo, and take pressure off of their defense. I thought Yale was the preseason favorite, and I still think they’re the favorite here as we go down the stretch.

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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