Rotating between the sideline and ESPN’s broadcast booth, Paul Carcaterra had a front-row seat for last weekend’s Atlantic Coast Conference men’s lacrosse championships, which ended with No. 8 Notre Dame walloping No. 10 Virginia, 17-7, on Sunday for the title.
The former Syracuse midfielder will serve as analyst for the Ivy League tournament Friday and Sunday in New York before assisting the network’s coverage of the 17-team field for the NCAA tournament. Carcaterra, who can be followed on Twitter via @paulcarcaterra, offered his perspective on the Fighting Irish’s run to the ACC title, his picks in the Big Ten and Ivy League tournaments, and his five finalists for the Tewaaraton Award — with a sixth candidate looming in the background.
What was your takeaway from the ACC championships?
I think the headline of the entire ACC championships was from the basement to the penthouse offensively — in a few weeks — is what Notre Dame’s story has been. This was a team that struggled mightily in the month of April in the early stages. You think back to the Duke game when they scored only two goals and there was the third quarter where I think they had only one shot on goal. It just looked like an offense that didn’t have enough pieces to realistically make any run. But you had to take into account that two of their best players were injured for part of March and April in [midfielders] Bryan Costabile and Brendan Gleason, two guys that really like to initiate the offense and are threats with the ball as dodgers and are really good shooters, too. So those guys out put more stress on that unit, but I think what happened when they returned was, the guys who were asked to do as little bit more in their absence gained some confidence in regards to being playmakers. So the third and fourth options with Gleason and Costabile in the lineup that had to become Nos. 1 and 2 probably grew from that experience, which allowed Notre Dame’s offense to play by far their best offense of the season. You really saw those two stars and the impact they can have on their offense — specifically Bryan Costabile, who was the MVP. He was fantastic. He was just one of those alpha male midfielders who just demanded attention. So that was my biggest takeaway from the weekend offensively speaking because they’ve been playing incredible defense all season long. There’s not even a question on that side of the ball. But I was just so impressed not just with the production in terms of sheer numbers, but also the way they played. They were fun to watch, they took chances, they were loose, and they were aggressive.
Do you think Notre Dame was playing loose because a spot in the NCAA tournament may have been at stake?
You would think that you might play tight in that moment. But when you have really good senior leaders, I think you understand the journey that you’ve been on and what makes the most sense for that team and what you need to do from a confidence standpoint, and Notre Dame has the senior leaders in guys like [attackman] Mikey Wynne and [long-stick midfielder] John Sexton and a sixth-year guy like Carlson Milikin, the D-middie who is maybe the best at his position in the country. So there’s a lot of veterans there that have been through big games before and have played in really big spots. So I think they probably understand what needed to be done. And you can’t replace leadership. Look at Virginia, a team that’s ready to pop and did some really nice things on Friday night. They’re a super young team. They haven’t been in those spots before, and when you haven’t been in those spots, you can’t draw from past experiences. So I think Notre Dame was able to draw from past experience whereas Virginia is still figuring this out.
Which team would be your pick to win the Big Ten tournament?
A lot like the ACC, you have the favorites that everyone would like to pick in [No. 2] Maryland and [No. 7] Johns Hopkins. It’s just like in the ACC where a lot of people picked Syracuse or Duke to play in the championship game and have one of those teams come out on top. In terms of consistency, you’d probably lean toward Maryland or Johns Hopkins, but when you’re playing in the conference’s regular season and you’re getting beat up week in and week out and you run around and you have to play three hard games in a week because you just played on Saturday as well, depth, leadership, and injuries all play a huge factor. So I look at that conference tournament and say, “Yeah, you want to pick Maryland and they might have the advantage after everything they’ve done,” but they’re a different team this year. They lost a lot of guys from years past, especially last year’s senior class that may have been the school’s best senior class since the 1970s. But [No. 13] Ohio State is a real sneaky team because I think the way that they play with maybe the best close defense in the country — or at least up there — all back with championship experience and played in the national championship game, they’ve allowed that offensive unit to grow up. In back-to-back weeks, they have beaten Maryland and [No. 11] Rutgers. So they’re a really sneaky team because they have everything riding on Thursday night. If Johns Hopkins loses, they’re still going to make the NCAA tournament. Ohio State’s season is on the line on Thursday. So I feel like they’re going to play with tremendous urgency. That is a scary team to deal with. And you could argue that Rutgers’ season is on the line as well. What did we see in the ACC? Virginia and Notre Dame had their seasons on the line, and they played their best lacrosse. So just because we know that Johns Hopkins and Maryland have been the most consistent, watch Ohio State and Rutgers because they could easily play the role of Notre Dame and Virginia.
Borrowing that line of thinking, do you feel similarly about No. 1 Yale’s chances in the Ivy League tournament?
No, I don’t. I feel totally different about Yale. Yale has six seniors who were drafted in Major League Lacrosse. That’s the most of any team in the country. You win championships with seniors, and if your seniors are really skilled as well, that’s just an added advantage. So they don’t just have seniors, but they have incredible lacrosse players who are seniors. I wouldn’t be shocked if they go through the Ivy League tournament a lot easier than some of these other top-seeded teams in other conferences just because of their senior leadership and how skilled they are. I’ll say it again: six Major League Lacrosse drafted players that are seniors. I think the ACC in total had seven or eight. Yale had six guys. So they have the talent, they have the experience. So I think they’re a big-time favorite in New York.
If the season ended today, which team would be your No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament?
Yale. Resume-wise, you could argue that Maryland has a better resume and that Albany — even though they could beat pretty badly by Yale — has a better resume and Duke. I’m an eye-test guy, too. I know about the numbers, and I’m not in love with Yale’s resume. They did lose to Bucknell three weeks ago and they did lose to Villanova earlier in the season. My eye test and the way they’re playing, I just think they’re so physical, they’re so gifted. [Senior attackman] Ben Reeves is one of the best players in the country. To me, when I think of a No. 1 team, I think, “Would they be the favorite against anyone in the country right now regardless of resume?” And my answer is yes.
If the season ended today, who would be your five finalists for the Tewaaraton Award?
I would go with [sophomore attackman] Jeff Teat from Cornell. I would go with [junior attackman] Patrick Spencer from Loyola [Maryland]. This is in no order. I would go with [senior attackman] Connor Fields from Albany. I would go with Ben Reeves from Yale, and I would go with [senior attackman] Justin Guterding [of Duke]. Now can I have an asterisk? That’s if the season ended today. If [senior faceoff specialist] Trevor Baptiste propels [No. 3] Denver to a national championship and he blowtorches his way through the NCAA tournament — and keep in mind that the Tewaaraton is given after the last game of the season — he would have had the biggest impact of any player in the country in the biggest games. So I would be open to putting him into that conversation, and I say that because a lot of people don’t think a faceoff guy can win the Tewaaraton. They have a really good team in Denver, but it’s not a team that is maybe as star-laden as teams in the past with [former attackmen] Connor Cannizzaro and Wesley Berg. [Sophomore attackman] Ethan Walker’s a really good player, but if Denver wins the national title, you can bet your bottom dollar that Baptiste was the complete difference for them to win it all. So I’m open to that conversation.