Commentary

No team survives March unscathed; April provides proving ground

Originally Published: April 1, 2008
By Quint Kessenich | ESPN.com

No team escaped March unscathed, as undefeated Virginia fell to Maryland on Saturday. As we enter the meat of the conference races, here's my vote for the top 20 teams in the country:

1. Duke
Zack Greer found the net seven times and Matt Danowski had four goals and four assists as Duke rolled over Dartmoth 16-9 on Long Island after the Blue Devils handled Harvard 10-3 on Tuesday. I expect to see a sharp performance from Duke this week as they square with Hopkins on Saturday (ESPNU, 6 p.m. ET) in a rematch of the 2005 and 2007 national finals. Koskinen Stadium in Durham will be rocking -- get there early.

2. Virginia
Maryland played a flawless game against the Cavaliers, stifling the fastest transition game in the country with physical defense. The Wahoos, who were held to single digits for the first time all season against the Terps, are vulnerable in the faceoff and goaltending categories -- and Danny Gladding and Ben Rubeor have missed essential practice time with injuries. I was very impressed with defender Ken Clausen, who battles every week. Cavs have wins over Drexel, Stony Brook, Syracuse, Princeton and Hopkins.

3. Syracuse
Syracuse survived Loyola's slowdown tactics to win 13-8, thanks in large part to Mike Leveille's continued hot hand (three goals, two assists). Syracuse took 56 shots while Loyola only put 14 shots on goal. The Orange have one-goal wins over Army, Georgetown and Johns Hopkins.

4. Maryland
Will Dalton and Bryn Holmes won 15-of-23 face-offs and Jason Carter made 15 saves as the Terps upset Virginia on ESPN2. Maryland's defense forced Virginia into a 7-for-42 shooting performance. I was very impressed with Brian Farrell, Joe Cinosky, Jeff Reynolds, Grant Catalino and Travis Reed. No time for the Baby Terps to rest on their laurels with Navy coming to Byrd on Friday night (ESPNU, 8 p.m. ET).

5. Georgetown
The Hoyas beat Navy for the fifth straight time, getting excellent wing play from Chris Schuville and Chris Taylor. Schuville picked up a key groundball in Navy's end to trigger the OT game winner. Georgetown will be a prohibitive favorite in its six remaining games (Mt. St. Mary's, Fairfield, Loyola, UMass, Rutgers and Penn State) -- I expect the Hoyas to run the table and secure the fourth or fifth seed in the NCAA playoffs with their only losses coming against Maryland and Syracuse.

6. North Carolina
Carolina won its first game at Homewood Field in Baltimore since 1994 behind goalie Grant Zimmerman's 14 saves. The Heels' NCAA resume continues to get stronger with wins over Denver, Cornell, Notre Dame and Johns Hopkins. The Heels host Virginia on Saturday (ESPNU, 4 p.m. ET) with a chance for the seniors to win their first ACC game -- UNC is 0-15 against league competition since 2005 and only three times in those 15 games have they held opponents below 10 goals.

7. Cornell
Cornell made a statement in the Ivy League this week in Philadelphia, beating Penn 13-5. The Big Red held the Quakers scoreless in the first half and held them to 5-for-35 shooting. I'm still waiting for Max Seibald to break out, as the first team All-American only has 11 goals and three assists. The Big Red have wins over Army, Navy, Denver and Penn.

8. Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish defense has not surrendered more than nine goals in any game this year. Kelly McKenna and Davey Malera are two of the scrappiest midfield defenders in the country. Kevin Corrigan's crew had a statement win over Drexel on Tuesday and dominated Bellarmine in Louisville on Saturday. ND plays a key GWLL game against Denver this Saturday at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill.

9. Army
The Cadets had a productive week, beating Hofstra and Colgate to stretch their win streak to five. Jeremy Boltus has 12 assists and Rob McCallion is hitting on 42 percent of his shots. Goalie Adam Fullerton has saved 63 percent of shots on goal, while opponents only save 50 percent. Army's two losses this spring were to Syracuse and Cornell, both by a goal. Army travels to Bucknell on Friday for a key Patriot League game.

10. Navy
Navy fought back from an 8-3 third quarter deficit against Georgetown to put the game into overtime. Sophomore midfielder Patrick Moran is a future star in Annapolis. The Mids have been in overtime in four games this year, but their best wins remain Ohio State and Bucknell.

11. Drexel
The Dragons suffered a sobering loss to Notre Dame on Tuesday, but bounced back this past weekend, rallying for an overtime win over Hofstra after trailing 7-2 at the half. Andrew Chapman scored four goals, including the game winner. Ryan West won 12 of his 14 faceoffs and Drexel took 18 of 22 for the game. Wins over Penn, Albany and Hofstra are legit.

12. Johns Hopkins
The 2005 and 2007 national champs have lost four straight games and travel to Durham on Saturday to face my No. 1, Duke (ESPNU, 6 p.m. ET). Coach Dave Pietramala played musical chairs with goalies Michael Gvozden and Trey Sheain on Saturday in an ugly loss to UNC. The primary problem thus far for the Blue Jays has been on defense, where the veteran group now stands among the bottom third of Division I teams. The good news is that Hopkins still has to play Duke, Maryland, Navy, Towson and Loyola -- certainly enough wins to qualify for the NCAA tournament if they get back to form. Time to press the reset button.

13. UMBC
The Retrievers have won four in a row over Yale, Maryland, Ohio State and Stony Brook, shooting 33 percent in those games (41 for 126). They've also won 14 of their last 15 at home in Catonsville. Attackman Ryan Smith is having a breakout spring with 16 goals. UMBC plays at Towson on Tuesday with a critical America East showdown with Albany slated for April 12.

14. Princeton
The Tigers captured two wins this week over Rutgers and Yale. Goalie Alex Hewit was back to his typical self, saving 66 percent of the shots this week. Remaining schedule is challenging -- Princeton plays in the Dome on Saturday. In my opinion, wins over Hofstra, Rutgers and Yale are not quite as impressive as Drexel's victories right now.

15. Bucknell
The Bison beat a disappointing Towson team 12-10 on Tuesday and then held Holy Cross to 2 goals on Saturday. Austin Winter has 30 points while defenders Evan Burns, Tom Izard and Billy Haire have limited opponents to 30 shots per game. The Bison have wins against Ohio State, Fairfield and Towson with losses to Duke and Navy -- the latter of which came in overtime on the road.

16. Ohio State
The Buckeyes have three losses (Navy, Bucknell, UMBC) this spring, and all came in overtime. OSU is shooting over 35 percent as a team behind Jeff Ryan, Kevin Buchanan, Josh Funk, Peet Poillon and Mario Ventiquattro.

17. Denver
The Pioneers have now won five of their last six games including wins over Brown, Penn and Harvard. Denver nailed Harvard (10-9) on Saturday in overtime, with Jamie Lincoln banging four goals to improve his total to 23 on the year. They have a huge game this weekend with GWLL rival Notre Dame.

18. Penn
The April and May schedule gives the Quakers the opportunity to play themselves into the NCAA tournament. Expect nail-biters with Dartmouth, Princeton, Brown, Maryland, Towson and Army to test Penn's resolve.

19. Brown
Jordan Burke is the most underrated player in Divison I lacrosse. The 6-foot-1 junior goalie from Bullis in Potomac, Md., has stopped 71 percent of the shots he's seen, spearheading the Bears' run to five straight wins (Air Force, UMass, Dartmouth, Vermont and Delaware). In those victories, Brown has given up 5.6 goals per game.

20. Loyola
Loyola has wins over Towson, Penn State, UMass and St John's -- which in some years may be impressive, but not in 2008. Greyhounds host Rutgers in a must-win game Saturday.

Quint Kessenich covers college and professional lacrosse for ESPN. He can be reached at quint@insidelacrosse.com.

Quint Kessenich covers college and professional lacrosse for ESPN.

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