First-round matchups feature rematches, tournament newcomers
We've had days to digest the bracket, to debate whether Georgetown -- the only team to beat top-seeded Duke -- was snubbed, and to celebrate the growth of the game, which saw an unprecedented three teams from the Great Western Lacrosse League (Notre Dame, Ohio State and Denver) make the field of 16.
The NCAA tournament gets under way this weekend, with all eight first-round games played at campus sites and broadcast nationally on ESPNU. Who are the players to watch? Which games are must-see? Here's a look at what you can expect Saturday and Sunday:
Which first-round games are the most compelling?Navy at No. 4 seed North Carolina
Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU
This is a rematch of last year's first-round matchup, which the Tar Heels won 12-8. This season, North Carolina started the season by winning five straight games -- and then veered off the tracks during the ACC portion of the schedule. This year's senior class hasn't won an ACC game but has racked up an impressive 18-2 record out of conference thanks to one of the nation's top offenses. The Heels need to bounce back to early-season form if they expect to advance in the tournament. Navy, on the other hand, has lost three in a row but boasts the nation's best defense. The Midshipmen limped to the finish line but will have had two weeks off to recuperate. This is a classic matchup of an excellent offense versus an equally impressive defense.
Colgate at No. 6 seed Notre Dame
Sunday, noon ET, ESPNU
The Irish are 13-2, but their résumé is far from impressive. Notre Dame's best two wins came against GWLL foe Ohio State, including a 9-2 win in the conference championship. Colgate is the nation's hottest team; the Raiders have reeled off seven straight wins against some tough foes (including Bucknell twice, Navy and Syracuse). Both teams boast great faceoff men -- Colgate's Chris Eck and Notre Dame's Taylor Clagett are fun to watch. The Irish also have a force between the pipes -- Joey Kemp is the best goalkeeper in the tournament. He'll face a tough test in Brandon Corp and Matt Lallie, two of the nation's top (if overlooked) offensive players. This is Colgate's (and sixth-year coach Jim Nagle's) first trip to the NCAA tournament.
Who has the toughest road to championship weekend?Four teams look safe in the first round -- Duke, No. 2 seed Virginia, No. 3 seed Syracuse and No. 7 seed Maryland. The other four matchups could go either way. Yet Duke and Virginia are anything but guaranteed a trip to championship weekend. Virginia was upset on the first weekend of the tournament last season by a Delaware squad that became a fan favorite. This year, the Cavaliers will face UMBC, the winner of 11 straight games -- including Maryland and at Ohio State. The Retrievers will be playing without star Ryan Smith, who tore his ACL in the America East championship game.
Duke, on the other hand, is expected to breeze through its contest with Loyola (Md.) on Saturday. It's the quarterfinals that could prove problematic for the Blue Devils: a first-round win will send them to Ithaca, N.Y., to take on the winner of Ohio State-Cornell. The Big Red are never an easy opponent at home. That said, attendance records could be shattered if Cornell, Duke, Syracuse and Colgate advance to the Ithaca quarterfinal, and Johns Hopkins, Navy, Maryland and UMBC advance to the Annapolis quarterfinal.
What should we watch for this weekend?Close games: This season has seen more than its share of games decided by one goal or sudden-death overtime. That trend should continue for the next four weeks. Look for games to come down to the last two or three plays.
John Glynn, Cornell: He's a stat monster: a top-five faceoff guy (98), he has 73 ground balls, 16 goals and 24 assists. He's really emerged as a force for Cornell.
Matt Bocklet, Hopkins: He's done jaw-dropping things on defense, is a playmaker and shows a lot of heart. He picked up 10 ground balls against Towson.
Danny Brennan, Syracuse: Brennan suffered a leg injury at the end of the season; getting him back on the field will be critical for Syracuse to get to Foxborough.
Virginia: The Cavs boast a top offense/attack and have great team speed -- but they have the 41st-ranked defense. Goalie Bud Petit is untested in the postseason.
Quint Kessenich covers college and professional lacrosse for ESPN. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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