Commentary

Quarterfinals feature rivalries, top individual matchups, long streaks

Originally Published: May 15, 2008
By Quint Kessenich | ESPN.com

The first round of the NCAA men's lacrosse tournament saw one-goal games and sudden-death overtime. What can we expect to see in this weekend's quarterfinals?

What was the biggest surprise of the first round?

[+] EnlargeJohn Galloway
Syracuse athletic communications Syracuse's John Galloway stands between the Irish and the semifinals.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was that there weren't any shocking moments -- not even Navy's upset of No. 4 seed North Carolina. The Tar Heels weren't playing well and looked rusty after having two weeks off since their last game. UNC wasn't ready to play, and the Midshipmen took advantage. Navy deserves credit for playing tenaciously and for refusing to wilt against a favored opponent.

I wasn't surprised by the other "upset" either, but I definitely didn't foresee Ohio State taking an 11-2 lead into halftime against No. 8 Cornell, especially considering how many faceoffs the Buckeyes lost. Ohio State continues to be the best-shooting team in the tournament, with nine different players scoring -- including goalie Stefan Schroder. Ohio State scored 15 goals on just 29 shots (.517). The Buckeyes can stand toe-to-toe with Duke, but I don't think they'll make enough saves or win enough faceoffs to pull off the upset.

What will we see in the quarterfinals?

Saturday's quarterfinals, which will be held at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium, features dream matchups. Navy officials are expecting record crowds, weather permitting. ACC rivals Maryland and Virginia kick off the quarterfinals (ESPNU, noon ET). These teams know each other so well, and the history between them is so bitter, I'm not sure anything could surprise us. This game could be decided by whichever team shoots the ball better.

The Navy-Johns Hopkins (ESPNU, 3 p.m. ET) game should be filled with tension. The Blue Jays own a 34-game winning streak, but the Midshipmen are looking to their football counterparts for inspiration: Navy memorably ended a 43-game losing streak to Notre Dame in November. Both teams are known for playing a possession-style game, but that doesn't mean they can't run. Ground-ball play will be key, as this could be a low-scoring affair.

Sunday's Ohio State-Duke game (ESPNU, noon ET) could be the weekend's most exciting matchup. Both teams are most comfortable in a game with tempo, and both rely on taking a lot of shots. This could be an up-and-down, fast-paced game -- a real treat for the fans in Ithaca, N.Y. The nightcap -- Notre Dame-Syracuse (ESPNU, 3 p.m. ET) -- may depend on the Irish's speed. Poor field conditions kept Notre Dame's first-round matchup slow. Ryan Hoff could do some damage against Syracuse, and the matchup of faceoff men -- ND's Taylor Clagett vs. Danny Brennan -- may be the best in the tournament. The Irish are talented enough to keep up with Syracuse, but are they fast enough?

Who are the players to watch?

Duke fifth-year senior Matt Danowski has yet to turn in a subpar performance. The reigning Tewaaraton Trophy winner broke the NCAA's all-time career points record with a seven-point performance against Loyola in the first round. Ohio State's Joel Dalgarno is a terrific shooter and a fan favorite. Navy's Jordan DiNola, who is finally healthy, was a playmaker last week. Johns Hopkins' Paul Rabil played as though he heard the whispers that he might miss first-team All-America, scoring four goals against Hofstra. Rabil may go down as the best goal-scoring midfielder in Hopkins' history. Maryland senior Joe Cinosky is on the fringe of being one of the nation's best players: He has the quickness, speed and instincts.

Is the Great Western Lacrosse League becoming a major player?

Notre Dame and Ohio State acquitted themselves nicely this weekend. Both seemed focused on validation: Notre Dame as a national seed and first-round host, and Ohio State as one of the GWLL's two at-large selections. The Buckeyes entered their matchup with Cornell with a lot of attitude and confidence; they would not be taken lightly. The Irish, on the other hand, showed a certain poise in making a second-half comeback -- ultimately needing overtime to win -- against Colgate, which entered the tournament as arguably the nation's hottest team.

Of course, Notre Dame is no stranger to championship weekend, and the growth of the sport can be seen on rosters around the country. But this year, Denver showed its steady improvement and Ohio State finally got over the hump. Athletic departments are starting to recognize the value of lacrosse. But do I see either of the GWLL's remaining teams making the trip to Boston for Memorial Day weekend? Let's see. …

What is my projected championship weekend?

For all of the talk about parity, I see four power programs playing in Foxborough: Duke, Johns Hopkins, Syracuse and Virginia. All of these teams are vulnerable, and in a season defined by close games and sudden-death overtimes, anything is possible. Nearly every game remaining in the tournament has the potential to be decided in the final five minutes of play -- and that's what makes this time of year so much fun.

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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