Championship weekend features lacrosse's power programs
Cinderella wasn't invited to college lacrosse's championship weekend in Boston. Four of the top five seeds -- all annual title contenders -- made it to the semifinals. No. 1 seed Duke, No. 2 Virginia, No. 3 Syracuse and the defending champion, No. 5 Johns Hopkins, will compete in front of 50,000 fans at Foxborough Stadium on Saturday (ESPN2).
What did we learn in the NCAA tournament's first two rounds? What can we expect to see this weekend? Here's a look at the semifinal matchups -- and how we got there:
What was the most impressive quarterfinal performance?Duke's first-quarter, nine-goal run against Ohio State was an example of total dominance. They made any type of shot they wanted. The Blue Devils took advantage of a favorable matchup: Ohio State couldn't match Duke's team speed or depth of talent. Matt Danowski, Zack Greer, Max Quinzani, Ned Crotty and Brad Ross form one of the most potent starting fives in lacrosse history. This Duke attack is reminiscent of the Johns Hopkins teams of the 1980s, the Syracuse teams of the late '80s and the 2006 Virginia championship team.
What are the keys for each team in the semifinals?Syracuse vs. Virginia
The individual matchup to watch in Saturday's first semifinal will be Syracuse's Mike Leveille vs. Virginia's Ken Clausen. Both are outstanding players. Thanks to Danny Brennan, Syracuse has the advantage at the faceoff X. Brennan leads the nation in faceoff percentage and was 19-for-30 when the teams met in March -- an overtime 14-13 win for the Cavs. The Orange can't foul because Virginia boasts the nation's best extra-man offense. Against Maryland, the Cavs displayed an effective zone defense, which should help slow the game down. Virginia has struggled in two areas: midfield scoring and fast-break goals. Ultimately, goal play could be the deciding factor. Both teams' goalkeepers are relatively inexperienced. Virginia's Bud Petit is a fifth-year senior but first-year starter who has been up-and-down in the postseason. Syracuse starts freshman Joey Galloway, who struggled for three quarters against Notre Dame, but displayed grit and resiliency by bouncing back in the fourth quarter. Virginia has a slight edge in overall experience: the Cavs play in the ACC and won four overtime games.
Johns Hopkins vs. Duke This is a rematch of the 2005 and 2007 national championship games -- both losses for the Blue Devils. Duke enters this matchup heavily favored and very hungry. When these teams met in early April, Duke walked out with a commanding 17-6 win. Since then, Hopkins' Stephen Peyser has become a commanding presence on the faceoff X, and goalie Michael Gvozden has improved both his save percentage and his goals against average. Overall, Hopkins is a much better defensive team than it was in the teams' first meeting. This game will come down to tempo: Duke's defense will come out and get you, while Hopkins' offense likes long possessions that frustrate opposing offenses. The Blue Jays will have to play a near-perfect game to upset Duke. They will have to try to take advantage of any Duke mistake; one of the downsides of Duke's fast, free-flowing offense is its apparent recklessness at times. If the Blue Jays can force Duke to make mistakes, and capitalize by converting the turnovers into goals, they'll have a chance to return to the title game.
Will the one-day turnaround affect the national championship game?Last season, Duke played a tough-as-nails Cornell team in a semifinal game that went to the wire -- in near-record heat. The Blue Devils were noticeably tired and suffered cramping; the heat and the hard-fought game undoubtedly affected their game. The weather shouldn't be a factor in 2008: Temperatures are expected to be in the 60s. But injuries and the aftereffects from the semifinal games can always have an influence on the title game -- which is what makes this weekend so unpredictable.
All four of these teams thrive on big games and media attention. The athletes chose to attend these schools for the chance to play in front of 50,000 people with their season on the line. Expect to see each team's best effort.
Who will wind up with the Tewaaraton Trophy?The award for college lacrosse's best player will be handed out on May 29. We get to see all five of the finalists -- Duke's Danowski and Greer; Syracuse's Leveille; Hopkins' Paul Rabil; and Virginia's Ben Rubeor. Danowski, the reigning Tewaaraton Trophy winner, seems a shoo-in to repeat, barring an utter collapse in the semifinals. Greer has award-worthy numbers, but he would need a huge performance in championship weekend to unseat Danowski -- and odds are, if Greer is racking up the points, so is Danowski. If Syracuse or Hopkins wins the title, Leveille or Rabil will enter the equation.
Quint Kessenich covers college and professional lacrosse for ESPN. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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