Duke seeks Tobacco Road trifecta
Sixteen men's lacrosse teams were downsized to eight in the first round of the NCAA men's lacrosse tournament over the weekend. Virginia, Johns Hopkins, Cornell, Princeton, Duke, North Carolina, Maryland and Syracuse are all moving on to the quarterfinals (ESPNU, beginning Saturday at noon ET). Here are 5 Burning Questions on what's to come.
1. Can Duke dominate in the second round the way it did in the first?
Duke is the most improved team in the nation. The Blue Devils have won 12 of their past 13 and should continue their offensive surge against a very average UNC defense. But it's unlikely they will dust North Carolina the way they dominated Navy in the first round, holding the Midshipmen scoreless through two quarters before an eventual 14-5 final tally.
Sunday is the third meeting between the two schools in 2009; Duke won their regular-season matchup and their ACC tournament championship encounter. The Heels have significant matchup issues against Duke attackers Ned Crotty and Max Quinzani. UNC's hope is that faceoff man Shane Walterhoefer can control 70 percent of the draws this weekend, and its best defense against Duke will be a patient and efficient offense.
Keep in mind that Duke has found ways to lose playoffs games in 2005, 2007 and 2008 when it had the more talented team.
2. Which player should have a huge game this weekend?
I think both Virginia's and Johns Hopkins' offenses will score goals in their quarterfinal game Sunday. Neither defense looks very good right now.
Danny Glading has 28 goals and 29 assists for the Cavs this year, including 4 and 2 against Villanova in the first round. JHU defenders will clamp down on Glading's dodges from behind the goal and Shamel Bratton's left-handed surges by double-teaming those ball carriers. Brian Carroll is the Virginia player who will benefit most if Hopkins is forced to double-team Glading and Bratton. Carroll has a history of making clutch shots and is a master of finding the net from midrange. He is especially dangerous during extra-man opportunities.
3. What are Maryland's chances of being the Cinderella of this tourney?
The Terps have a chance to upset Syracuse if they win faceoffs with Bryn Holmes and Jeff Reynolds, find the favorable matchups in half-field sets, possess the rock for long stretches and get an edge in the net in terms of save percentage.
Syracuse has become overly reliant on their half-field sets, and that's a game Maryland likes to play. The Terps must be smart on defense, helping and recovery because they have some defenders who can be run by.
4. Johns Hopkins was nearly ousted by Brown in the first round. Can the Blue Jays hold their own against Virginia?
Hopkins will score goals, but the defense hasn't been sharp all season long. The Jays have struggled to react to loose balls in their zone, clearing has become an adventure and too often they've let opponents' best players dominate.
If you're going to beat Virginia, you can't let the Cavaliers run and you must understand that their offense has strong tendencies, which can be scouted. Maryland and Duke have blue-printed defensive strategies against the Cavs that Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala is probably watching as you read this. Hopkins might be forced to play some zone defense against Virginia, which will test Blue Jays goalie Michael Gvozden.
5. What's the quarterfinals' must-see game?
They are all must-see games; I can make a case for all eight teams to advance to the NCAA semifinals. These eight quarterfinals teams are the "Power 8" of lacrosse. They have accounted for every single NCAA championship ever handed out in the sport. Only Duke is without a title.
The coaches all have big-game experience. The marquee players are on display. I expect the UNC-Duke and Hopkins-Virginia games to be high-scoring affairs, while the Syracuse-Maryland and Cornell-Princeton games will be defensive battles.
ESPNU is your source for the quarters if you can't make it to Hofstra or Navy.
Quint Kessenich covers college and professional lacrosse for ESPN. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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