Commentary

Men's last stop before Foxborough

Originally Published: May 15, 2009
By Quint Kessenich | ESPN.com

It's time for the NCAA quarterfinals, the final stop for four deserving teams and the launching pad to Foxborough for the four lucky enough to come away with victories on Saturday at Hofstra or Sunday at Navy. IL's Jon Brand and ESPN/IL analyst Quint Kessenich teamed up to break down each of the four Division I contests in detail for our readers.

SyracuseMaryland

No. 2 Syracuse vs. Maryland

Saturday, noon ET | Shuart Stadium, Hempstead, N.Y.
ESPN2, ESPNUHD, ESPN360


Last Meeting
1997 NCAA semifinals: Maryland 18, Syracuse 17

How They Got Here
Maryland used stellar defense on the road to stifle formerly undefeated Notre Dame; Syracuse stalled early but built a balanced offensive performance to take out MAAC champion Siena.

Storylines To Watch

Kenny Nims: No. 1 Tewaaraton snub?
The Orange senior attackman put up one goal and four assists against Siena, once again establishing himself as the dominant force on Syracuse's offense. If he continues to put up big numbers and his team makes it to the Final Four, will the committee add an unprecedented sixth spot?

Can Maryland's D continue its run?
Despite numerous injuries this season, most notably the season-ending one to Brian Farrell, Maryland's defense has held tough down the stretch, limiting four of the Terps' past five opponents to six goals or fewer. On Saturday, the Terps held the Fighting Irish scoreless for 30 minutes, 47 seconds, from the first faceoff into the third quarter.

End of the Terps' goalie platoon?
Junior Brian Phipps got his second straight start in net and played well, allowing three goals and making nine saves. Will we see him again this weekend against Cuse?

-- Jon Brand

Quint Kessenich's Thoughts

The first quarterfinal game from Hofstra will face off at noon ET (ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPN360.com). Maryland will be busing to Long Island on Thursday night, and several members of the team will be taking final exams in the hotel Friday.

Terrapins coach Dave Cottle has beaten Syracuse four times in his career, at Loyola and Maryland. He'll rely heavily on the Loyola and Princeton games this year to scout the Orange. Loyola nearly beat SU in Baltimore, attacking the SU close defense with Shane Koppens and Cooper MacDonnell. Maryland's Ryan Young, Will Yeatman and Travis Reed will be asked to attack the SU close defense.

A concern for Maryland has to be the lack of production lately from Grant Catalino and Yeatman. Yeatman missed three games with an ankle injury but hasn't scored a goal since the Navy loss on April 3. Catalino has one goal in his past four games and his shooting percentage has plummeted to 22 percent. The "now" players seem to be Dan Groot, Adam Sear and Reed.

Maryland played solid defense in a 7-3 win over Notre Dame last weekend, but the level of competition skyrockets this week. Who were the six media members who gave Notre Dane a first-place vote?

The Terps did a great job against Ryan Hoff, getting the second slide to him quickly when the Irish were in their 2-2-2 set and going near-man when Hoff was a solo crease.

Brian Phipps was sharp against Notre Dame and appears to be the starter Saturday. He'll need to make 15 to 20 saves and be clean in the clearing game if the Terps are going to upset the defending champions.

Bryn Holmes and Jeff Reynolds will share the faceoff duties, but wing play is essential against SU because the Orange bring in Matt Abbott and Joel White from the flanks. The Terps must win faceoffs and control the tempo, keeping SU's powerful offense on the sideline.

They must make Syracuse play a 6-on-6 game and limit Orange transition. Maryland has improved its clearing game since the early-season loss to Georgetown and must be aware that Syracuse will ride hard and fight for extra possessions with their nifty attack.

Syracuse needs tempo to win this game and keep its journey to title No. 11 alive. The Orange have superior team speed and a depth of scoring and offensive balance that set them apart. They average 13 goals per game. But they must scrap for 50 percent on faceoffs with Jake Moulton, Gavin Jenkinson and Josh Knight and play team defense to beat Maryland. The Terps will test their patience. SU is vulnerable against on-ball picks and must communicate through the two-man pick-and-roll games.

Goalie John Galloway is 29-4 as a starter. His clearing passes are unreal. When I watch him on tape, I see a goalie who's better from in tight than he is from midrange. When he relaxes, sees the ball and reacts on instinct, he's fine. But when he overthinks, he struggles (like he did against Princeton, Hopkins and Albany).

Coach John Desko is 24-5 in the NCAAs. He was an assistant coach under Roy Simmons Jr. the last time these two teams squared off in the 1997 semifinals. SU is 27-2 all-time in the quarterfinals. Syracuse seniors must be emotional catalysts Saturday: Abbott, Dan Hardy, Pat Perritt, Kenny Nims and Sid Smith.


CornellPrinceton

No. 5 Cornell vs. No. 4 Princeton

Saturday, 2:30 p.m. | Shuart Stadium, Hempstead, N.Y.


Last Meeting
April 18: Cornell 10, Princeton 7

How They Got Here
Cornell broke a halftime tie with a big third quarter to beat Hofstra on home turf; Princeton ran out to an early lead behind the stellar play of senior midfielder Mark Kovler to top UMass.

Storylines To Watch

Ivy supremacy on the line
Though Cornell beat the Tigers earlier in the season, the teams split the Ivy League regular-season championship following Brown's upset of the Big Red. This game will break the tie. As if cementing both squads' Ivy supremacy, seven out of the 10 first All-Ivy League team members come from either school (Cornell has four, Princeton three).

Freshmen phenoms
Freshman attackman Rob Pannell is having an outstanding season. Not only is he the team's leading scorer, but just a few days after being named the Ivy rookie of the year, he led the Big Red against Hofstra with three goals and two assists. For Princeton, it's defensive-minded freshmen who are getting the job done: Close defenseman Chad Weidmaier was a first-team All-Ivy selection and goalie Tyler Fiorito (59 percent) was a second-team selection.

Which midfield is going to have the better day?
Max Seibald and John Glynn have been integral to the Big Red's offense, but their attack has shined of late. Still, perhaps Princeton's D double-poles the senior middies. On the other end, Mark Kovler, Rich Sgalardi and Scott MacKenzie lit up UMass; Princeton's first line midfield combined for nine of the Tigers' 10 goals. How will Cornell's D react Saturday?

-- Jon Brand

Quint Kessenich's Thoughts

Cornell and Princeton have met 69 times, but never in the NCAA tournament. The Big Red have beaten Princeton five of the past six in the series.

When I watch Cornell on tape this spring, a few things stand out. At the beginning of the year, the Big Red were an up-tempo team that relied on midfield scoring. But losses to Virginia and Syracuse revealed that Cornell must play closer to the vest to protect its defense and goaltender.

The Big Red become more of a possession-oriented team with freshman attackman Rob Pannell in charge. They dominated time of possession in the regular-season game with Princeton and held the Tigers scoreless for 22 minutes, 37 seconds in that contest.

It's undeniable that under coach Jeff Tambroni, the Big Red play with a certain toughness and sense of urgency. They fly around and stubbornly show a confidence in their system at both ends of the field. Max Seibald and John Glynn set the tone with their attitude and commitment to ground balls (Cornell had a 30-11 edge against Princeton on April 18).

Defender Matt Moyer might be a first team All-American. He's fought through nagging knee injuries to have a stellar senior year. The Big Red don't throw many checks on defense; instead, they play the ball carrier well and hope to get 50 percent saves from goalie Jake Myers. Look for Cornell to shortstick Tigers attackman Chris McBride and bump two poles up top to Mark Kovler and Rich Sgalardi, both of whom ravaged UMass on Sunday.

Glynn had faceoff success (winning 13 of 18) in the regular-season win over Princeton, but his tactics will come under the scrutiny of Saturday's officiating crew. Watch the Hofstra tape closely and you'll see that Glynn's gamesmanship may be over the line. Glynn has won 73 percent against Princeton in his career. He's a pit bull. He's been playing with a dislocated elbow for much of the 2009 season.

Seibald is the first solo captain at Cornell since 1966. On Saturday, he'll have the opportunity to carry his team into championship weekend and stamp himself as the Tewaaraton front-runner. Seibald is an ideal poster boy for the sport of lacrosse: He's tough, competitive, all business, hard-working, smart and lays it on the line every shift. He respects the Cornell jersey and the game.

Pannell was a late bloomer at Smithtown High School on Long Island. He originally committed to Quinnipiac, later decommitted and went to Deerfield Academy. In the fall alumni game, former Cornell defenders Ryan McClay and Mitch Belisle knew immediately that Pannell was legit. Princeton's Chad Wiedmaier draws the assignment this week.

Ryan Hurley has the size and dodging ability to give Chris Peyser and Jeremy Hirsch fits. The big question for Cornell on offense is complementary scoring: Can the Big Red get production from Rocco Romero? Roy Lang? Chris Finn? George Calvert? Can their substitution shenanigans yield a 5-on-4 or 6-on-5 goal?

The Big Red are in a funk on extra-man offense, currently in an 0-12 streak. I expect to see some tweaking in their schemes this week.

Princeton has won nine of its past 10 games. The six-time NCAA champs are looking to return to championship weekend for the first time since 2004.

After a 7-6 record in 2008, coach Bill Tierney made some key adjustments. Princeton has shrunk its defensive playbook and given its offensive players the green light to attack the goal. The Tigers play music at practice on Fridays and appear to be a happy and hungry bunch. They have an ideal combination of senior leaders and youthful talent.

Kovler and Sgalardi are two of eight midfielders nationally with at least 40 points. Jack McBride will have to be a force dodging from the right-hander's spot on attack after a quiet game against UMass. His ability to draw a double will open lanes for Princeton's midrange shooters.

Charlie Kolkin and freshman John Cunningham will cover Glynn and Seibald. Princeton has the nation's best duo of shortys with Josh Lesko and Brendan Reilly, and the best goalie of the eight quarterfinalists in Tyler Fiorito.

Neither team is built to come from behind. The pace setter holds a significant tactical advantage in what should be a low-scoring, defensive game.


VirginiaJHU

No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 8 Johns Hopkins

Sunday, noon ET | Navy-Marine Corps Stadium, Annapolis, Md.


Last Meeting
March 21: Virginia 16, Johns Hopkins 15

How They Got Here
There couldn't be two more contrasting paths to the quarterfinals. Hopkins survived in overtime against a tough Brown team behind some heroics from senior midfielder Brian Christopher, who buried his third OT game winner in the Blue Jays' past four games. Virginia, on the other hand, showed no signs of rust after the Cavaliers' week off. They opened up their offense and won by 12 against Villanova.

Storylines To Watch

Offense rules
Both teams have not been playing great defense of late, so expect another version of the 31-goal thriller that took place under the lights at Hopkins' Homewood Field in March. For Hopkins, attackman Chris Boland continues to be the pacesetter, pouring in five goals and two assists against Brown. For Virginia, it's the tandem of senior attackmen Danny Glading and Garrett Billings. Watch those two try to use picks behind the cage to exploit Hopkins' D like Brown did Saturday.

Face-off a toss-up
Neither team has a stellar percentage at the X coming into the game, with Hopkins' Matt Dolente at 51 percent and Virginia's Chad Gaudet at 54 percent. If you're looking for anything that could break the deadlock, remember this: Gaudet, who uses a long pole, won 21 of 32 against Dolente in March.

Battle of the Big Shot Brians
Blue Jay Brian Christopher has been known for his late-game heroics of late, but keep an eye on Virginia junior middie Brian Carroll. He buried four game winners last season, and this year had the huge OT goal in the seventh overtime against Maryland.

--Jon Brand

Quint Kessenich's Thoughts

Johns Hopkins has won seven straight games -- included in the streak are overtime wins against Towson, Loyola and Brown. The defense is surrendering double-digit goals on a weekly basis. During the preseason, the Jays' defense was an area of strength. It's now an area of concern.

Defensive ground balls, adventurous clears, giveaways and garbage goals have been recurring themes in the past month. Hopkins defenders take turns making mistakes. Can Hopkins defend the UVa attack? The Cavs' attack totaled nine goals and seven assists in the regular-season meeting.

Coach Dave Pietramala is 3-8 against Virginia. He guides the Blue Jays into their 19th straight quarterfinal. Hopkins has been outshot this season 511 to 493 and has scooped up one more ground ball than its opponents.

Pietramala is embracing the underdog role this week. Hopkins will practice in Baltimore on Saturday and bus down to Annapolis on the morning of the game.

Both Virginia and Hopkins will attack from behind the goal with ball picks set at the point behind. Expect Virginia's defense to slide less this week, especially against Hopkins' complementary players. Both teams will have to talk their way through two-man games. Hopkins is hesitant to switch on big-little picks. Virginia must play excellent invert defense Sunday. The Cavs have to show patience and discipline in the defensive end.

Hopkins is led by Mike Kimmel and Brian Christopher from the midfield. Kimmel has 18 goals and 23 assists; Christopher has 28 goals. Hopkins is No. 2 in the nation in shooting percentage (.335), behind Stony Brook.

When they draw double teams, that allows Kyle Wharton to get looks from the wing and frees up Chris Boland on the pipes. Boland is shooting 54 percent for the year and has benefitted from the "We, not me" offensive philosophy.

Wharton got dinged up late in the Brown game and might not be 100 percent Sunday. Virginia will be tempted to put a shorty on Boland, Wharton or Josh Peck and double-pole Kimmel and Christopher.

Goalie Mike Gvozden is making only 51 percent of the saves, but has a legacy of playing well in tense NCAA playoff games. His counterpart, Adam Ghitelman, will make saves if the Virginia defense guards inside the football hash marks.

Virginia leads the nation in scoring offense, averaging 13 goals per game. The Cavaliers appeared refreshed, both physically and mentally, in their first-round destruction of Villanova. They overwhelmed the Wildcats and played with better pace.

Coach Dom Starsia, who goes for his 300th career win Sunday, has had the Wahoos spending more time in practice scrimmaging starters versus starters. First team versus first team. Offensively they became impatient in April and will be more deliberate on offense this week, taking the best available shot, not the first available shot. Shamel Bratton will absorb the pole. He and Steve Giannone must be able to draw slides if Garrett Billings, Brian Carroll and Steele Stanwick are going to be factors off-ball. Rhamel Bratton is healthy and ready to be a game-changer.

When I watch UVa on tape, I'm seeing more and more 1-4-1 sets with Billings and Stanwick inside. When Danny Glading handles the rock behind, the Cavaliers like to roll a shorty off the crease and set a pick at the point behind. Glading is excellent at running hard at the pick and brushing his shoulder against the picker to gain a step topside. He is the undisputed triggerman for offense coordinator Marc Van Arsdale.

Faceoff wins determine tempo. When Hopkins wins draws, it must handle Virginia's pressure on the perimeter. The best way to manage ball pressure is to run north-south and attack it. Running away from pressure doesn't work. Virginia will start with Chad Gaudet and use Garett Ince as Plan B. Hopkins counters with Matt Dolente and Mike Powers.


DukeUNC

No. 3 Duke vs. No. 6 North Carolina

Sunday, 2:30 p.m. | Navy-Marine Corps Stadium, Annapolis, Md.


Last Meeting
April 26: Duke 15, UNC 13 (ACC final; Duke also won in the regular season 12-8)

How They Got Here
Carolina rode an eight-goal performance by sophomore attackman Billy Bitter to beat UMBC; Duke pounded Navy at home, holding the Mids scoreless in the first half.

Storylines To Watch:

Duke's offense is rolling
Matt Danowksi? Zack Greer? Who needs them when you've got an offense that's averaging 14.5 goals over the Blue Devils' past seven games, including 16 against Virginia in the ACC semifinals. And it's not just Ned Crotty and Max Quinzani, though they lead the team in points: nine different players scored against Navy. All this is hard to fathom from a team that lost two of its first four and failed to break double digits in each of those early contests.

Billy Bitter's 2010 Tewaaraton bid begins
Bitter wasn't on the Tewaaraton finalist list this year, so he decided to prep the committee for next season, scoring those eight goals against Virginia on his first eight shots and finishing 8-for-9 on the day. He'll face a stiffer test against Duke's Mike Manley than he did against UMBC's Kevin Goedeke, but he proved he can turn it on against Duke in the ACC final, when he had two goals and three assists.

Can the Tar Heels overcome their losing streak to Duke?
The last time North Carolina beat Duke was March 20, 2004; it has lost 10 times since. The Tar Heels' most recent postseason win over Duke was in the 1996 ACC tournament, but they have never beaten the Blue Devils in the NCAA tournament.

-- Jon Brand

Quint Kessenich's Thoughts

Duke is on fire: it has won 12 of its past 13 games. It also has won 10 in a row against North Carolina, including two this year. Last night, I watched the 15-13 win over UNC in the ACC final. At one point in the first half, Duke was shooting 8-for-10, but the game was tied at 8.

North Carolina will make subtle adjustments and I think this will be the most exciting game of the quarterfinal round.

Duke is the nation's most improved team over the course of the spring. In the past eight games, the Blue Devils are shooting 38 percent, Rob Schroeder's save percentage is .600 and their man-down is killing off penalties at an 80 percent rate. They are the "now" team in the NCAA tournament. They have to fight through overconfidence this week after dusting Navy in the first round.

Blue Devils midfielder Justin Turri has been dinged up with a foot injury but appears ready to play Sunday after a night off against Navy. Second midfielder Mike Catalino is dodging with confidence, and attackman Zach Howell's improvement has made Ned Crotty and Max Quinzani more dangerous. Crotty's vision makes the entire team better. He puts the ball on target and rides with enthusiasm. Brad Ross and Steve Schoeffel are peaking on offense and might be Duke's best defensive midfield options.

Shane Walterhoefer is usually dominant at the X, and Carolina has won 63 percent of its draws this spring. Duke will send out three different faceoff men in an attempt to tire out Walterhoefer: Sam Payton, CJ Costabile and Mike Catalino. Too often in the series, Walterhoefer has won the draw and lost the war. He must run through pressure from Duke long poles.

Carolina's Billy Bitter scored eight goals against UMBC, and he's within one goal of tying the school's single-season record of 47. He has 26 goals in his past six games. Ankle-tape sales in Durham were brisk this week. I expect Mike Manley to mark up on Bitter.

Tar Heels midfielder Sean Delaney is slick; he has 32 goals. Duke must be physical with him and get to his hands when he sets his feet. Bart Wagner has manufactured a quiet 50-point season.

Ben Hunt has shooting range from the moon. He can hit a 15-yard shot and make it look effortless. He has 17 goals and his health is a huge concern for Tar Heels fans, considering he sat out the final three quarters of a first-round game against UMBC with a shoulder contusion.

UNC can rip the rock; the Heels can attack from anywhere on the field. They have scored double-digit goals in every game since March 28. First-year coach Joe Breschi has improved their clearing game from 73 percent last year to 84 percent in 2009.

Opponents clear at a 73 percent clip compared to 85 percent a year ago.

The Tar Heels play a physical style of defense. Carolina starts a freshman in the net, lefty James Petracca, but you can't predict how a youngster will play. Duke coach John Danowski will not tell his players where to shoot; he will instruct them on how to shoot.

Carolina has won the ground-ball war in every game this season, and I think it'll hold the ball some in this matchup, like Maryland did to Duke earlier this season. Don't be surprised to see Carolina in a zone defense.

For more information on college lacrosse, check out Inside Lacrosse.

Quint Kessenich covers college and professional lacrosse for ESPN.