Welcome to the first installment of my weekly Top 20 rankings. The 2009 season promises to be unpredictable. There's little difference in the talent level between team No. 6 and team No. 26. February is a month to gauge the component parts of the 59 Division I rosters, a month to gather information. Check back every Monday morning for an updated list of the top 20 teams in the land.
Quint's Power Rankings
The Cavs lost to Syracuse in overtime in last year's NCAA semifinals. They return a horde of key contributors -- Danny Glading (65 pts), Brian Carroll, Shamel Bratton, Garrett Billings, Mike Timms, Matt Kelly and Ken Clausen. But Virginia lacks defensive depth. Bratton is its X factor; he must have an All-American season for the Wahoos to win it all. UVa will host Drexel on Saturday.
The Orange played with an emotional edge in 2008 after being ranked 11th in the preseason. SU returns an explosive core with seniors Kenny Nims, Matt Abbott, Dan Hardy, Pat Perritt and defender Sid Smith. A key question mark will be faceoffs: Who will take over for Danny Brennan? SU will entertain Providence on Sunday.
The Terps added behemoth attackman Will Yeatman. Coach Dave Cottle now has a special attack unit of Yeatman, Grant Catalino, Ryan Young and Travis Reed. His senior midfielders Dan Groot, Jeff Reynolds and Jeremy Sieverts are battle-tested. Maryland has to avoid getting conservative in big games. The Terps will open up with Presbyterian and Air Force this weekend.
The Blue Devils lost 49 percent of their offense, so building a new team identity is job No. 1 for coach John Danowski. Defenders Parker McKee and Mike Manley anchor the back line. Midfielders Brad Ross and Steve Schoeffel both scored more than 20 goals in the spring of 2008, and faceoff man Sam Payton won nearly 60 percent at the X. Lefty Ned Crotty has been shifted to attack to take some of the heat off Max Quinzani. Duke will host Bucknell on Saturday.
The Hoyas are the class of the ECAC. You won't find a more physically imposing first midfield than Andrew Brancaccio (6-foot-4, 190 pounds), Scott Kocis (6-4, 220) and Dan D'Agnes (6-2, 220). Longstick middie Barney Ehrmann is a talented freelancing defender. Maryland transfer Brett Weiss adds skill and savvy to the attack. Georgetown will play at Maryland on Feb. 21 (1 p.m. on ESPNU).
6. North Carolina
New Tar Heels head coach Joe Breschi inherits a four-year ACC losing streak. After a 6-1 start this past spring, the Heels lost five of their last seven games. Carolina has a stellar senior class with goalie Grant Zimmerman (.576 save percentage), Bart Wagner, Bobby McAuley, Jack Ryan, Shane Walterhoefer and Ben Hunt. The key guy in Chapel Hill will be Walterhoefer -- is he healthy and in shape? The Heels are likely to be favored in their first eight games of 2009. UNC will host Denver on Saturday.
7. Johns Hopkins
They say "tradition never graduates." We'll see. The retooled Jays will rely on defense. Michael Evans, Matt Drenan, Sam DeVore, Andrew Miller and goalie Michael Gvozden (.598 save percentage) will hold down the fort while the offense jells. Ground-ball play and clearing are two question marks for Dave Pietramala's team in February. Hopkins will host Siena on Feb. 20 (6 p.m. on ESPNU).
The Tigers have an intriguing blend of experience and youth. The senior class of Tommy Davis, Mark Kovler, Josh Lesko, Chris Peyser and Charlie Kolkin has logged major minutes. The difference-maker will be Scott Mackenzie, who moves from attack to midfield after a 12-point sophomore year. Princeton has a legitimate opportunity to beat Hopkins on Feb. 28 in the Konica Minolta Face-off Classic (on ESPNU).
The Big Red have Max Seibald and John Glynn, two of the toughest midfielders in the country, and a sharp coach in Jeff Tambroni. But a coach can't make saves; Cornell must develop a goalie. Sidebar note: The Ivy League has struggled against the major programs -- in 2008, the Ivy's teams went 0-9 against the ACC, Hopkins and Syracuse combined. The ACC is 13-1 against the Ivy League during the past two seasons.
The Pride have the talent and experience to be a top-10 team and win the CAA, a league that comes up soft this year. Anthony Muscarella (28 goals), Jay Card (27) and Tom Dooley (26) do the heavy lifting on offense. Their first four games are critical: UMass, Brown, Hopkins and Princeton.
Perennial overachievers return the bulk of a team that won the America East in the spring of 2008 and took Virginia to a final possession in the NCAA playoffs. I'm stuck on UMBC as a team that fits somewhere between the No. 8 and No. 16 range, and its success will depend on whether it can find a faceoff specialist.
I'm still not sure how the Pioneers qualified for the 2008 NCAA tournament. Denver is more dangerous this year with its unique style of play, a home-field advantage and a stable of proven goal scorers, including Jamie Lincoln (48 goals) and Charley Dickenson (38 points). The Pioneers will jump right into the fire Saturday at North Carolina.
The Great Danes have an electric attack of Brian Caufield (48 points), Joe Resetarits, Dave Brock and Corey Small (34 goals). Scott Marr also returns his most veteran defense with Mike Banks and longstick middie Chris Schongar. Albany must travel to Princeton, Hopkins and Syracuse this season, as those established powers are hesitant to play in the Capital region.
The Bison lost three of their last four games in 2008 and missed the NCAA tournament. They are the best team on paper in the Patriot League. Austin Winter had 33 assists as a sophomore, and Tim Brandau (29 goals) and Joe Mele (25 goals) can fill it up. But too often, Bucknell's offense was MIA (held to single digits in 11 of 15 games).
15. Notre Dame
The Great Western Lacrosse League title continues to run through South Bend. Coach Kevin Corrigan has little room for error with the No. 41-rated strength of schedule and a roster littered with inexperience. Veterans Grant Krebs (26 goals) and Peter Christman (34 points) are go-to players. The Irish need to uncover a faceoff man.
For the rest of Quint's Top 20 this week, go to Inside Lacrosse.