Pondering the lacrosse postseason
Editor's note: Each week, 2005 Tewaaraton winner and four-time Major League Lacrosse all-star Kyle Harrison and former Virginia Cavaliers All-American and MLL all-star Brett Hughes will use this space to debate their thoughts on the sport. And these Southern California roommates have a lot on their minds.
Kyle Harrison: All right, Hughey, I know you've been watching all of the NBA playoffs. You've seen Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo step up in the Chicago Bulls-Boston Celtics series, Brandon Roy being automatic in Portland and LeBron and Kobe taking their game to an even higher level (scary, I know). Either way, with the lacrosse NCAA tournament right around the corner, whom do you see stepping up, throwing his team on his back and heading straight for the finals?
I think there are a few potential postseason MVPs with Max Seibold at Cornell, Brandon Corp at Colgate (if the Red Raiders make the tourney) and Matt Abbott at Cuse, and you could pretty much pick any of the offensive players on the Virginia squad and assume they're going to have a big postseason. But I don't think anyone in the country is playing better than North Carolina's Billy Bitter right now.
Bitter has 38 goals and 22 assists and has been causing all kinds of problems for everyone who's tried to cover him this year. The scary thing about Bitter right now is that he's playing better and better each time he steps on the field. With defenses structured to stop him, he continues to put up more and more points and put his team in a position to be successful. If UNC makes a run at this thing, it's going to be because Bitter gets his MJ on.
Brett Hughes: Great choice on Bitter; I think he is my favorite player in the NCAA to watch. I am not going give him the comparison I hear people throwing around -- that he is as quick as Michael Powell was in the Carrier Dome -- however, he is not too far behind. But I am not ready to think he is going to put UNC on his shoulders.
The person I see just willing his team a win or pulling his team along is Virginia's Danny Glading or Duke's Ned Crotty. I think Glading is ready to go out with a bang like former UVa attackmen who just ended up going off in the playoffs their senior year. Ben Ruebor hit a game winner to keep the Cavs in the playoffs last year; Matt Ward broke the NCAA tournament scoring record his senior year in 2006; and Connor Gill had one goal and nine assits in a 2002 game against Cornell to set the single-game assist record for the tourney.
However, I am having trouble thinking anyone in the country is playing the type of lacrosse Crotty is playing right now. And to be honest, I am not sure I understand it. He seems to make everything look pretty easy and is never all that flashy, but this kid puts up big numbers and seems to do so against the best teams. Crotty is 36-13 on the season leading the ACC in points per game. He was just named ACC Player of the Year and a Tewaaraton Trophy finalist.
I think people might have overlooked Crotty, as he was a midfielder for the majority of his career, and with names such as Glading, Bitter, Will Yeatman, Garrett Billings and even Max Quinzani, the name Crotty just didn't come up as much. But it is now, as Crotty is peaking at the right time. Duke is poised to go as he does in the tourney, which is good for the Blue Devils.
Also, Harri, with the NCAA tournament selections happening Sunday (ESPNU, 9 p.m. ET), I think we are starting to see who the front-runners are. I was thinking about the Celtics and how they need to be careful or they just might bow out early (even if Rondo is off the chains) what lacrosse team, if any, from the top of the rankings is poised to be upset and sent home early?
I think Notre Dame or UNC are both on the rise and very talented, but both could get snuck up on. UNC has not had quality ACC wins since I played (2001 to 2004), and now everyone is talking about UNC often. I hope they don't start hearing those voices because an early exit can happen.
Notre Dame has to know that even the huge crowd at OSU this past weekend is not due to OSU-Notre Dame being a huge matchup (a spring football game was on the same field right after the lacrosse game). Irish goalie Scott Rodgers -- along with Brown's Jordan Burke -- is simply amazing; I just hope neither forgets the steps when their teams get seedings Sunday.
KH: You know my feelings on Notre Dame. Not taking away anything from them, as they've had an amazing regular season in going undefeated. But in my opinion they haven't faced the speed and athleticism of teams such as UVa, Duke, Cornell or Princeton. Notre Dame has a talented squad, but I'm not sure they have the depth that the tourney's top seeds will have.
As much as you'd like me to say Johns Hopkins is leaving the tourney early, I don't see it happening. Towson-Hopkins is always a close game, as is Hopkins-Loyola (ESPNU, 1 p.m. ET), so expect another close one this weekend. No matter what the Blue Jays' record is, coach Dave Pietramala knows how to get his boys fired up and ready for the postseason. So while I won't say I'm positive they'll be national champions, I can say I don't see the Blue Jays getting upset in an early round. My upset pick is without a doubt Notre Dame.
With all that said, which is the team you don't want to play come tourney time? I'm going with Princeton. One, they're back to being the efficient offense that we've become accustomed to over the years with Mark Kovler, Tommy Davis, Jack McBride, and Rich Sgalardi. Two, I'm not sure there's a better postseason coach than Bill Tierney at Princeton. He'll put together a great game plan for whomever they end up playing against, and he's got a lot of experience coaching in big games.
BH: DUKE. That team has showed me something by beating up UVa twice and then not allowing a letdown in the ACC tournament, beating UNC for the title. That NCAA tournament is so tough, and the Blue Devils just look poised to beat anyone. When your best players are peaking now, you are obviously in a good place, but mix that with a crazy-athletic team and a very solid goalie who seems to be getting better, and it just seems like the powers that be are setting Duke up for a title run.
Along with that, as we get deeper in the playoffs, I think the teams you absolutely don't want to see are Cuse, UVa, Hopkins or Princeton. You'd better hope those teams take an early exit because the closer they get to the title, the harder they are to beat. Not sure I can explain why, but that's the way it is.
Last thing, Harri: hottest lax uniforms you have seen? I loved when Syracuse came out in all orange in the 2004 NCAA tournament. And the old-school UNC powder blue wide crop-top mesh jerseys that the Heels rocked back in 1995.
KH: I'd say my favorite uniforms would have to be Carolina's or the Iroquois Nationals Nike uniforms in the 2006 World Games. And the Orange wearing all orange was actually against my team (Hopkins) in the 2004 semifinals when they beat us, so thanks for the reminder.
Brett Hughes is the lacrosse editor of ESPNRISE.com, ESPN's high school sports site. Check out his blog.
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