Commentary

Heads roll as experts' teams face off

Lacrosse debaters' alma maters match up in NCAA quarterfinals

Originally Published: May 13, 2009
By Kyle Harrison and Brett Hughes | Special to ESPN.com

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.

Brett Hughes: It's go time, Kyle -- Round 2 of Virginia versus Johns Hopkins (ESPNU, noon ET Sunday). The No. 1 seed versus the No. 8 seed, at about as neutral a site as you can find: Annapolis, Md. I say we cut to the chase and open up with who is going to win and which players are going to show up.

Actually, why waste time? We both are going to pick our former teams, so I'm going with UVa by three. Honestly, I think the Cavaliers are more talented at about every position. However, Hopkins-Virginia is always a close game -- and even more than that, it's as intense a game as there is in NCAA lacrosse.

[+] EnlargeMike Gvozden
JHU Athletics Johns Hopkins will need a strong performance from goaltender Mike Gvozden if it hopes to upset Virginia in the quarterfinals.

Look for big games from Danny Glading and Mike Timms -- these are Virginia's two best players, and they are going to show up. I'm going to say Kyle Wharton will be Hopkins' man because he is such a smart player and UVa has trouble off ball.

Kyle Harrison: Well, for starters, I think it's safe to say there will be a lot of pastel-colored shirts and popped collars in the stands in Annapolis come Sunday afternoon. With all the UVa fans driving up and all the lax rats coming out of the woodwork in Naptown, you might see 1,000 people wearing the same lime-green polo shirt.

Anyway, as far as the actual game goes, I'm sticking to my boys (weird, I know). I think the key to this game for Hopkins is limiting Glading's and Shamel Bratton's touches. While I know it's really hard to pull off, the Blue Jays need to completely shut off Glading and Bratton.

Yes, the Cavs clearly have other people who can beat you, but they don't have any who are as consistent as those two. Yes, Steele Stanwick scores his goals, as do Garrett Billings and Brian Carroll, but none of them are beating their defenders and causing as much trouble as Bratton and Glading do every time the ball is in their sticks.

I'm going with Hopkins by one in overtime.

BH: Nice shot at the UVa fans; I have to say, it was nice to go to a school that has fans who actually attend the university. And this game isn't at Homewood Field this time! But I love this matchup; the respect is there, the talent, the coaches, the ballers and the pressure of the NCAA tournament.

Attendance doesn't favor either team, and both these coaches are amazing in May for almost opposite reasons.

Cavs coach Dom Starsia is cool and brings out a team's confidence. He and his staff are so good at game planning and, as always, believe in their boys. Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala can fire up a team and get a team's best in May as well as anyone. Associate head coach Billy Down and assistant coach Bobby Benson are equally great at in-game changes.

I think it will come down to who wants it more, and I think the Cavs are ready to prove to everyone that they are the best team in the country.

KH: Well, clearly Virginia is going to be producing a ton of shots, so Hop needs a huge day in the goal from Mike Gvozden.

Offensively, I think Hopkins has found a rhythm and each player has found his role. Chris Boland has become a huge finisher on the crease, while Steven Boyle and Michael Kimmel have become the offensive quarterbacks. Kyle Wharton shoots the ball as well as anyone in the country, and Brian Christopher loves taking big shots (three OT game winners this season).

There are tons of big names in this game, but Virginia's Chad Gaudet is the X factor. Some teams throw a long pole like Gaudet up at the X to face off when they are outmatched and want to pressure the other team's faceoff man. However, not only is Guadet a legit faceoff man who wins draws cleanly by himself, he's also athletic enough to get after JHU faceoff man Matt Delonte if he loses the draw.

If Gaudet has a good day at the X, it could be a long day for Hopkins.

BH: The X factor in the game is a tie. Gaudet absolutely is a key to this game, but every time I watch this cat, he is all over the field. So I'm starting to think Rhamel Bratton is the flat-out key to Virginia playing well every game. Bratton is the Cavs' best clearing midfielder and has the ability to push transition like nobody else in college lacrosse because he can play defense, too. Bratton is an X factor because he has to become even smarter as he pushes transition.

So, there was a lot of controversy surrounding Notre Dame's seeding after the No. 7 Fighting Irish bowed out to unseeded Maryland in the first round. Although I will go on record saying they should have had a better seed, they still would have needed to beat someone like the Terps later in the tournament and wouldn't have had the luxury of playing on their home turf in doing so. That said, any "upsets" this weekend -- even though all the teams left are flat-out serious lacrosse programs -- will not include the Virginia-Johns Hopkins game.

But the upsets will include No. 5 Cornell over No. 4 Princeton (ESPNU, 2 p.m. ET Saturday). Freshman Rob Pannell is unreal, and he will continue to be incredible as long as he has John Glynn and Max Seibald barreling down the field. Pannell knows where to be on the field and is just slick. Funny enough, on the other end of the field in this matchup is freshman goalie Tyler Fiorito, who is going to have to play like he did in Princeton's 10-7 win over UMass in the first round to keep the Tigers in the game. So, Cornell takes down Princeton by two.

KH: I can't say I'm surprised Maryland was able to eliminate Notre Dame in the opening round of the playoffs. I felt like the Irish's strength of schedule couldn't compare to a lot of other teams in the tournament. Either way, the Notre Dame program should be very proud of the season it had and excited about the future of the program.

My upset for this coming weekend is No. 6 North Carolina over No. 3 Duke (ESPNU, 2 p.m. ET Sunday). Yup, I'm going with Billy Bitter having another huge game and moving on to the Final Four. I know Duke has a lot of weapons both offensively and defensively and is peaking at the right time, but I think the Tar Heels are going to grab that W.

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Peyton Williams/Icon SMICan North Carolina's Billy Bitter lead the Tar Heels to an upset over Duke in the quarterfinals?

BH: I'm kind of pulling for a big upset for the Heels as well -- I like it when all four ACC teams are as good as they should be. Couldn't be happier for UNC coach Joe Breschi for the way he has his team playing.

But an upset is a tall order. Duke might be the hottest team in the NCAA, and the Blue Devils beat up Mr. Bitter the past two times the teams played, allowing him only two goals total (both in the ACC championship game, as Bitter was shut out in the regular-season game).

KH: Last question, Brett: Where is the best venue for the Final Four? Being a Baltimore kid, I thought it was perfect at M&T Bank Stadium in 2004, when your Virginia squad won the national championship, because it was fairly easy to get to. People from Long Island could drive down, the polo-wearing people from Naptown could drive up and there were huge crowds. Same with Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field in 2005, when I won my senior year.

I feel like Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., is a little far away for our southern fans (especially in this economy), but I could be wrong (wouldn't be the first time). Either way, the fact that the biggest weekend in our sport is now consistently at a professional venue is a huge accomplishment in itself and a testament to how supportive lacrosse fans are.

BH: I would want it at M&T Bank Stadium, too. I only had a chance to play at Rutgers Stadium in New Brunswick, N.J., and M&T Bank in Baltimore, but it was great. We took a bus up, so it was a no-hassle trip, and the fans came out -- even in sketchy weather. And major airports are close.

I also will say it's just great to be in a place known for lacrosse, such as Baltimore. The inner harbor and Lacrosse Museum all make for a huge weekend. I could do without the purple seats, though. Or the Ravens, actually.

Now back to the couch to ice my post-surgery ankle!

Brett Hughes is the lacrosse editor of ESPNRISE.com, ESPN's high school sports site. Check out his blog.