Commentary

Back and forth on lacrosse semifinals

Originally Published: May 20, 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: Well, the elephant in the room had to be the score of the battle of our alma maters: the Johns Hopkins-Virginia quarterfinals game. I don't know who could have seen Virginia's 19-8 pounding coming. There were some glaring holes in the Hopkins team; clearing was an issue, as well as matchup problems, both due to the Blue Jays' athleticism.

With that said, Hopkins will always bounce back and will be in the hunt again next year.

Kyle Harrison: You're an elephant in the room.

I'm not thrilled about the Hopkins-UVa score, and I definitely didn't see that coming. I was actually able to watch the entire game Monday night (Sunday's game was replayed on ESPNU), and I'd have to say the most dominant player was definitely Shamel Bratton. When he gets going early in the game, the only things you can do as a defender are: (1) hope he misses the shot, or (2) trip him.

People criticized Bratton last year for having all of the moves in the world but not being able to finish, but the move Bratton put on Charlie Wiggins in the third quarter Sunday was absolutely ridiculous. What was so impressive about this play was that not only was the dodge out of control (Wiggins literally didn't touch him), but he ran through the sliding defender, through a fake and finished on the crease. If he plays the same way Saturday, Cornell is in trouble.

[+] EnlargeShamel Bratton
Courtesy of Virginia AthleticsIf Cornell wants to stop Virginia, it's going to have to go through Shamel Bratton.

Cornell's Max Seibald, Duke's Ned Crotty and Virginia's Steele Stanwick, Garett Billings and Danny Glading all had big games in the quarterfinals, as well, but I was most impressed with Shamel.

Brett Hughes: Really funny what you said about me being an elephant. You better hope you're home tonight, otherwise I'm drinking your Capri Sun and throwing your belongings in the ocean.

Now, I think Adam Ghitelman was the dominant performer of the weekend; he was just incredible for Virginia. After that game, he should be hot in the Final Four.

But even more than Ghitelman, Cornell defenseman Matt Moyer was outstanding. Moyer absolutely locked up Princeton's Jack McBride in their quarterfinal, and without McBride, Princeton was just not a threat. That was the key to the game -- allowing a talent like McBride to put up only one point on his only shot that was actually on cage. Impressive considering the stage.

KH: So, this weekend's semifinals got me thinking about my all-time favorite Final Four performance. It's a tough call for me (and you actually) because I didn't watch too much lacrosse when I was younger, so my NCAA tournament memories are fairly recent.

I'm sure Doug Knight (Virginia '97), A.J. Haugen (Johns Hopkins '00) and Casey Powell (Syracuse '98) all had great Final Four performances in their college careers. But a memory from the Final Four that sticks out in my head is Mike Powell during his freshmen year at Cuse. Down by one with a minute left in a 2001 semifinal against Princeton, the Orange chose to put the ball in Powell's stick against All-American defender Damian Davis, and Powell took him right to the hoop.

The following year, Cuse won the national title and Mike took home the Tewaaraton Award, but that memory of his freshmen year is one of my all-time favorites.

BH: Mike Powell's performance that year was pretty ridiculous because everyone in the stadium knew exactly what he was doing, and he just went right around and got under Damian. That was unreal.

Tillman Johnson might have had the best Final Four weekend of any player ever in lacrosse history when Virginia won it all in 2003 … but my favorite semis memory might be Jesse Hubbard when Princeton won the title over Maryland in '98, just because he did everything when everyone expected him to. Hubbard never looked like he was going at more than 8 percent speed, but he was always ahead of everyone -- and the way he skipped in the game-winner was just unreal.

As far as this weekend's Final Four, I think there are some keys to the games.

For Virginia to defeat Cornell, the Cavaliers need a big day on defense. Their offense is out of control right now and their attackman are putting up crazy numbers, but their defense could get Cornell's heads spinning. That would take the entire Cornell team out of its confident run 'n' gun-style offense.

[+] EnlargeRob Schroeder
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeRob Schroeder's play will be key for Duke against a potent Syracuse offense.

Cuse's goalies are in a strange situation against Duke because starter John Galloway was out with the flu in the quarterfinals and Al Cavalieri came out of nowhere to stand on his head. But Duke's goalie needs to keep the Blue Devils right on course. Rob Schroeder has been so solid, even if not showstopping, but the Orange's Dan Hardy, Kenny Nims, Abbott & Co. just know how to bring it.

KH: The biggest key for Cornell has to be faceoffs. Max Seibald and John Glynn have to dominate the X to keep that ball away from a Virginia offense that scored 37 goals in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. No matter how good a defense is, with the way those Cavs are playing, I'm not sure anyone's stopping them when they've got the ball. So the best thing Cornell can do is consistently win draws and keep the pressure on Virginia's defense.

As for Saturday's first matchup, Cuse has to find a way to neutralize Crotty. Duke goes as Crotty goes, and if you let him get hot (2 goals and 6 assists against North Carolina in the quarters), there's no chance you're beating Duke. The Orange have to force someone to beat them and not let Crotty stand behind the goal and pick them apart. Neutralize that kid, and Cuse comes out with a W.

It should be an exciting weekend, and I'll actually get to see the games Saturday in person. So while I'm gone, Brett, stay out of my room and don't touch any of my stuff. Seriously.

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