Looking for legitimate contenders
Editor's note: Each week, 2005 Tewaaraton winner, four-time Major League Lacrosse All-Star and current LXM pro player Kyle Harrison and former Virginia All-American, Major League Lacrosse All-Star and current LXM pro player Brett Hughes will use this space to debate college lacrosse's biggest storylines.
1. Did Saturday's win over Virginia ensure Johns Hopkins a spot in the tournament?
Harrison: I don't know if it got them 100 percent in, but it certainly will help come selection time. With a one-goal, overtime loss to No. 1 Syracuse the week before -- which could easily have been a win if a call went the other way -- and a big win at Virginia, Hopkins' young guys are starting to get more and more comfortable. With games against No. 5 North Carolina, Navy, No. 10 Maryland, Loyola and No. 9 Army left on the schedule, Hop needs to keep the momentum going and grab a few more W's. If I had to make a prediction right now, I'd say yes, the boys in blue will be playing come May.
Hughes: Yes, it did get the Blue Jays in. This team has talent and all they needed was to believe they could hang with anyone. After playing the No. 1 and 2 teams in the country in back-to-back weeks, with the one-goal loss to Cuse and holding on to beat Virginia, I think these boys are going to turn into the team they should be. I was so impressed with the entire defense and faceoff unit. If those two groups play the way they have the past two weeks, look for Hop to make a run over the next four weeks against tough opponents and come out in a great position for the NCAA tournament. I think the next game is going to tell us a lot. It's easy to get fired up when you lose a controversial game in the Carrier Dome to want to come out and take on No. 2, but after a huge win, how does your team respond?
2. Virginia and Maryland are both looking to bounce back from losses. Who needs a win more?
Harrison: I'd have to go with Maryland here without a doubt. Coming off an 11-6 loss to UNC on Saturday, the offense needs to get back into the rhythm it had early in the season. That won't be easy against Virginia at Klöckner Stadium on Saturday (ESPNU, noon ET). If the Terps are going to bounce back, look for big games from Grant Catalino and Ryan Young. On the other side of the ball, the defense is going to have its hands full with a loaded Virginia offense looking to put up some numbers after scoring only 11 (the Cavs were averaging 14) in the loss to Hop. If I could pick one game to watch this weekend, this would be it.
Hughes: I agree, Kyle, for all the reasons you listed, but also because Maryland is now 0-2 in the ACC and you don't want to get blanked before the ACC tournament. (The Terps lost to Duke 9-8 in overtime on March 5.) Virginia's other loss came at the hands of Syracuse, by two goals, and frankly both times it was the defensive struggles that held the Cavs back. Virginia is going to need more from the defense because Catalino and Young are just as potent as Hopkins' attackmen, if not more so. Maryland is scoring only 23 percent of the time on man-up situations, while Virginia is holding a 10 percent man-down efficiency. If Maryland can't start cashing in on man-up opportunities at around 40 percent or higher, it's going to be tough to find wins.
3. What are the keys to Syracuse-Duke?
Harrison: I think the key to the game for any team that plays against Cuse is controlling faceoffs. You've got to win FOs against the Orange and keep the ball out of their hands. Duke has got to get the ball up off the ground as quickly as possible, as ground-ball fights around the midfield line are where Jovan Miller and Joel White ignite the Cuse transition, which is usually the start of a three or four-goal run. If Duke wins faceoffs and controls the time of possession, I think this should be a good one. Unfortunately, I won't be able to watch Sunday's Konica Minolta Big City Classic because I can't find a TV in England that will turn off soccer and put on lacrosse!
ESPN lacrosse analyst Quint Kessenich assesses the contenders for the top awards, breaks down the league races, weighs in on pace of play and talks with IL's John Jiloty about the Big City Classic.
Hughes: Duke has got to control tempo. It sounds way too easy, but it's that simple. The Orange benefit from people trying to get up and down with them. If you run, sooner or later you will make mistakes. They are used to the up-and-down, while other teams seem to get frustrated, start forcing the ball and lose their focus. Duke needs to have a game plan and stick to it and frustrate the Orange by keeping the ball away from them. If the faceoff game is not 55 percent Duke, it could be a long day for the Blue Devils, because that's when Cuse pours it on.
4. Is No. 9 Army legit?
Hughes: Harri, I think we have to say Army is legit as far as top-15 teams go, but putting it up with the top-five teams? I think they are a top-five coached team, I just don't know if they are ready to run up and down two games in the tournament with the speed and swagger of teams like Syracuse, Virginia and Notre Dame. They are ranked No. 9 right now and, in all honesty, I think they are probably No. 7. Maybe Kyle and I will release our rankings next week. But army has a BYU ball quality. Jeremy Boltus is the Jimmer in the lax world right now -- averaging 4.9 points per game -- and Army goes as he does.
5. Will we see an Ivy league team play on Memorial Day weekend?
Harrison: YUP! Cornell will be there. Rob Pannell has showed countless times he can put the team on his back when it needs him to, and players like that tend to step up even more in May. So, yes, I'd say go ahead and pencil Cornell in there.
Hughes: Gotta agree that if an Ivy team makes the run, Cornell will be the one to do it. Penn is getting better, but I just don't know if it's ready to take that next step. Although after nearly beating Cornell this weekend, the Quakers might disagree with me. My instincts say Cornell could make a run, but this may be a year when the Ivy is left out. Anyone taking note that Denver is looking better and better? It's been long enough with coach Bill Tierney at the helm out west that his recruits are starting to create a serious challenge. Fun to watch them.
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