Teams look to make final tourney push
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. Which teams have made a strong case for inclusion in the NCAA tournament?
Brett Hughes: Bucknell and UMBC would be my choices. The playoff picture is not that clear to me. I think we will see a good mix of old names and new names in the first couple of rounds. I want to see what Bucknell continues does when the pressure is on, and I think the Bison have talent. It's still early, so many teams are making cases. All the ACC teams have beaten one another up and added very tough nonconference schedules. I think Colgate will be a sneaky team if it gets in -- you'd better have someone who can play with Peter Baum.
Kyle Harrison: A handful of teams have made strong cases, and it will be very interesting to see how the selection committee went about seeding the teams when the bracket is released May 8. I'm excited to see what Hofstra puts together in the tournament. The Pride have had a great season and have found a way to win even when they haven't played well. If Colgate gets in, yes, I 100 percent agree that Peter Baum will cause all kinds of problems for opponents.
It will be interesting to see where Virginia ends up after the up-and-down year it has had. Clearly, the Cavs have some of the most talented players in the country on their squad but haven't put it all together just yet. I'm sure that once the tournament starts, they'll be ready to make a run at the title. Johns Hopkins is starting to put it together, and I'm excited to see what the young squad will bring to the table in May.
2. Which teams still have work to do?
Hughes: All of them! I do not think there is a clear-cut favorite. Syracuse might have the edge, but the Orange have played a lot of close games and got smoked by Cornell on a big stage. It will be nice for some teams to grab a few days' rest, clean up the locker rooms and put the best product on the field for the NCAA tournament. I am excited to see which team looks fresh; fresh legs in May means the world. What team is going to take care of itself and remain disciplined after school ends? It's tough to keep a routine and keep from getting stir-crazy when the entire school heads home and you are grinding to the NCAA championship. It's a great time of year, but it takes discipline.
Harrison: Every week, each team is a work in progress, so I agree with Hughey that every team has work to do. However, you've got to give the upper hand to teams like Cuse, Cornell and Duke, because they not only have been in close games this year but also have recent championship weekend experience. Their junior and senior leaders have been on the big stage before and can lead the younger guys. I couldn't agree more about fresh legs and staying in your normal routine. Distractions at this time of the year can crush a team.
3. What's been your favorite game of the season so far?
Lacrosse on ESPNU
After Saturday night's showdown between No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 4 Syracuse (7 p.m. ET), stay tuned to ESPNU for the SECTOR SPDRS Lacrosse Season Update Show at 9 p.m. ET. Rob Simmelkjaer, Mark Dixon and Stephen McElduff will get you caught up on the sport's biggest storylines as we head into the final weekend of the season.
Afterward, go behind the scenes with the Duke and Denver lacrosse teams. Check out the Pioneers at 9:30 ET and the Blue Devils at 10 p.m. ET.
Hughes: My favorite game has to be Virginia-Syracuse on March 4, and I loved Hopkins-Cuse on March 14. I mentioned in the last article that Syracuse is always fun to watch in big games -- the Orange just come out and put on a show. The Maryland-North Carolina game in the first round of the ACC tournament was great to watch as well. It was a little slick, so you did not see amazing action, but the fourth-quarter comeback and dramatic ending by Maryland was great to see.
Harrison: I'd have to go with the Hopkins-Syracuse game as well. I actually think that was the turning point of Hops' season despite the loss. The young guys on the team realized they could play with anyone in the country and stepped up a bit, and they have done that every game since. UVa-Syracuse was entertaining as well, with all the athletes on both teams.
4. Which game are you looking forward to the most?
Hughes: Saturday's No. 17 Loyola-No. 13 Hopkins game (ESPN3.com, 2 p.m. ET) should be good, but if the Blue Jays overlook the Hounds, they could be in trouble. It's such a great rivalry, as the schools are separated by only a couple of hundred yards. I'm also looking forward to No. 15 Penn-No. 10 Virginia. The Cavs have to get it together inside and out. And nothing would set the Hoos up for a playoff run like a win against a very good Penn team. But the story of that game will be whether Virginia's defense can find an identity heading into the tournament and whether the first midfield can live up to the talent it has on paper. I am excited for this one.
Harrison: I'm looking forward to the Penn-UVa game! This is a huge game. Virginia is trying to do its best to right the ship and build some momentum going into May, while Penn is fighting its way into the tournament. It should be an exciting one, and the winner will take a lot of confidence into the tournament in May. Virginia desperately needs to get its identity back and get things heading in the right direction.
5. Who would get your vote for rookie of the year?
Hughes: I'm not sure how much we can argue about UNC's Nicky Galasso. Some other players have been fantastic, but I just don't think anyone has made such a smooth transition from high school. Coach Joe Breschi likened him to LeBron James in regard to how fast he came in and picked up the system. Now, Harri, I have a hard time comparing any lacrosse player to LeBron, but I do think that he is as good a freshman as I have seen since Conor Gill and Mike Powell. Both of those players jumped right in and stole the show. I think Galasso runs that team, even with Billy Bitter back there. Bitter is a better at attacking, but Galasso has poise you do not see often from a freshman.
Harrison: I don't care where you're from or what position you play: Stepping in as a freshman to Division I lacrosse is tough. Yes, every year there are a handful of freshmen who start on their respective teams, but to actually be the leader, playmaker and guy who everyone on the team looks to as a freshman? Very rare. In my opinion, there is no argument at all, and Galasso is definitely the rookie of the year. The kid has stepped right in and taken over the reins of that offense. Leading the team in points with 22 goals and 31 assists, he's one of the best attackmen in the country, not just on his team. I like his poise and leadership, and he certainly doesn't look like a freshman to me.
I remember watching the national championship in 2001 and seeing Syracuse down by one to Princeton with a minute to go. They called timeout and put the ball in the stick of freshman Mike Powell, who was being guarded by All-American defender Damien Davis. Powell took off, put a right-to-right shake on him, got underneath and scored to send it to overtime. (The Orange later lost to the Tigers in overtime.) It was absolutely crazy to see a freshman completely take over a game on that stage. If given the opportunity, look for Galasso to do the same come late May.
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