Commentary

Quarterfinals pit best players, teams

Originally Published: May 20, 2011
By Kyle Harrison and Brett Hughes | Special to ESPN.com

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. What was the biggest takeaway from the first round?

[+] EnlargeRob Pannell
Dave Burbank Rob Pannell has been the driving force behind Cornell's success this season.
Hughes: The biggest takeaway for me was simple: I love playoff lacrosse. I am always interested and enjoy watching the teams' journey into the playoffs, but last weekend reminded me of how much fun it was to play in May. Having your upperclassmen show up is huge. Mark Matthews for Denver, Zach Howell for Duke, Chris Boland for Johns Hopkins, Ryan Young for Maryland -- and yes, I'll be a homey here and say Steele Stanwick and Chris Bocklet for Virginia; they came up big when the Cavs needed it most. I just love watching big players step up. Even in a loss. North Carolina's Billy Bitter played huge and was fun to watch. I think the NCAA tournament catches certain people off-guard and younger guys get caught on their heels, especially in Round 1, when they see the sense of urgency it takes to win.

Harrison: I agree with Hughey that we saw seniors on each team step up. I, along with a lot of lacrosse fans, was sad to see Billy Bitter's college career come to an end, as I'm not sure we've seen someone get to the goal in such creative ways! His ability to protect his stick, take a hit and side-step slides, all while knowing exactly where he is on the field, then finish the ball? He's definitely one of the most creative dodgers our sport has ever seen. We all knew Virginia's run was coming, but it was just a lot later than expected. Bocklet's finishing ability and Stanwick's playmaking ability are an absolutely lethal combination. The best ball handler/finisher I've ever seen is Kevin Leveille, and Bocklet possesses a similar skill set. It was big for Hopkins midfielder John Greeley to come out aggressive and score two big goals for his team. They're going to need him to continue to be aggressive if Hopkins is going to make a championship run.

2. What team looks the most ready for a tournament run?

Hughes: I thought Hopkins looked very tough because it was in a tough game with a team that knows it well. But my weekend award goes to Maryland; as much as it sometimes pains me to give it to Maryland because I am surrounded by Terps out here in Los Angeles, they were fantastic. Defense, offense, hidden-ball tricks, faceoffs: they played the best all-around game and, unlike what we saw in most of the other games, they never had that let up that other teams did. They just kept punching and it was really fun to watch. Drew Snider stepped up with four goals and the Maryland defense made ACC Freshman of the Year Nick Galasso a nonfactor. North Carolina is young, but Maryland was just ready for that game unlike any other team I saw this weekend.

Harrison: I thought Maryland looked great, as well. Offensively, the Terps were in a nice rhythm sharing the ball and playing unselfishly, with Young quarterbacking the offense. Clearly fans loved seeing the hidden-ball trick, but as a player, to execute a play like that gives the team so much confidence and an incredible amount of momentum. And after seeing the young Blue Jays play this weekend, if Matt Dolente can stay in his rhythm at the X, then I think they are ready to make a run, as well. And clearly, Rob Pannell at Cornell is prepared to carry his team to championship weekend.

3. Which quarterfinal matchup is most intriguing?

Hughes: Sunday's Maryland-Syracuse quarterfinal (ESPNU/ESPN3.com, noon ET) will be a great game and I am looking forward to seeing Saturday's Virginia-Cornell matchup (ESPN2/ESPN3.com, noon ET). Syracuse and Maryland are my two hottest teams. Yes, I saw the Sienna game, but Syracuse plays better in big games which is a great way to be this time of year. Whichever team wins this game will play in the championship game. Virginia and Cornell are similar: they both play hard, they have the two best players in the country in Pannell and Stanwick. There's also the lingering question of Rhamel Bratton; I hope he is on the sideline regardless of whether he's playing. It's a matchup full of drama and I think both of these teams are playing for respect. The Wahoos are trying to put the recent media frenzy behind them and continue winning games with the team on the same page, and the Big Red are looking to be considered one of the powerhouses in college lacrosse. Each round becomes more fun and every single game in the quarters will be huge.

Harrison: As a lacrosse fan, I've got to agree that Maryland-Syracuse and Virginia-Cornell are the two most exciting matchups of the weekend. Even though the Terps looked great last weekend, they're facing an Orange senior class that has already won two national championships. Those guys know how to win and will be itching to get to championship weekend for a shot at title No. 3. The Virginia-Cornell game will feature great athletes -- including the two best attackmen in the country. Will Virginia be able to put off-field drama behind it and come together as a team? Will Cornell be able to continue getting production from other people so Pannell doesn't have to have six points for the Big Red to be in the game? Can't wait to watch it all unfold this weekend.

Brett Hughes is the co-founder and vice president of Lacrosse the Nations. You can check out the group's work here. Follow Brett on Twitter: . Follow Kyle on Twitter:

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