Wednesday, May 6, 2015

May Madness - DI

Click photo to enlarge
Round by round, game by game, these are my picks, with a little bit of analysis as to "why?" (below), for each game of the 2015 NCAA DII men's lacrosse tournament.

PLAY-IN ROUND

High Point (10-6) @ Towson (11-5), 5/6 - 7:30pm, Towson Sports Network

Redshirt junior goalie, Tyler White, leads a stout Towson defense
Both teams are here after 1-goal victories in their conference championships. Towson narrowly beat UMass, 9-8, in the CAA Championship, and HPU beat Richmond in a thrilling 2OT game, 9-8, in the Southern Conference Championship. Towson enters as #17 in the USILA poll and HPU at #23. I like Towson in this game. They’ve had the tougher overall schedule and escaped with some quality wins over the likes of Hopkins, Georgetown, Fairfield, and Drexel among other respected programs that just didn’t have great seasons (UMass, Delaware, etc.). Dan Lomas on High Point is a stud attackman to watch who’s scored 40+ points in his first 3 seasons but he’s going up against the #2 team defense in Towson that gives up just 7.4 goals per game. They’re anchored by their goalie, Tyler White, who enters the game #7 in the country in terms of save percentage (.575) and #2 in goals against average. For HPU, senior goalie, Austin Geisler, is no slouch either. He's a transfer from UVA who's had a brilliant career between the pipes and I expect him to keep the Panthers in the game. In the end, I think it’s Towson’s programs’ experience that squeaks them into the next round in what I expect to be a low-scoring affair highlighted by the netminders. 8-6, Tigers.


Bryant (8-9) @ Marist (13-3), 5/6 - 7:00pm, Red Fox Network
Expectations were high for Mike Pressler’s Bulldogs this year after going 16-5 last year, which included a first round upset of Syracuse in the NCAA tournament that some people even labeled “the greatest upset in DI lacrosse history”. Goalie, Gunner Waldt, received Third Team All-American honors by USILA at the end of the season and preseason 1st Team All-American honors by Inside Lacrosse at the start of this season. The sky was the limit for a team that returned Waldt in net (now a Junior), their top 2 scorers, an elite FOGO (Kevin Massa – also a 1st team AA), and a masterful head coach in Pressler. Who knows what happened because Bryant lost 7 of their first 9 games to start the season in 2015 and are the only team in the tournament with a sub-.500 record. Marist on the other hand came out of nowhere this season and actually sits at #20 in the USILA polls. Head coach, Keegan Wilkinson, has done wonders with this Red Fox program taking them to their 1st NCAA tournament since ’05 during his 3rd year on the job. Sure, they haven’t had as difficult a schedule as Bryant but they did take Brown to OT and their 3 losses are only by a combined 6 goals. Attackmen, J.D. Recor and Joseph Radin (65 points apiece), lead their attack and I think lead them to a narrow victory tonight at what should be a fantastic atmosphere up at Marist College. 9-8 Red Foxes in OT.


FIRST ROUND (TOP TO BOTTOM)

Towson (12-5)* @ #1 Notre Dame (10-2), 5/9 - 5:00pm, ESPNU
Towson may hang around for a bit but I don’t think they have the offensive firepower to hang around until the end. As for ND, they will have a bunch of favorable matchups in this game. I’ll take the Irish, 14-5.


Albany (15-2) @ #8 Cornell (10-5), 5/9 - 12:00pm, ESPNU

UA senior, Lyle Thompson, had 4 points in the February 28th
meeting against Cornell which Albany dropped, 9-16
This might be the most intriguing game of the first round, and possibly the whole tournament, considering it has the possibility of being Lyle Thompson’s last collegiate game. These teams met at the start of the season on February 28th in Texas, which favored Cornell 16-9. HOWEVER, I think a lot has changed since then and I don’t expect the winner of this game to win that big or by a margin greater than +4. Cornell is an experienced group led by a lethal attack/midfield combo in Matt Donovan and Connor Buczek who average a combined 7.5 points per game. They are a well-coached and disciplined group but I think their Achilles heel is sophomore goaltender, Christian Knight, who’s save percentage is just .479. One of his best games of the season was against these Great Danes in which he stopped 14 of 23 shots (.609), but over his last 4 games (team record: 2-2) he’s been struggling (just 27/68 = .397) and for a young goaltender this is the absolute worst time of year to be cold – especially against the #1 scoring team in the nation. It’s not like they have much experience at the position either as their backup, Brennan Donville, has only played about 4% of the team’s minutes in goal (appearances in 4 games). You have to believe that Albany will come out pissed off that their not hosting a first round game and combine that with the desire of redemption from the first meeting this season and this game might have the possibility of getting out of hands for Cornell. However, I don’t think that quite happens. I like a determined Albany team to come out firing on this goalie and control most of this game. 14-11, Albany.


Ohio State (11-6) @ #5 Duke (12-5), 5/9 - 7:30pm, ESPNU

Duke midfielder, Myles Jones, is the ultimate mismatch
for opposing defenses standing at 6'4, 240 pounds
Ohio State is a very hard team to gauge. They lost their opening game to Detorit, over a month later defeat Denver and Towson back-to-back, then a few days later get SHUTOUT by Notre Dame (9-0), then win their next 3 over Penn State, Johns Hopkins, and rival Michigan, then lose to Rutgers by 7, but then win in College Park, and end the regular season losing to a team by 7 that they had beat earlier in the season in Hopkins. In the end it’s way to much inconsistency to beat a Duke team that’s looking for it’s 3rd straight title and has been sharp all year. At 6’3, 200 pounds, OSU midfielder, Jesse King (67 points) could be a mismatch but once Danowski figures out a scheme, Duke will roll. Let’s go 16-9, Blue Devils. While I don’t expect this to be much of a test for the Dukies, It’ll be interesting to see how Duke comes out in the opener as I believe this game could tell whether “postseason Duke” is alive and determined for that 3-peat.


Brown (12-4) @ #4 Denver (13-2), 5/10 - 3:00pm, ESPNU
This is another captivating game. Denver’s won their last 9 games, and by an average margin of nearly 8 goals. They have a number of guys on offense who can score; the Cannizzaro brothers, Wes Berg, Zach Miller, Erik Adamson, Jack Bobzien… Ryan LaPlante is a talented senior goalie whose experience dates back to his freshman year when he took over for the injured, Jamie Faus. He’s a savvy southpaw who’s top 10 among D1 goalies in goals against average. You can’t go mentioning this 2015 Pioneer team without mentioning freshman phenom, Trevor Baptiste. He’s in the select group that’s taken over 350 face-offs this year but he’s dominated winning an astounding 72.5% of his draws (the 2nd closest in FO win % is nearly 5% behind). Not only that, but he’s proved he’s not only a “FOGO” as he’s tallied 7 goals and 5 assists. Baptiste is one of my finalists for the Tewaaraton award. Brown was a bubble team that made the tourney with their significant wins over Harvard, Princeton, and Cornell. They also happen to have the #3 scorer in the country in sophomore, Dylan Molloy (59 goals, 30 assists in 16 games). He’s a big part of why this Brown offense is #5 in the country in scoring. Jack Kelly holds things down between the pipes for the Bears. He’s top 10 among D1 goalies in terms of save percentage. So, who wins? I think Baptiste will dominate the draws, which will subsequently keep the ball away from Molloy. I like the Pioneers in this one, 11-7.


Colgate (10-5) @ #3 North Carolina (12-3), 5/10 - 5:15pm, ESPNU

Senior attackman, Joey Sankey, is averaging
4.2 points per game this season
“It’s a trap!” in the words of Admiral Ackbar. I think this is a trap game for UNC. Don’t be deceived by the Raiders 10-5 record. They don’t really have any big wins but their margin of defeat in their losses is only 3 goals. They took Navy to OT and only lost to ‘Cuse by 2 goals less then a week ago. This team is just waiting for that big win and they have the weapons to do it. They’re lead by senior attackmen, Ryan Walsh. At 6’4, 235 pounds, Walsh has been a force since his freshman year playing alongside Peter Baum as he tallied 60 points that year. He’s fine-tuned his shooting and will be a mismatch for Joe Breschi’s Tar Heels. Defensively, Colgate is among the top quarter of teams in goals against average. That’s in part due to sophomore goalie, Brandon Burke. He’s the younger brother of Jordan Burke – a former All-American and Tewaarton finalist goalie at Colgate who currently plays for the Boston Cannons. The younger Burke has an array of defensive weapons, one being sophomore, Strecker Backe, who comes off the bench and reaps havoc. With all that being said, I’m actually a huge fan of UNC. They have one of the highest-scoring attacks among in the land with the dynamic trio of Jimmy Bitter, Joey Sankey, and Luke Goldstock. Combine that with some physical, unique midfielders in Chad Tutton, Peyton Klawinski, and Walker Chafee and you have the #2 scoring offense in the nation. Their 3 losses are only by a combined 4 goals. I think this is closer than people expect, but in the end, the force is strong with the Tar Heels. 11-9, UNC.


Yale (11-4) @ #6 Maryland (12-3), 5/9 - 2:3opm, ESPNU
This is another game consisting of teams who’ve already met earlier in the season. On February 21st Yale pulled off an upset and won at home, 10-6. Maryland has always been a team that’s been prided on their defense. They’ve been top 10 in goals against average dating back to ’09 and were #1 this year allowing an average of just 6.6 goals per game. If you had told me they were going to be #1 in that stat coming into the year, I would have said you’re nuts, after the graduation of All-American goalie, Niko Amato, and the news that All-American defenseman, Goran Murray, was deemed ineligible. However, senior goalkeeper, Kyle Bernlohr, hasn’t missed a step and ranks #3 in the country in save percentage and #1 in goals against average. He’s got a talented close-defense in front of him emphasized by Casey Ikeda and deep group of two-way midfielders highlighted by Bobby Gribbin. If FOGO, Charlie Raffa, is available, it's just 1 more weapon in the arsenal for the the Terrapins. Offensively they have a collection of weapons. I’ll have my eyes on Matt Rambo, Joe Locascio, Jay Carlson, and Henry West. For the Bulldogs, attackman, Conrad Oberbeck, is the one who terrorizes opposing defenses. He had 5 points in their first meeting but I don’t expect him to reach that number this time around. Credit to Andy Shay, he’s done a fantastic job with this Yale program, but nothing about this 2015 team wow’s me enough to say they get past Maryland in the first round of the tournament, especially considering the game is at College Park. 10-7, favoring the Terps.


Johns Hopkins (9-6) @ #7 Virginia (10-4), 5/10 - 1:00pm, ESPNU
Again, 2 more teams that have met already this season. On March 21st, UVA escaped with a W at JHU in a 16-15 (OT) shootout that featured no defense. It’s safe to say that the Hopkins dynasty (2 National Championships, 2 more finals appearances, 2 semifinal appearances) from 2002-2008 is long gone as JHU hasn’t made it past the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament since ‘08. In 2013 the Blue Jays, for the first time in the Pietramala era, didn’t make the tournament and all hell broke lose. Last season they went 11-5 and reached the quarterfinals and hope was re-stored until they started this season 4-6. There’s no excuse
JHU junior, Ryan Brown, is 4th in the nation in
goals scored this season (54)
either as this team, as always, is STACKED with talent. However, they’ve won their past 5 games and do find themselves in the tournament so they at least have that to be amped up about. And honestly, this matchup might be favorable for them. Personally, I think this UVA team is a tad bit overrated and what better way to say JHU is back than a first round upset win at Klöckner? The Stanwick brothers (Wells and Shack) average over 6.5 points combined per game. Junior attackman, Ryan Brown, is an absolute stud and I think this tournament has the possibility of enhancing his status as a lead candidate for the Tewaaratan award next season. Joel Tinney, Holden Cattoni, and John Crawley are a talented group of offensive midfielders as well as Phil Castronova and Drew Kennedy leading the defensive-minded midfielders. Michael Pelligrino was a 2nd team All-American last season and is the staple of this defense. Goaltending has been a weakness and is the weakness for JHU. As a team, their save percentage is just .466. Senior, Eric Schneider, has seen his numbers drop from last season. His save percentage is sub-.500 and junior backup, Will Ryan, has been called upon in 5 games (2 starts) but hasn’t fared much better (.452 save percentage). So that’s just JHU. You can see they have talent. As for the Cavs, All 4 of their losses have come against the other 4 teams in the ACC which tells me UVA can’t hang with the best. Their senior leadership lies within a duo of midfielders in Ryan Tucker and Owen Van Arsdale. Their scoring has been from within a duo of underclassmen in sophomore’s Ryan Lukacovic and Zed Williams as well as junior midfielder, Greg Coholan. Defenseman, Tanner Scales, tore his ACL at the beginning of the year and James Pannell (2nd leading scorer last year) suffered a knee injury in the 6th game and was ruled out from then on out. Basically what I’m getting at is this UVA team is banged up and very young this year. I see an early exit this year but deep run next season. All in all, 2 legendary programs will face off in an unappealing game to me, which JHU will steal, and redeem, at Klöckner by a score of, let’s say, 12-8.


Marist (14-3)** @ #2 Syracuse (13-2), 5/10 - 7:30pm, ESPNU
Interesting game because last year Bryant won the play-in game and then upset Syracuse in the first round which nobody saw coming. And if Bryant beats Marist they could find themselves in a similar situation. If Bryant were to win, I don’t think last year would repeat itself because Desko just wouldn’t let that fly. However, I don’t have Bryant winning the play-in game – I have Marist.  I don’t think Marist contends with ‘Cuse whatsoever – 17-3 Syracuse. Hats of to Keegan Wilkinson, so 17-4, Syracuse.


SECOND ROUND (TOP TO BOTTOM)

#1 Notre Dame (11-2) vs. (game in Denver, CO) Albany (16-2), 5/16 - 3:00pm or 5:30pm, ESPNU

Will Albany have an answer for how to defend the "Motor City Hitman"?
For those of you that have somehow forgot, these 2 teams met in the 2nd round last year in a game that will go down among the greats, as it was the last game the Thompson trio would play collegiately together in that resulted in a ND win in a back-and-forth game, 14-13. This proposed matchup I don’t think would be much different from last years game in the sense that it would be back and forth and the winner might just be the last team with the ball. It pains me to say this, and while I’ll be rooting my ass off for Albany, I just think ND is too explosive for Scotty Marr’s Great Danes, especially coming off an upset win over Cornell already. In my eyes, this is the best attack line in the country in Notre Dame with Conor Doyle, Mikey Wynne, and Matt Kavanaugh, the latter being who I think is the most clutch player in the country. They have a deep midfield with Nick Ossello, Jim Marlatt, Jack Near, Will Corrigan, and of course Sergio “The Motor City Hitman” Perkovic who exploded onto the scene last postseason. They’re a ferocious defense lead by the physical play of Pat Healy and Garrett Epple. Sophomore, Shane Doss, has overtaken Conor Kelly as the starting keeper and done a steady job between the pipes posting a save percentage of .564. It’s a good situation for the Irish because if Doss is struggling, they have a veteran in Kelly on the bench (who took this team to the National Championship last year) who they can trust to come up big. Albany does have some other threats beyond Lyle. His partners at attack, Connor Fields and Seth Oakes, average 4.5 and 4.1 points per game, respectively. And junior keeper, Blaze Riorden, is one the most underrated goalies in the country. When he catches ablaze he’s hard to put out. In the end it’s going be about Lyle. I think the number he needs is 9. 9 points, a little less than 3 above his average, and the Danes win this one. He’s capable of it, but it’s for sure going to be an uphill battle as you know Kevin Corrigan will be throwing everything and the kitchen sink at him. It’s hard to type this, but 14-13, Irish.


#5 Duke (13-5) vs. (game in Denver, CO) #4 Denver (14-2), 5/16 - 3:00pm or 5:30pm, ESPNU


Freshman face-off specialist, Trevor Baptiste, has taken
the lacrosse world by storm this season
This game is a rematch of the February 14th season-opener for Denver in which they by a score of 17-13. But I don’t think that game will have much a factor on this game, a lot has happened from 2 months ago. What will have a factor on this game is that, coincidentally, this game will be played in Denver. A HUGE advantage for the Pioneers. This will be a very exciting game featuring 2 of my Tewaaraton finalists in Myles Jones (Duke) and Trevor Baptiste (Denver). I’m going to go ahead and say Denver pulls out the upset (it has to be an upset). I think they have too many offensive weapons for this Duke defense and I’m really not sold on the goalie play of Danny Fowler. Luke Aaron was your guy and won you a National Championship last year and, yes - has struggled this year, but I still like him over the younger Fowler. I know Myles Jones, among the other threats that Duke has, will be a handful for the Pioneers but it’s quite simply the fact that Denver has the x-factor in Baptiste (like Duke used to have in Brendan Fowler, Danny’s older brother) and that this game is in Denver that make’s me go with the Pioneers. I like a big game from Zach Miller in another shootout. 15-12, Denva.


#3 North Carolina (13-3) vs. (game in Annapolis, MD) #6 Maryland (13-3), 5/17 - 12:00pm or 2:30pm, ESPN2
Chad Tutton is the perfect man for
busting open a defense

Another rematch of a regular season game. On March 21st, Maryland beat UNC 10-8 in a game that was played in California. Once again, it just so happens that this game will be played in Maryland, a huge advantage for the Terps. This is a tough game for me to size up as UNC’s attack was stymied in their first matchup. But being that Bitter, Sankey, Tutton, and Chafee (the offensive studs) are seniors, I don’t seeing them being stymied again. In fact I see them busting open and exploiting this Maryland defense. I don’t think Maryland is as talented a team as they were in the beginning of the season and in many respects they are lucky that they have such a manageable matchup in the first round against Yale. Despite this being a home game in a lot of ways for UMD, I like the Tar Hells, 14-9.


Johns Hopkins (10-6) vs. (game in Annapolis, MD) #2 Syracuse (13-2), 5/17 - 12:00pm or 2:30pm, ESPN2
Randy Staats (left) and Dylan Donahue (right) lead a star-studded offense
Yet another rematch of a regular season game. On March 14th, Syracuse beat Hopkins, 13-10, in the Dome. This game is also in Maryland which favors Hopkins. In this proposed matchup, Hopkins is coming off a big win over UVA and ‘Cuse a blowout win over Marist. I think that also favors JHU. Both teams are incredibly deep. I mentioned Hopkins prized players in the first round matchups so I’ll talk more about ‘Cuse here, because in the end I like ‘Cuse here. The Kevin Rice, Dylan Donahue, Randy Staats attack line I believe is the best line in the country. Rice is their leading scorer with 68 points. Donahue is more the quarterback in my eyes and leads the team in goals. And Staats is a Canadian finisher who’s really polished his feeding abilities. Their midfield might be the deepest in the country lead by Nicky Galasso (converted from attack), Hakeem Lecky, Henry Schoomaker, and Timmy Barber. Sophomore FOGO, Ben Williams, is a transfer from Holy Cross who is #2 in the country in terms of face-off percentage, winning nearly 68% of his draws. Defensively, Peter Macartney is a very talented LSM. Brandon Mullins is their best close-defenseman. He was a 2nd team All-American as a sophomore last year and I expect him to be a 1st teamer this year. Senior, Bobby Wardwell, is very steady in between the pipes and Warren Hill provides cushion as a backup. In terms of the matchup, I like Syracuse a lot better defensively and at the special teams. Ben Williams will control the x and ‘Cuse will control the game. 15-10, Orange.


THIRD ROUND (TOP TO BOTTOM)

#1 Notre Dame (12-2) vs. (game in Philadelphia, PA) #4 Denver (15-2), 5/23 - 1:00pm or 3:30pm, ESPN2
Matt Kavanaugh (50) is the ultimate x-factor
So in our first semifinal game I’ve got Notre Dame and Denver who currently sit #2 and #3, respectively, in the USILA poll. These teams met on March 7th in Denver in a game that Denver actually won, 11-10, in overtime. ND did not have an answer for Baptiste as he won 16/23 face-offs in that game but it was overshadowed by a poor performance in net from Ryan LaPlante (just 2 saves on 12 shots). LaPlante’s performance wouldn’t matter in the end as Zach Miller would eventually punch in the game-winner in OT on his way to a 6 point day (4 goals, 2 assist) that was matched exactly by Matt Kavanaugh. This game is very hard to size up. I think Denver has an x-factor in Baptiste but so does ND in Matt Kavanaugh. I think to predict this game, you have to look at it from the perspective that which of these teams has the “it factor” and that team to me is ND. I think they come out physical Kav works his magic in the end to lead ND to their 2nd straight National Championship appearance. 16-14, Notre Dame.


#2 North Carolina (14-3) vs. (game in Philadelphia, PA) #2 Syracuse (14-2), 5/23 - 1:00pm or 3:30pm, ESPN2
Ben Williams (Syracuse) is 2nd in the nation in face-off percentage this year
These 2 teams met twice this past season. Once in the regular season on April 11th in Chapel Hill, which favored UNC, 17-15. Then again in the ACC tournament in the Dome, which favored ‘Cuse, 9-8. I think this game has potential to be an explosive, gritty, classic. Bobby Wardwell was the difference from the 1st game to the 2nd for Syracuse. Warren Hill was actually called upon in that 1st game after Wardwell started 3/13. I like Wardwell a lot more than UNC goalie, Kieran Burke. I think Wardwell has a better defense in place as well. With that being said, Chad Tutton and Joey Sankey create tough mismatches for a defense. Joey Sankey’s one of my favorite players in the country so this is tough to say, but I think Syracuse is the better team up and down and if they make it this far they will be in the National Championship. 15-12, Syracuse.


NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

#1 Notre Dame (13-2) vs. (game in Philadelphia, PA) #2 Syracuse (15-2), 5/25 - 1:00pm, ESPN2
Hakeem Lecky is a player capable of breaking out in a
National Championship
So here’s my projected National Championship. 2 ACC teams. The #1 and #2 seeds in the tournament. I’m going to analyze this game from a matchup point only because once you get to this point the only thing that matters is this 1 game. Defensively, I like Syracuse better. ND is physical but that physicality has gotten them in trouble at times. Bobby Wardwell is a much more consistent goalie, Brandon Mullins is a 1st team All-American in my book, and Ben Williams will win a majority of the draws. Kav will get his share of points for the Irish but I think Brandon Mullins will D up Sergio “The Motor City Hitman” Perkovic much like he did against Myles Jones and Duke on April 4th when he held Jones to just 1 assist. I think Syracuse’s attack gets going early behind Donahue and Rice and doesn’t hold back and from there the midfield, lead by Hakeem Lecky, takes over. Syracuse are your National Champions, 13-9.



Tournament Snubs: I have 2 real snubs in Stony Brook and Princeton and a minor case for a 3rd team in Harvard. Stony Brook (13-5) has quality wins over Princeton, Fairfield, and Marist. Their loss to St. John's in the beginning of the season really came back to hurt them. It would have been exciting to see Mike Rooney, the nations leading scorer with 112 points (for now, Lyle is 5 back but has at least 1 more game) play at the national stage because I feel he didn't quite get the exposure he deserved. Princeton (9-6) had wins over Johns Hopkins, Yale, Harvard, and Cornell. Their 1 loss that I think came back to hurt them was against Lehigh (7-9). In the end, the Ivy's beating up on each really didn't help anyone and hurt Princeton in this case. Harvard (7-7) beat Cornell and Yale. But like Princeton, the Ivy not having a definite frontrunner hurt Harvard. They also lost to Dartmouth and Penn who both ended up with sub-.500 records.


* = Winner of Towson vs. HPU game
** = Winner of Marist vs. Bryant game