Let me start by apologizing to anyone who might’ve taken my predictions seriously and in some way went with the chalk during the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Quarterfinals over the weekend. I had a pretty abysmal Saturday and Sunday after I predicted only 1 of 4 games correctly going into the weekend. This all happened while I ignored some pretty indicative statistical numbers, instead choosing to go with my gut. In the end it all means embarrassment for me and hopefully an entertaining and informative breakdown for you.
First, Virginia beat Cornell in sound fashion on Saturday. Cornell’s Rob Pannel was held mostly in check while fellow junior Steele Stanwick of UVA stole the show with 7 points (giving him 15 through 2 games this post season). If that sounds like a lot, it is. Pannel, whose been touted as the runaway national player of the year (and he should be) had 3 goals in the game, but it was unfortunately on 10 shots. In lacrosse, like basketball, you still want your shooters up in the 40% to 50% range, particularly when your entire offense runs through that one shooter. Rob will get another opportunity next year (this is his first season missing the NCAA Final Four) but it’s a stunning end for what had been a great season. It also shows that Cornell needs some more guys. Pannel’s proved that he can replicate great seasons (two time Ivy League player of the year), but now the Big Red have to step up around him to make a serious 2012 run. They obviously had a solid year, but by their recent standards it was a missed opportunity.
Next, after talking up Johns Hopkins’ well rounded game last week both the Blue Jays and I fell flat on our faces Saturday. In the one game I actually got to witness live (no TV is the one, and I mean one flaw of Annapolis’ Mexican Café) Hopkins largely had no answers for Denver’s offense while the Pioneers did enough to stymie the JHU attack. Denver under Bill Tierney (who made Princeton the force of the Ivy League and the lacrosse world for a number of years) has had a complete resurgence, bringing in a combination of American no names and Canadian no names to craft the only men’s west coast Division I juggernaut we have. Oh yeah, and he’s done it in less than two seasons at the helm. It’s not like Tierney hasn’t had help. His offensive coordinator Matt Brown drew up a ton of complicated offensive sets that had a usually heady JHU defense on its toes the whole game, and Bill’s son has done an exceptional job with Denver’s defense. Even when Hopkins was mounting a come back in the third quarter that brought them within a goal (8-7) of tying it, it was largely due to the Blue Jay’s face-off crew and offensive ability to possess. Hopkins was robbed of at least one goal because of the new “diving in the crease” rules, which are murky at best. Still, while I may disagree with the rules (I think it robs the game of some of the most athletic and exciting plays in the sport) a 5 goal loss can’t be blamed on the rules or the refs.
Finally, Duke knocked off Notre Dame 7-5 (in the one game I predicted correctly) in another NCAA snooze fest match-up between these two, while the Maryland Terrapins nudged past Syracuse. To say that the UMD-Syracuse game was akin to the “tortoise and the hare” would be a disservice to the latter. The two combined for one less goal than Duke-UND, and needed most of an overtime period to finally end the game. Still, there was a bit of personal excitement. Not only does the state of Maryland have a team in the Final Four (after a rare year without one in 2010) but 1/3 of the Terps’ goals came from senior Scott LaRue. I worked under Scott’s mom for my first year and a half at my current job before she moved on to another position elsewhere in the government. She’s a great boss and person, so it was no surprise that her sons (there are three) were the same way when I met them all as a family back in 2009. Congrats to him and the rest of the Maryland senior class for getting a storied program back to the Final Four for the first time since 2006 (and first time for the seniors ever).
I’m almost afraid to make any predictions here, but I’m going to do it because none of you have called me out on it anyway. Maryland over Duke and Denver over Virginia, and don’t ask me why (mainly because I don’t feel like having to justify it).
In other lacrosse news, Tufts and Salisbury are set to do battle again in the Division III final. These teams met in Baltimore last year with the Jumbos coming away as 9-5 victors. They overpowered the Gulls with tremendous defensive pressure, but frankly just looked more excited (not shell shocked) to be there. It was Tufts’ first national championship of any kind, and a relatively innocuous end for the Gulls, who are used to taking home the gold. In fact, not only did Salisbury win the whole thing five times from 2000 to 2010 but they also appeared in the championship game eight times in that same time frame. In those 11 years they lost a total of 17 times (I was on the sideline for one of them and in the stands for another) with 3 of those losses coming in the national championship game. Salisbury has been more vulnerable in the last couple of years (mainly because of tougher in-conference competition and the continuing explosion of talent at the Division III level), but they’ve still maintained a level of excellence that almost any other athletic program anywhere at any level only wishes to have.
Now, I’ve seen the team swoon a bit, but I’ve also seen this team go on a run before (you know, seeing as how I was in the path of one of those runs for the better part of four years). I think they are on an absolute tear now, and thusly I’m going with them in the national championship on Sunday. In addition to feeling like they are the best team left, I know they are extremely hungry for a championship. It’s not often that this team feels like it underperforms (they’ve gone undefeated four times in the last nine seasons) and it hasn’t been often that they go multiple years without a national title. Three classes on the roster do not know what it feels like to be on top at the end of the year, so it’s with this knowledge that I go with the Gulls. Call it a “gut” call…
That’s all for now folks. Tune in next time for: “Wait, I’m rooting for Salisbury?! I think I just threw up in my mouth a little,” “Teixeira hit a walk off as I’m typing this…so yes that was me yelling,” “Kareem wants a statue of himself in Los Angeles…it will look like Magic Johnson,” and “Bernard Hopkins doesn’t think Donovan McNabb is black enough. I’ll abstain from touching this one other than to say that ‘Bernard, I don’t think you’re Muslim enough.’”