NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Preview
So, one day Michigan will be in the field of 18 Division 1 teams in the NCAA tournament. But that day is not today. Sadly, five years into their D-1 tenure, they are nowhere near this stage. In fact, they seem to be going backwards: after winning five games last season, they only won three in 2016. In an Inside Lacrosse preview of Michigan’s tilt with archrival Ohio State earlier this year, analyst and broadcaster Quint Kessenich put it perfectly:
Michigan (3-7) lacrosse has found the Division I landscape to be tough terrain. Hail to the victors has no marquee wins. The Wolverines are (0-25) all-time against the Top 20 and (15-52) after five seasons. The sport would benefit greatly if Michigan was a Top 10 team.
I hate to agree with Quint Kessenich but he’s right. I think if Michigan was kicking ass at this point they would likely be attracting the attention of mgobloggers and casual fans alike.
Alas - one day they’ll be in it - but who knows when that will be. Until then, we can only try to enjoy a Michigan-less NCAA tournament. So, for all the mgoblog lacrosse nerds on here and all those who are curious about the sport, here’s a preview of this year’s tournament:
The Division 1 tournament is in its 46th year and there are a lot of new, or at least seldom-seen, faces in the field. Here’s the bracket. It all starts this Saturday and Sunday with the Round of 16 and all games are televised on the ESPN family of networks, including the Final 4 and National Championship Game which are played over Memorial Day weekend. The tournament’s winner’s circle is a freaking impregnable citadel of traditional powers that has proven notoriously difficult for outside programs to penetrate. The previous 45 national championships have been won by a total of ten teams. And it’s rare that teams outside of this group even make it to the Final 4. But, 2016 could be different: the game was defined by parity this year and hopefully someone new like Air Force or Albany can crash the party. I’m not crazy about the matchups, though, and it’s very possible we could end up with a Syracuse-Hopkins-Duke-ND Final 4 which would make me very sad.
The Maryland Terrapins come into the postseason as the #1 overall seed, riding an insane 13 game winning streak. They haven’t lost a game since March 5th and the closest they came to a loss was, ironically, an 8-7 win at Michigan in a snowy Big House last month. The Terps, who are Big Ten champs, frequently make the Final 4 and even the championship game but end up getting wiped out, essentially making them the Buffalo Bills of the college lacrosse world. They haven’t won it all since 1975, which is crazy when you stop and think about it. The Terps are coached by the brilliant John Tillman and as always they have a great goalie and defense. A championship would be a first for the Big Ten.
Notre Dame spent much of the season as the #1 team in the country and with good reason. They have a tremendous defense and have two offensive superstars: humongous Sergio Perkovic and pint-sized Matt Kavanagh. And they’re one of only two teams to beat Maryland this year. Despite tons of recent success, though, the Irish haven’t cracked that national championship winner’s circle yet. But this could be their year.
Defending national champs Denver are a huge threat to win it again. The Pioneers are coached by legend Bill Tierney who led Princeton to six national titles in the 1990s and early 2000s. Last year, Denver became the first team west of the Mississippi and outside of the sport’s traditional areas to take home a national championship. Denver took care of most of its schedule fairly easily this year, including a solid W over the #1 Irish in March. Unlike his Princeton teams, however, Tierney’s Denver squads are much more fun to watch thanks to a number of Canadians on offense and an unbelievable face-off man.
Brown and Yale suddenly found themselves heated rivals atop the Ivy League this year. They are both programs on the rise but with contrasting styles. Brown leads the country in scoring offense - posting more than 16 goals a game, while Yale is #6 in scoring defense. While Brown had a penchant for sprinting away from its opponents (including a 22-8 pasting of Michigan), Yale often had to claw its way back for victories. Last month, Brown edged Yale 14-12 in a highly-anticipated and exciting regular season game. Unfortunately, the two are in adjacent brackets and will likely play each other in the second round with a spot in the semis on the line. Whoever gets through could take the whole thing.
Traditional powers Syracuse, Hopkins and Duke still lurk in the background. They had relatively down seasons but are always dangerous in the tournament. Syracuse snuck up to win the ACC and finish #4 in the country but got stuck with a #8 seed. I would like to see these teams get bounced early, especially because they seem to have made it over more deserving squads and were blessed with favorable first round matchups. Thank God Virginia didn’t make it at least. And if you need a reason to root against Hopkins, Coach Dave Pietramala is close buddies with human creep Bill Belichick.
UNC has a good chance to make its long-awaited return this year. They crushed Michigan in the first game of the season and finished 8-6 with wins over Denver and Hopkins. While UNC is considered a blue-blood, I wouldn’t mind seeing them in the Final 4 for a change. They haven’t been in a while and they have a big fan base and nationwide appeal. Despite winning multiple championships in the 80s and 90s, the Heels haven’t been back to championship weekend since 1993.
Albany. When I did this preview last year, I said to root against the game’s blue bloods (i.e. Syracuse, Hopkins, etc.) and pull for fun “new” teams like Albany. Although the supremely talented Thompson Trio, two brothers and a cousin from the Iroquois Nation, graduated, the Great Danes don’t seem to have lost a step. They were downright red hot down the stretch this year, taking out top-10 teams like Yale and Stony Brook, before falling to Hartford in their conference tournament. But, for all their hard work the selection committee rewarded them with a first round matchup against big brother Syracuse, a team that beat them in the season opener. I always pull for Albany because they have Canadians, Native Americans and tons of New York State public school kids and they’re all ballers. The Great Danes are fun as hell to watch and I would LOVE to see them in the championship in Philly on Memorial Day. Same goes for any team that hasn’t won a title before - Air Force, Navy, Towson, Quinnipiac. Even Marquette.
Marquette. The Golden Eagles are a relatively new program and occupy the exact position that Michigan should be in. They beat a bunch of good teams this year and finished 11-4 and somehow got themselves a #6(!) seed and a first round matchup with UNC. I would kill for this to be Michigan instead.
Players to Watch:
M Sergio Perkovic & A Matt Kavanagh, Notre Dame. Perkovic and Kavanagh are ND’s version of thunder and lightning. Perkovic is a Detroit native and former football star at Brother Rice who can run over people and shoot. Long Islander Matt Kavanagh (from my hometown!) is a quick little dude who can run circles around defenders and is living proof you don’t have to be big to be a star in lacrosse. The duo combined for a total of 73 points this year.
G Blaze Riorden, Albany. Riorden is one of the top goalies in the country, stopping an average of 12.67 shots per game. He plays for offense for the Akwesasne Tribe’s indoor team and his skills were on display in this amazing Fat Guy Goalie goal in the NCAA tournament last year.
F/O Trevor Baptiste, Denver. Baptiste was on this list last year and he’ll be on it for the next two years. He’s a phenomenal face-off man, ranking #4 in the nation in percentage and #1 in the nation in GBs, sucking up more than 10 loose balls per game. He is an incredible advantage for the Pioneers.
A Dylan Molloy, A Kylo Bellistri, LSM, Larken Kemp, Brown. Molloy and Bellistri pace Brown’s scoring machine and this year they put in 56 and 55 goals respectively, making them #3 and #4 in the nation. Molloy also added 50 dimes, making him the country’s assist leader. Larken Kemp is among the nation’s leaders in ground balls and forced turnovers (my kind of player!) and he is key to Brown’s lightning-fast transition game.
Others: A Ryan Brown Hopkins, A Shack Stanwick, Hopkins, F/O Ben Williams, Syracuse, D Chris Keating, Yale, M Myles Jones, Duke, D Matt Rees, Navy, A Connor Cannizzaro Denver, G Kyle Bernlohr, Maryland, D Matt Landis Notre Dame, A Ben Reeves, Yale.
Should be an interesting tournament. Enjoy! One day I’ll previewing Michigan - Go Blue!