NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Preview

Submitted by L'Carpetron Do… on May 12th, 2016 at 6:25 PM

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:

 

Basics

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.  

 

 

Favorites:

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.  

 

Outsiders:

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.  

 

Underdogs:

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!

Comments

VCavman24

May 12th, 2016 at 11:01 PM ^

Michigan beat Marquette in an exhibition game in January!

Also, if Denver was able to get such a stud coach, how can we not get someone just as good?

Tim

May 13th, 2016 at 7:59 PM ^

They were a D-1 program for barely a decade (and despite making two NCAA tournaments, had never won a game in the tournament) before Tierney arrived. They certainly weren't Eastern Michigan, but the level they're on now was not only unprecedented, but not a realistic prediction, either.

Leatherstocking Blue

May 13th, 2016 at 8:46 AM ^

Excellent summary, I just wish I read it before filling out my brackets this year.

I had the good fortune to see Lyle Thompson and Albany play Yale last year in front of 5,000 fans at Albany and a sold out Maryland-Hopkins game in Baltimore with 10,000+ fans. Syracuse regularly draws a big crowd, only dwarfed by the size of the Carrier Dome. A quality lacrosse match-up with a great crowd can be one of the most exciting collegiate sports to watch. I hope in the coming years, we'll be talking about thousands of fans at Michigan games.

Leatherstocking Blue

May 13th, 2016 at 11:42 AM ^

Actually, my son played a box lacrosse game at the Onondaga Nation facility and following his game was a Onondaga-Seneca game. The Onondagas featured the three Thompsons, a Bucktooth and a few more of the Iroquois national team. Warmups were the most impressive thing I'd ever seen.

A thrill for my son, too, as one of the elders invited a few of the boys into the locker room to meet the Thompsons. This was after Lyle and Myles shared the Tewaaraton award and before Lyle's senior season. Great guys, very gracious.

L'Carpetron Do…

May 17th, 2016 at 5:05 PM ^

Looking back and comparing the final rankings to the the seedings, I think the committee screwed the pooch (they always do).  

Syracuse finished strong but were probably not deserving of their #4 ranking, but at the same time they shouldn't have been seeded in the 8 slot.  But I think their spot in the rankings split Yale and Brown and doomed them to a second round matchup.

Marquette beat Denver at the end of the year but that doesn't justify their seed - no way they should be a 6 seed.  

I also think 8-6 Hopkins was lucky to get in.  They made it over an 11-5 Rutgers team who beat them twice handily, once in the regular season and once in the Big Ten tourney.  I think that's bogus and I feel like Hopkins made it on name recognition alone.  

Similarly, an argument could be made that UNC didn't deserve to be in it either.  They also finished 8-6 with losses to a decent Hofstra team and a bad loss to a UMass team that finished 4-9.  But they are talented and did beat ND towards the end of the season.  They're a complete mystery but I wonder if Stony Brook, Villanova or Rutgers weren't more deserving.  Stony Brook finished 12-4(!) with a #17 ranking but lost to a 9-8 Vermont team (a team Michigan actually beat!) in their conference tournament.  I can't believe that disqualified them from a tournament berth in favor of Hopkins and UNC.  Pretty unfair.  

But this is what the selection committee does year in year out - it errs on the side of including the traditional power over the not-so-prestigious program.  And this is reflected in the seedings too (with that being said though, I have no idea how Marquette and Syracuse ended up with their respective seeds, but generally this is how it goes). I can't tell you how many times UVA got an unjustly high seed and a clear path to the championship.   

Its an uphill battle - its similar to what mid-majors and non-Power 5 teams face in basketball and football.  

 

Tim

May 13th, 2016 at 2:53 PM ^

Quint's onto something with his disappointment in Michigan, but I think it's overstated to a degree. U-M didn't choose to build the way Marquette, et al did (for better and for worse). Other new programs take a ton of transfers, get late recruits (in a sport where plenty of kids are now committing before they even play high school ball(!!!)), and sort of paper over gaps.

Michigan 1) immediately promoted a club team instead of having 2-3 years to recruit before ever picking up a stick, 1a) didn't cut any of those club kids (for reasons of both loyalty and pragmatism), and b) recruited like a top-ten program, since that's the goal.

The recruiting hurt them to a degree, both because of the late start and also because a lot of the kids they pursued had made commitments as 9th, 10th, 11th graders before U-M even had a program. They had some pretty good recruits in a couple of those classes (outgoing middie/attack Kyle Jackson and goalie Gerald Logan among them), but this year's sophomores were really the first class where they were on even footing timeline-wise with the programs they want to recruit against - and of course they were way behind in "product on the field to show for it" terms, so they only got a few of those recruits.

The way they've built the program sacrificed short-term success for a hope of more long-term success. That Marquette doesn't seem to he going anywhere indicates that maybe they went too far in that direction, harming both long- and short-term, but they'll be headed in the right direction.

As for going backwards this year... A team wth so little depth (again, only full recruiting classes of the talent they expect in the sophomore and freshman groups, despite some good players in the upper classes) can't sustain long-term injuries to the program's two all-time leading scorers - and certainly not at the same time.

They probably should have gotten 2-3 more wins this season, but they're another year or two from panic time (and the 2016 class is good enough to likely be on solid footing going forward).

L'Carpetron Do…

May 18th, 2016 at 11:15 AM ^

Tim - what do you think of the trend of early signing/recruiting we've seen the last few years?  I don't know if placing a bet on an 8th graders isn't necessarily the smartest move.  I actually think it has hurt teams like Virginia, Duke and Hopkins and contributed to their drop-offs this season.  

At the same time, there is so much more talent out there but not enough roster spots to fill it, thanks to the rapid growth of the sport at the high school level.  Now, we're seeing kids from all over the country make it to Division 1 programs.  I think these blue-blood programs that recruit earlier and earlier miss out on kids who develop later and who may end up being better players than the early signees.  I mean some of the best guys I played against in 8th/9th/10th grade either plateaued, stopped growing or just straight up burned out and quit by the time they were upperclassmen.  At the same time, I was one of a handful of seniors who had tremendous seasons and showed we could play at the next level but were lightly recruited or not recruited at all.  

But, as you mentioned - Michigan was recruiting in a reduced talent pool because other programs had already made offers to and locked up talented young players.  You're the recruiting expert so I just wanted to see what you thought of all this...

Tim

May 19th, 2016 at 8:42 AM ^

It is what it's going to be (in basically every sport - not just lacrosse). Schools aren't going to stop recruiting early. A couple years ago, the lacrosse pundits were saying, "it'll stop when a school gets burned by it," but that's happened a few times now, and it hasn't slowed things down in the least.

Sicne lacrosse is so skill-oriented, as opposed to being strictly about athleticism - it's closer to basketball than football, for example, in that regard (but even well past basketball in the skill/athleticism balance) - so teams will never really be bad by missing out on late bloomers, they just won't reach heights they could have otherwise. Really, it has helped and will continue to help parity in the sport.

A wise coach is wrapping up attackmen and goalies relatively early, and waiting a bit longer on midfielders to see if some develop athletically and skill-wise to be better than those they would have wrapped up early.

I Want To Believe

May 14th, 2016 at 6:23 AM ^

Michigan needs to recruit the finger lakes region in NY. We have several of the top teams in the nation, including Victor high school which is currently the country's best team. There are kids at victor committed to D1 schools in 8th and 9th grade. Victor has a Michigan color scheme, and a lot of people in the area are wolverine fans. Get over here and recruit dammit!!!

L'Carpetron Do…

May 16th, 2016 at 9:39 AM ^

UPDATE: First round is in the books.  Saturday's games went pretty much as planned with ND, UNC, Brown and Loyola all advancing.  But yesterday saw a few upsets: Syracuse knocked off Albany in a curiously-seeded game (I'm sure Maryland is real excited to play the #4 ranked team in the second round), a feisty Navy team beat Yale, continuing the Elis woes in the NCAA tournament and Towson took down #2 overall seed and defending champs Denver in a big upset.  

Quarterfinals look like this for next weekend:

Maryland vs Syracuse, Saturday, Providence, RI

Navy vs Brown, Saturday, Providence, RI

UNC vs Notre Dame, Sunday, Columbus, OH

Towson vs Loyola, Sunday, Columbus, OH

 

 

 

delmarblue

May 17th, 2016 at 2:24 PM ^

Can we hire the Brown or Albany coach?  Exciting offense is the way to go.  I would think our resources would make the job attractive to those two excellent coaches.

L'Carpetron Do…

May 18th, 2016 at 11:02 AM ^

I would love to have Scott Marr from Albany or Lars Tiffany from Brown at Michigan.  But, Tiffany is a Brown alum so I wonder if he could be pulled away.  I would love to see Marr get all those upstate NY and Indian kids out to Michigan.  UVA just said it wouldn't renew Dom Starsia's contract so he's on the market too (although I'm not a huge fan).

But, I believe JP can turn it around and I want him to be Michigan's coach for a long time. But, if you're looking for up-and-coming candidates you could do a lot worse than Marr and Tiffany...

L'Carpetron Do…

May 23rd, 2016 at 11:05 AM ^

UPDATE: The Final 4 is set for next weekend in Philadelphia.  #1 overall seed and Big Ten champion Maryland cruised past Quinnipiac and then had little trouble with a tough Syracuse team.  The Terps are back to the national semis for the 5th time in 6 years and they look really good. 

UNC took care of talented Notre Dame to earn its first trip back to the Final 4 since 1993 - a remarkable drought for such a storied program.  They haven't won a title since 1991.  The Heels are very talented with wins over quality programs, however they definitely have weaknesses.

After a great season in which they were undoubtedly one of the best teams in the country, Brown rightfully earned a spot among the Final 4 by knocking off a very good Navy team.  And that was without their superstar Dylan Molloy, the nation's leader in goals AND assists.

Loyola, the dark horse of the group beat in-state rival Towson to get back to the Final 4.  Loyola snuck up on everyone to win it all in 2012 and they can probably do it again.

This is a pretty refreshing Final 4: Maryland and Loyola are familiar faces but Brown hasn't made it since 1994 and Carolina has long been absent.  But to have a Final 4 with no Syracuse, Hopkins, UVA, Duke, Cornell or Princeton (even without recent powerhouses ND and Denver) is rare and special.  

Tim

May 23rd, 2016 at 3:21 PM ^

For those down on Michigan's program after a disappointing year, it's worth noting that three of the four teams making championship weekend (all except Loyola) were U-M opponents. UNC and Brown pasted Michigan early in the year, but the Wolverines almost upset Maryland late in the season.

oriental andrew

May 31st, 2016 at 5:59 PM ^

So I didn't realize that UNC upset #1 Maryland in both men's AND women's lacrosse this past weekend to win national champtionships. That's gotta suck for Maryland and be unprecedented for UNC. 

L'Carpetron Do…

June 1st, 2016 at 9:50 AM ^

So, it all wrapped up this weekend in an excellent over time thriller of a title game in which UNC prevailed over Maryland 14-13.  Maryland's struggles continue as they have been in 4 of the last 6 title games and lost each one.  Their championship drought continues.  The Terps, one of the most prestigious programs in the game, still haven't won since 1975.  They have managed to become both the Buffalo Bills and Chicago Cubs of the lacrosse world.

And the Terps had this one pretty much locked up.  After UNC ran out to a 4-0 lead early on, Maryland came back and held a small lead for most of the second half.  They had a 2 goal lead with less than 4 minutes to play and let the Heels tie it up and you just knew it was gonna happen. The finish was straight-up wild.  Tied at 13, Attackman Colin Heacock  had a great look right on the door step but hit the cross bar.  With less than a minute, the Terps had the ball again for a final possession and couldn't get a good shot off against Carolina's tough D.  But thanks to an incredibly dumb off-ball penalty by Luke Goldstock of UNC, Maryland got the ball again with 3.9 seconds left and the chance to hold the ball for the first possession in OT.  

On the ensuing man-up possession in OT, UNC's goalie Brian Balkam made an incredible save to give the Heels some life and a chance to win.  In a crazy sequence, Kyle Bernlohr made one of the most amazing saves I've ever seen.  But, in the ground ball scuffle that followed a Maryland defender decked a Carolina player and the refs called a cross-check (looking back on it I'm not so sure that was the right call but the dude probably shouldn't have done that). 

The penalty gave UNC a man-up opportunity and a chance for goal machine Chris Cloutier to finish the Terps off for good and give UNC its first title since '91. Game over.  Overall, a pretty classic final.