ICYMI: Care To Lax? It’s Your College Lacrosse 1st Round Tournament Preview
Reposting because the NCAA tournament is finally here. Penn State/Towson at 12. Duke/Hopkins at 2:30. Denver/Air Force at 5. Albany/UNC at 7:30. All on ESPNU. So sit down, grab a case of Natty, and have yourself a day.
Here we go. There are 8 games this weekend. 4 games next weekend. Then we have 3 games over Memorial Day Weekend and it’s a wrap for division I college lacrosse. 15 games left on the season and it all starts tomorrow.
I already talked about seedings, how teams got here, snubs, Final Four predictions and all that other good stuff in my full tournament preview blog earlier this week. You can check that out here. Today will be strictly previewing the 1st round games. So let’s just get right into it, shall we?
With Bryant beating Monmouth on Wednesday in the Play-In-Game, the 16-team bracket is officially set. How we’re going to do this is separate the field into 3 different categories in terms of how you should prioritize which games you watch this weekend. Category 1 will be the “No Contest” matchups. Basically just means if you have anything better to do this weekend you’re not gonna miss much if you don’t tune in. Then we’ll have the “Good Not Bad” matchups. Those are ones that you’ll probably want to watch but they’re not going to go down as instant classics. And finally we’ll have the “Cancel All Your Plans” matchups. Those are obviously of the must-watch variety.
Bryant vs #1 Maryland | Sunday @ 2:30pm | ESPNU | Line: Maryland -5
A few years ago Bryant was a 15-seed and they knocked off #2 seed Syracuse in the 1st round of the tournament. That was a really cool moment and something that nobody could have predicted. Do they have another upset in them this year? Not a fucking chance, bud. Maryland has made 3 straight Final Four appearances. They’ve been to the National Championship game the past 2 years. This is a team and a senior class who is going to do everything they possibly can to go out with the hardware this year. They’re not going to let a team like Bryant stop them from doing that. Can Bryant cover and maybe only lose by 3 or 4? Maybe.
Air Force vs #5 Denver | Saturday @ 5pm | ESPNU | Line: Denver -4.5
This matchup has a lot to do with geography. Air Force gets in to the tournament by beating Richmond in the SoCon championship. Without that AQ, they’re not in the tournament. Now they have to play Denver since they’re both in Colorado and it’s just easier that way. Denver hasn’t been quite as dominant at points this year as you’d expect that team to be, but they’ll score at will this game and Tewaaraton finalist Trevor Baptiste will turn the game into a make-it-take-it affair. Game over.
Marquette vs #4 Notre Dame | Sunday @ 12pm | ESPNU | Line: Notre Dame -2.5
I’ve said this a bunch before but Marquette is only in the tournament because Denver lost to them on purpose in the Big East tournament. So Notre Dame can thank the Pios for this matchup. Now theoretically, this game should be a blowout. Even with ND dealing with injuries to Ryder Garnsey and Sergio Perkovic, they should blow the fucking doors off of Marquette. The only reason that line is low is because Marquette took UNC to the wire last year in the 1st round. A 1-goal loss to the eventual National Champions. That was a home game for Marquette though and with Notre Dame being comfortable at home, I don’t see this game taking longer than the 3rd quarter to be over.
**Good Not Bad**
Yale vs #2 Syracuse | Sunday @ 7:30pm | ESPNU | Line: Syracuse -2
Yale had an up and down season this year. They dropped 3 games in a row in late February-March. A 1-goal loss to Maryland which isn’t bad at all. Then a loss to Bryant which hurt. And then a loss to UMass that I thought would have been completely devastating. But they rebounded and went on a streak after that and won the Ivy League championship over Brown last weekend to get into the tournament. Ben Reeves leads the way with 73 points on 38 goals and 35 assists. Even numbers like that are what you’re looking for in the quarterback of your offense and he is one of the 5 Tewaaraton finalists this year. A win over Cuse helps his resume. A loss on Sunday and there’s no shot.
As for Cuse, well we all know what to expect out of them. Cardiac Cuse. They’ve played 14 games this year. 10 of them have been 1 goal games. And 8 of those have been wins. 12-2 on the year and every game for them is going to come down to the wire. Now not being able to put away teams early in games isn’t always a great recipe for success. When these games constantly come down to the final minutes, you never know which way the ball is going to bounce. You either live by the 1-goal game or you die by the 1-goal game. Fortunately for them, all these close games have got to be confidence boosters for the boys. Even if they’re down by 5 with a few minutes to play, you can never count them out. Kids like Sergio Salcido and Nick Mariano have ice in their veins. I think they’re a little more battle tested for this game and the Dome Gods will be on their side in Syracuse.
Pick: Cuse with the win but Yale covers the +2.
Loyola vs #3 Ohio State | Sunday @ 5pm | ESPNU | Line: Ohio State -1.5
Loyola is kind of like Yale in the sense that their season looked dead on the tracks earlier this year. They started off 0-2. Got smoked by Duke. Lost in overtime to Bucknell. They just didn’t look like a team who had any sort of identity. But Tewaaraton finalist Pat Spencer kept plugging along (#2 in the country with 82 points) and Loyola has saved their best lacrosse for May. You don’t win championships in February or March or April. This is where it matters and it finally looks like it clicked. The team that went on a run to Championship Weekend last year is catching on fire at the right time and might be one of the scarier teams to play right now.
Ohio State showed they’re not fucking around this year. 13-4 on the season and a 1-goal loss to Maryland away from being the B1G champs. Ohio State shoots the shit out of the ball. That’s what they do best. They murder goalies on the regular. Don’t believe me? Just watch.
Being at home certainly helps, too. Their only home loss on the year was that loss to Maryland in the B1G title game. But this season has been so unpredictable all the way around. And I can’t imagine that’ll stop in the tournament. So despite my better judgement, I think Loyola is turning the ship around at the right time and have proven they can make this run before.
Pick: Loyola. Most likely in overtime.
Towson vs #7 Penn State | Saturday @ 12pm | ESPNU | Line: PSU -1
Penn State has lost to Hopkins once and Maryland twice this year as their only 3 losses. Pretty much if you’ve ever won a national championship before, you beat Penn State. They just haven’t been able to get over that hump to beat the blue bloods in the B1G. Fortunately for them, Towson hasn’t won a title before so they have that going for them. But after starting off the year 10-0, Penn State is 2-3 in their last 5 games. It was a tough schedule for them to end the season with.Freshman Mac O’Keefe is still top 3 in the nation in goals with 48. The offense dropped off over those last 5 games and they’re still scoring 13.7 goals per game as a unit. That Grant Ament split from X against Ohio State is just a little reminder of how great this offense can perform when everybody is clicking. And I’m expecting a similar game out of them against Towson. They can play a little looser than they did against Hopkins and Maryland. Plus they haven’t lost at home at all this year.
Towson won the CAA against UMass after knocking off Hofstra and Drexel along the way. Defensively, they are one of the best teams in the nation. They only let up 7.4 goals a game. Granted, they don’t play in the toughest conference but they’ve had Loyola, Hopkins, Ohio State and Denver on their schedule this year. They beat Hopkins but lost to Loyola, Ohio State and Denver. But they held Ohio State to just 6 goals, and only lost to Denver by 1. So they’re a tough matchup for teams who rely heavily on their offense to win games. With that said, I just think Penn State is too good at home this year and a little more dynamic than the other offenses this team has faced. Especially lately.
Pick: Penn State
***Cancel All Your Plans***
Duke vs #6 Johns Hopkins | Saturday @ 2:30pm | ESPNU | Line: Duke -1.5
This is a home game for Hopkins and Duke is still the 1.5 goal favorite. That says pretty much everything you need to know about Hopkins getting the 6-seed and hosting a 1st round game. I already discussed how wrong the committee got that one in my Tournament Preview blog. With that being said, you still never know what you’re going to get out of Hopkins on any given day. One day they’ll lose to Princeton 18-7. Another day they’ll come out and beat Penn State. Realistically though, they best game on their resume was a 1-goal loss to Syracuse. They lost to Ohio State twice, got cooked by Maryland, got cooked by Towson, needed overtime to beat Virginia. I just don’t think they’re a good team at all. But their unpredictable and obviously you can never count out a Dave Pietramala team in the tournament.
Duke on the other hand is my dark horse to make it to Championship Weekend. In their last 12 games, they only lost twice and both of them were by 1 goal each. Overtime to Cuse and a 1-goal loss to Notre Dame. Justin Guterding is tied for 2nd in the nation with 82 points. Jack Bruckner is top 20 with 59. Both of them are top 10 in goals with 44 each.
Hopkins scores 12 goals a game but gives up 10.9. Duke scores 12.8 goals per game and only gives up 8.1. Will the home field advantage work out in favor of Hopkins? Maybe a little bit to keep this one close. But that’s about it.
UNC vs #8 Albany | Saturday @ 7:30pm | ESPNU | Line: Pick’em
This game starts and ends with Connor Fields. The Tewaaraton finalist leads the nation with 106 points on 51 goals and 55 assists. Which is 2nd in goals and tied for 1st in assists. There’s no player in the country who means more to his team this year than Connor Fields. Maybe Baptiste depending on how much of a role he plays this tournament. But Connor Fields has become an extension of the Thompson brothers at this point. He learned what he could from Lyle and has now completely taken over. Albany’s only two losses on the year have been to the #1 seed Maryland by 1 and the #2 seed Syracuse by 1. Granted their best win was a 1-goal win over Yale but Albany is still the best 8-seed in the history of the tournament. And now they have to play the reigning champs in the 1st round.
They’ll do so in front of a sellout crowd at Casey Stadium. And not only just a sellout crowd, but most likely a record breaking crowd. The biggest crowd for a 1st round game of the NCAA tournament was 5,479 at Syracuse in 2010 when they lost (again as the 2-seed) to Army in overtime. Albany said on Tuesday that they had already sold 5,300 tickets. There was a double header at Brown in 1999 that saw 5,727 people in attendance. There’s a chance Albany could best that too. So the crowd at Albany is going to be fucking electric. And they’re going to need to feed off of that to beat UNC.
Now without winning the ACC, North Carolina doesn’t even make the tournament. They would have gone from winning the National Championship to ending their season in April. They’re 8-7 coming off of back-to-back wins over Cuse and Notre Dame. Those are good wins, don’t get me wrong. North Carolina is playing great lacrosse currently. And they’re playing their best lacrosse when they’re on the road. Out of their 8 wins this year, 6 of them have been on the road. So they’re 2-6 at home and 6-1 on the road. That’s a ridiculous stat. Luckily for them, they get to travel for this 1st round matchup against Albany. But again, that stadium is going to be going berserk all night. This is the biggest game in Albany’s history and I think the Danes get up for it. It’ll come down to the wire, but they get it done.
Pick: Albany by 1.
Jordie’s Picks (3-1 last week, 30-10-2 overall)
Last week’s picks were Penn +1.5 against Yale, they lost 13-12 in overtime. Army +3.5 against Notre Dame, they won 10-9 in overtime.
Syracuse -6 over Colgate. They won 11-9. And Maryland to win the B1G. Which they did. For this week we have…
- Bryant +5 against Maryland
- Yale +2 against Syracuse
- Duke -1.5 over Hopkins
- Albany over UNC