February 7, 2012

Lambrecht: Eight Burning Questions for 2012

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com

Will transfers Jack McBride (left) and Davey Emala help the Tar Heels make their first final four appearance since 1993?
© Peyton Williams

As the NCAA Division I men's lacrosse world launches into a new season, a few questions and issues to ponder:

1. How loud will the hiccup sound coming from Syracuse?

Without question, the Orange are in a regrouping mode after losing seven All-Americans to graduation, which broke up one of the better defensive units the school has ever produced. And the offseason was marred by an ugly incident involving senior defensive midfielder Kevin Drew, who has returned to school and has been reinstated by coach John Desko after Drew was charged with DWI, leaving the scene of a property-damage accident, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, resisting arrest and numerous traffic violations.

It would be foolish to underestimate Syracuse, which has taken on daunting roster changes and instability with great results in the past. Remember the 2008 team that won the first of two straight national championships by whipping Johns Hopkins in the NCAA title game? The Orange featured a bunch of freshmen – led by goalie John Galloway – who settled things down pretty nicely.

2. Will a stack of talent finally produce the desired results in Chapel Hill?

Johns Hopkins went 18 years between NCAA titles before getting it done in 2005. North Carolina's failure to reach the NCAA tournament semifinals since 1993 strikes me as an even more amazing drought. That just shouldn't happen to a program that attracts so many good players at such a first-class institution.

At least the Tar Heels have the right man running the show in fourth-year coach Joe Breschi. It remains to be seen whether an unproven defense can close the deal. Carolina lost three, one-goal decisions down the stretch before Maryland sent the Heels home with an embarrassing, 13-6 loss in the NCAA tournament's first round. If the offense can share the ball enough among Nicky Galasso, Thomas Wood, Marcus Holman and transfers Davey Emala and Jack McBride, Carolina could rank among the top five in scoring.

3. Will the zone defense be the rage this spring?

Like most sports, lacrosse inspires its share of copycats. And surely many coaches took note of how Virginia – out of necessity – shed its transition-loving ways, settled in for lots of stalling and long stretches of postseason defense, and bored fans all the way to an NCAA title. The guess here is that the Division I game will remain largely a man-to-man world, but that coaches will be less hesitant to use the zone to alter tempo, help a struggling goalie or counter faceoff struggles.

4. Is Johns Hopkins poised to assume a place at the final four table?

Losing dynamic short-stick midfielder Phil Castronova to a season-ending knee injury really hurts. Losing second-line midfielder Eric Ruhl to a personal leave of absence until next fall doesn't help the Blue Jays' depth. But Hopkins is still loaded with the most promising blend of defense and scoring balance that Homewood has seen since Paul Rabil led the Jays to their last title in 2007. Two intriguing storylines to watch are sophomore Jack Reilly's move from close defense to LSM and the assimilation of attackmen Brandon Benn (sophomore) and freshman Wells Stanwick into the offense.

"Television drove the NFL to change its ways in favor of offenses. Television drove the adoption of the three-point shot. It also will change this game."

5. Which first-year coach will lead the most notable resurgence in 2012?

Rick Sowell brings energy and a preference for an up-tempo approach that should suit Navy as it rebuilds. Keep an eye on Rutgers coach Brian Brecht, who led Siena to 57 wins over the previous five years, including 13 victories and an NCAA tournament berth in 2011, when the Saints went down in the first round after giving Syracuse a major battle at the Carrier Dome. Look for Brecht to prosper in a rich recruiting area and make some marks in the stacked Big East.

6. Who is the next Cinderella? Or, who will be this year's Denver?

A year after coaching legend Bill Tierney took the Pioneers to their first-ever final four, the fashionable picks to do the same are split among Bucknell and Villanova. Bucknell looks awfully dangerous, especially if senior midfielder Charlie Streep gets back effectively by midseason after tearing his ACL in the fall. But sixth-year coach Mike Corrado has recruited brilliantly at 'Nova for several years, and the Wildcats, behind the 1-2 scoring tandem of Kevin Cunningham and Jack Rice, are going to be thick of the Big East race from start to finish.

7. Will second-year coach John Tillman take the Terrapins deep into May once more?

Yes, Tillman lost a host of seniors – including the starting attack – from an NCAA finalist. But Maryland, more of Tillman's team instead of Dave Cottle's, should be just fine. Is there a team out there with a better combination at the faceoff X and in the cage? Junior Curtis Holmes ranked seventh in the nation in 2011 by winning 62.6 percent of his draws, and only three goalies allowed fewer goals per game than sophomore Niko Amato, who ranked eighth in save percentage (.583) playing in the high-powered ACC.

8. Is the clock ticking on the days without a shot clock?

The sport should be careful what it wishes for, since introducing the shot clock could heap more ugliness on the game in the form of unintended consequences. But the bet here is that the increasing power and influence of television ultimately will bring it on in due time. Too many fans and folks in the TV world simply don't want to watch Virginia stall their way through a victorious Memorial Day weekend, even though coach Dom Starsia did his job expertly by demanding such a playoff approach. Television drove the NFL to change its ways in favor of offenses. Television drove the adoption of the three-point shot. It also will change this game.


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