June 13, 2012

LM Early Offseason Top 15 (MD1 Nos. 10-6)

by Matt Forman | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Rob Pannell, Lacrosse Magazine's 2011 preseason player of the year, is returning to Cornell for another season after missing most of 2011 with a broken foot.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

With the 2012 season still rattling around our minds, Lacrosse Magazine decided to take a fresh, early offseason look at next year's potential top 15 teams. What are their strenghts, weaknesses and question marks lingering over the summer? Here are Nos. 10-6. Fifteen through 11 debuted Tuesday. Check back to LaxMagazine.com on Thursday for our top-5.

Note: These lists do not reflect or indicate LM's official preseason rankings for 2013.

10. Cornell (9-4)

2012 Final Regular-Season Rank: 17
2012 Preseason Rank: 4
Key Returnees: Rob Pannell (2011: 42g, 47a), Matt Donovan (18g, 14a), Steve Mock (23g, 6a), Max Van Bourgondien (17g, 12a), Connor English (20g, 8a), Jason Noble (35gb, 24ct), Andrew West (8.29 GAA, 51.6%)
Key Losses: Eight seniors. Roy Lang (16g, 6a, 23gb), Chris Langton (18g, 2a, 19gb), JJ Gilbane (10g, 1a)

  • What is the status and health of Rob Pannell? Most fans have closely followed Pannell's situation throughout the spring, but to recap... Lacrosse Magazine's 2011 preseason player of the year and a Tewaaraton Award favorite, Pannell played in just two games after suffering an apparent broken foot against Army. He underwent surgery, then spent the rest season on the sidelines as a player coach. Initially deemed out "indefinitely" — an estimated six weeks — Pannell did not return late in the year, like some expected he might if Cornell made the NCAA tournament. He reportedly withdrew from classes to retain Ivy League eligibility, and assuming the straightforward process goes according to plan, should return in 2013. If healthy and eligible, Pannell immediately thrusts the Big Red into national title talk. Let this provide perspective: Pannell finished seventh on Cornell in points (16), despite missing 11 games.
  • Who fills in for do-it-all midfielders Roy Lang, Chris Langton and JJ Gilbane? Coach Ben DeLuca asked Lang, Langton and Gilbane to do a little bit of everything, particularly Lang, who played more defense than in previous years. Graduating that entire unit will be a challenge, though Max Van Bourgondien returns. The last two seasons haven't ended according to plan for Cornell; getting back on track might come down to handling the midfield turnover. But having potential first-team All-American Jason Noble back helps the defense.
  • How much more can be expected from Matt Donovan and Connor Buczek? Donovan became Pannell's understudy once the "Red Mamba" got hurt, and the freshman thrived, scoring a team-leading 32 points. Fellow freshman Connor Buczek, a U.S. U-19 team member who is expected to play a significant role for Team USA this summer, didn't play much this year, but he could find a role at midfield or attack. With Pannell running the show, Donovan, Buczek, Connor English and Steve Mock should be the primary benefactors.

9. Colgate (14-4)

2012 Final Regular-Season Rank: 9
2012 Preseason Rank: Unranked
Key Returnees: Peter Baum (67g, 30a), Ryan Walsh (38g, 22a), Brendan McCann (23g, 11a), Matt Baker (16g, 10a), James Queeney (26gb, 9ct)
Key Losses: Nine seniors. Jeff Ledwick (32g, 15a), Kevin Gordon (56gb, 24ct), Jared Madison (9.95 GAA, 44%)

  • What does Colgate do for an encore? Coming off the best season in program history, which included an NCAA tournament quarterfinal appearance, Colgate won't surprise anybody in 2013, especially in conference. A case could be made that Patriot League foes Bucknell, Army and Navy — not to mention Lehigh — all should improve next year, and Colgate will be right in the thick of the race. One thing is for certain: Colgate is going to find the back of the net in bunches. The Raiders return four of their top five scorers, and coach Mike Murphy and offensive coordinator Mike Abbott have put the offense in motion; Colgate led the nation with 758 shots last year.
  • How will Conor Murphy command the defense? Senior goalie Jared Madison started every game of the season — until the NCAA tournament. Murphy, a freshman, was seeing the ball better down the stretch, and he was inserted between the pipes in the biggest games of the year. He made 23 saves in two postseason games, against UMass (15) and Duke (8). The Raiders' up-and-down style puts pressure on their defense. It'll be Murphy's job to make sure they're organized. If Colgate proves it can make stops, it has a chance to crack the final four because...
  • What's next for Peter Baum? Only the third underclassman to win the Tewaaraton Award, Baum is back for another go-around. This has the potential to be really fun. It's not unreasonable to predict outrageous scoring totals in Baum's senior season; he scored 97 last year and triple-digits could be attainable, though defensive coordinators (if they're not recruiting) are spending precious hours devising a scheme to slow him. At the Tewaaraton ceremony, as a nod to Steele Stanwick, Baum suggested he'd like to increase his assist total in 2013. That's good news for Ryan Walsh, the Wantagh (N.Y.) Bulldozer.

8. Virginia (12-4)

With Steele Stanwick gone, who runs the attack for Virginia? And will the Cavaliers offense rely more heavily on midfielders like Rob Emery (above) and Ryan Tucker?
© Matt Riley

2012 Final Regular-Season Rank: 8
2012 Preseason Rank: 1
Key Returnees: Matt White (16g, 15a), Rob Emery (24g, 5a), Mark Cockerton (16g, 5a), Owen Van Arsdale (9g, 9a), Ryan Tucker (13g, 2a), Chris LaPierre (63gb, 8ct)
Key Losses: 10 seniors. Steele Stanwick (29g, 51a), Chris Bocklet (36g, 8a), Colin Briggs (22g, 14a), Matt Lovejoy (31gb, 26ct), Chris Clements (45gb, 17ct), Rob Fortunato (8.5 GAA, 56.6%)

  • How quickly can all the new pieces come together? Listing the graduates is like taking a walk down memory lane, or through the Virginia record books. It would be unfair to say the Cavaliers need to "replace" Steele Stanwick et al., but the 'Hoos had six senior starters for most of the season. They leave big shoes to fill. There will be many new faces, and there could be growing pains early. Coach Dom Starsia accumulates talent as well as anyone in the nation. The challenge is putting it all together.
  • Who plays quarterback of the attack? Steele Stanwick — he of 51 assists — was college lacrosse's most prolific passer of recent lore, and no one will be capable of playing his exact role. But soon-to-be-senior Matt White has shown glimpses of Stanwick, and he ranked second on the team with 15 assists. He's the short-term answer, diagnosing from X. Long-term, freshman Carl Walrath could step into a feeding role on attack. On a whole, though, Virginia will likely rely more heavily on midfielders Rob Emery and Ryan Tucker (and potentially top recruit Will McNamara) initiating for themselves. The Cavs never quite clicked offensively in the second half of the season; a new core and dynamic might be good — or bad.
  • Who's between the pipes? Rob Fortunato provided a great lesson for those who work hard and have patience, exceeding all expectations during his one-year stint as Virginia's starter. The Cavaliers are tasked with finding Fortunato's successor. Michigan transfer Conor McGee will be a senior, while freshmen Rhody Heller and Austin Geisler (who redshirted) were well-regarded recruits. They should compete with the spot, though incoming freshman Daniel Marino from No. 1-ranked Garden City (N.Y.) might also be in the mix. Geisler would seem to have the inside track.

7. Johns Hopkins (12-4)

2012 Final Regular-Season Rank: 7
2012 Preseason Rank: 3
Key Returnees: Zach Palmer (27g, 26a), Brandon Benn (30g, 7a), Rob Guida (17g, 11a), John Ranagan (16g, 7a), Wells Stanwick (9g, 14a), Lee Coppersmith (15g, 0a), Tucker Durkin (35gb, 19ct), Pierce Bassett (7.47 GAA, 52.2%)
Key Losses: 15 seniors. Chris Boland (18g, 13a), Mark Goodrich (9g, 2a), Marshall Burkhart (20gb, 6ct), Gavin Crisafulli (24gb, 13ct)

  • What changes are necessary to win in the quarterfinals? That's the very question coach Dave Pietramala repeated after losing to Maryland in that very round. "How do we win this game?" he said. Johns Hopkins' ranking easily could be several spots higher, but four consecutive early exits from the postseason — as established by Hopkins standards — by a combined score of 62-27 drops the Blue Jays down. The 2013 senior class — featuring John Ranagan, John Greeley, Tucker Durkin, Pierce Bassett and Zach Palmer, among others — were supposed to be the "Redeemers of Homewood." Hopkins has the talent to get back to Memorial Day Weekend, but the formula for getting there has to change. Worth noting: The Jays played without star short-stick defensive midfielder Phil Castronova, who tore his ACL in the offseason. Maryland picked on Hopkins' shorties in the quarterfinals. Addressing this concern, and Castronova's presence, might be the difference.
  • Are the Blue Jays built to win in March, not May? The notion has been tossed around recently, and it's justified by Hopkins 8-0 start and 4-4 finish. Additionally, being an independent and not having a conference, the Blue Jays' most meaningful regular-season games are often played earlier in the season. At the time, the 2012 three-game stretch against Princeton, Syracuse and Virginia produced an emotional high that might have been difficult to replicate later on, though Hopkins did upset No. 1 Loyola, the eventual national champion, in its second-to-last regular season game. This might be reading too far into post-game press conference demeanor, but: Hopkins seemed more relieved than excited to win those big games. Maybe the Jays just need to have fun.
  • How does the offense evolve? Mendoza-line shooting slumps, especially from midfielders Greeley and Ranagan, were a popular narrative last year, but Palmer and Brandon Benn, both Canadian finishers, also didn't initiate with regularity. That combination made scoring consistently a struggle. The most obvious offensive evolution: Wells Stanwick running point alongside Palmer and Benn, relying on a heavy dose of box-inspired two-man games, using Virginia and Wells' brother Steele as a blueprint. Meanwhile, attracting attention behind the cage will open up space for Greeley, Ranagan, Rob Guida and Lee Coppersmith. But is Stanwick ready for that kind of role? We'll find out.

6. North Carolina (11-6)

2012 Final Regular-Season Rank: 6
2012 Preseason Rank: 6
Key Returnees: Marcus Holman (39g, 35a), Joey Sankey (22g, 22a), Jimmy Bitter (27g, 14a), Chad Tutton (20g, 6a), Davey Emala (15g, 7a), R.G. Keenan (60.3% FO), Steven Rastivo (10.19 GAA, 50.5%)
Key Losses: Seven seniors. Thomas Wood (13g, 7a), Jack McBride (11g, 6a), Jimmy Dunster (11g, 3a), Charlie McComas (18gb, 4ct)

  • What will it take for Carolina to get over the hump? Despite an unruly amount of talent, especially in the last few years, North Carolina hasn't made the final four since 1993. The Tar Heels haven't fared well against ACC rivals, posting a 7-32 record against conference opponents since 2004. Regardless, the question seemingly always asks "when" not "if" Carolina will finally crack the Memorial Day code. Coach Joe Breschi has brought in several highly touted recruiting classes, but there's only one ball and six players on each end of the field at once. Getting the right mix of players, and getting everyone to buy in, is easier written than achieved.
  • Can the defense make stops? Of NCAA tournament teams, only Colgate and Canisius had lower-ranked scoring defenses than Carolina, which surrendered an average of 9.88 goals per game — a number that increases to 10.7 over the last 10 games of the season. Charlie McComas was banged up for part of the season, which hurt the unit, and he graduates. Starters at close, Kieran McDonald and Jordan Smith, along with long-stick middie Ryan Kilpatrick, return to the beleaguered group. The Heels need to play more disciplined, sound, team defense. Most staggering: more than 70 percent (118-of-168) of the goals they allowed were assisted. Furthermore, they committed 80 penalties and ranked 44th nationally in man-down defense, and they caused 105 turnovers, which ranked 52nd in the country on a per-game basis.
  • What's the status and health of Nicky Galasso? A preseason All-American regarded as one of the nation's most dangerous attackmen, Galasso (24g, 32a in 2011) played sparingly — mostly in man-up situations, running through the box — in 13 games in 2012. Galasso fractured his foot in early November and had to be guided back gingerly, and he never found a prominent role on the offense once Jimmy Bitter, Joey Sankey and Marcus Holman were grouped together down low. Some speculation surfaced about Galasso transferring, but assuming he's back next year, he adds another dynamic to the already-potent Carolina offense. Though Holman thrived running the Heels' attack, he could move back to midfield to make room for Galasso, but that would leave three lefty attackmen. So Jimmy Bitter, who has a strong outside shot and would invert well, might be the more likely candidate.

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