May 13, 2013

Washburn: Spinning Ahead to MD1 Quarterfinals

by Evan Washburn | LaxMagazine.com

Evan Washburn would like to hear more from Dave Pietramala and Dom Starsia in analyst roles in the future. Both were in ESPN's studios over the weekend.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

The first round of the NCAA tournament is a dream come true for a lacrosse fan, with the ability to watch eight high-quality games on television over the course of two days.

There were great individual and team performances, coaching genius and head scratching decisions. Instead of getting overly analytical about the past during quarterfinals week, here are just a few big picture items that stood out to me after the weekend:

Congratulations to Detroit and Bryant

Not only did you both make history by playing your way into the tournament, you both proved that you belong. While as competitors it is understandable that you are disappointed in the outcome, but please recognize that your performances will resonate beyond this three-week tournament.

The Loyola and Duke 2OT thriller was by far the best game of the weekend

What stood out beyond the box score was the way the head coaches handled their huddles in the most crucial moments. The ESPN production crew did a nice job of getting in both team's huddles during the final minutes of the game. Watching the way John Danowski and Charley Toomey directed their players with positivity, intensity and calmness was impressive. It easy to see why Danowski and Toomey are so well respected by their peers and players.

Starsia, Petro in studio

Speaking of coaches, it was interesting to see both Virginia head coach Dom Starsia and Johns Hopkins head coach Dave Pietramala trying their hand as television analysts this weekend. I watch analysts, hosts and reporters with as close an eye as I do game tape. Starsia and Pietramala had different styles, which is no surprise, but both offered a unique perspective on the game in a clear and concise manner. I would love to hear more from these two legends either in the booth or in a studio, but my guess is they plan on being unavailable next season.

Looking Ahead

So as we now look forward to quarterfinal weekend, there are a multitude of ways to break down each of the four games. I'm going to keep it simple and straightforward.

Each matchup has a game within the game and a lot of the time that element alone is reason enough to watch. Another great aspect of the tournament is that the stars emerge. There are the ones that have been there all season and then players behind the scenes that grab the moment and stage.

No. 3 Ohio State vs. Cornell, 12:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2)

Matchup to watch: Nick Myers' scheme vs. Rob Pannell

Whenever a team heads into a game against Cornell the main question is how to defend Rob Pannell? Well, Maryland did not have the right answer. Pannell had four goals and three assists, and totally dominated a highly-regarded Terps defense. Now it is Ohio State head coach Nick Myers' turn to come up with a game plan for No. 3. The reality is that there is not one defense that works against Pannell. To be successful the Buckeyes will have to utilize a mixture of different defensive schemes. Those slide packages would include man, zone and a possible box-and-one where you shut off Pannell and run a five man zone with the remaining defenders. I can't wait to see what Myers draws up.

Player to watch: Dominique Alexander, Ohio State

Alexander does it all for the Buckeyes as a transition midfielder. He has a effective offensive game with 27 points, but is at his best when turning defense into offense. His biggest impact on Saturday could come as a defender against Cornell's dynamic midfield, but don't be surprised if he makes a big play in between the lines that changes momentum during the game.

No. 1 Syracuse vs. Yale, 3 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2)

What type of day will Yale faceoff man Dylan Levings have against Syracuse? Bryant's Kevin Massa had a field day in Sunday night's first round loss to the Orange.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

Matchup to watch: Dylan Levings vs. Syracuse's faceoff men

Syracuse's struggles at the X have been well-documented all season, winning only 43 percent of its draws. It came to head Sunday night against Bryant. Kevin Massa went 22 for 23 from the stripe against the Orange, on his way to a record-breaking evening. Syracuse was able to combat the lack of possessions with better athletes and depth. Against Yale, the disparity in talent is not nearly as wide. If Levings is dominant, the top overall seed is in trouble. The Yale sophomore is winning 59 percent of his draws on the season and has an opportunity to be great against the Orange.

Player to Watch: Kevin Rice, Syracuse

Rice is not physically or athletically imposing but he just continues to make plays in big moments. He seems to be playing his best lacrosse in the postseason, with 11 points in the last three games. The sophomore had a goal and assist in the four-goal, second-quarter run that gave the Orange the lead against Bryant. In his first full season as a starter, Rice has a strong understanding of the game and behind JoJo Marasco is Syracuse's most complete offensive player.

No. 4 Denver vs. No. 5 North Carolina, Noon Sunday (ESPNU)

Matchup to watch: The goalies — all three of them

When you're one game away from championship weekend players can be swallowed up by the pressure. If that player happens to be a goalie you have no shot at a win. Denver has employed a two-goalie system at times this season, as recent as last Saturday's win over Albany. Sophomore Ryan LaPlante has started 15 of the team's 16 games. Junior Jamie Faus, a former All-American and starter for the Pioneers' 2011 final four team, has played in 12 games. On the flip side freshman Kieran Burke has been fantastic for the Tar Heels during their 10-game winning streak. So which netminder rises to the moment? The environment will be unique at Lucas Oil Stadium, with sight lines that no goalie has seen this season.

Player to watch: Cam Flint, Denver

Flint is playing at a high level. The senior had four goals in a shootout win over Albany. He has a skill set that is tailor-made for the high pace that UNC will want to play this Sunday. The Boston Cannons, who selected Flint with the sixth overall pick in this year's draft, may be hoping for a Pioneers loss because they could use him right now.

No. 2 Notre Dame vs. No. 7 Duke, 2:30 p.m. Sunday (ESPNU)

Matchup to watch: Irish midfield vs. Blue Devils' defensive midfielders

Notre Dame escaped a loss to Detroit thanks to their attack unit of Sean Rodgers, Conor Doyle and Matt Kavanagh. The three combined for eight of the team's nine goals. The lack of production from the Irish midfield has been an issue in the team's last three games. Duke's defense has been shaky at times, but they have athletes necessary to get out and make you uncomfortable. I doubt the validity of Notre Dame as a championship contender. For them to prove me wrong their midfield must step up.

Player to watch: Will Haus, Duke

Haus jumps of the screen when you watch Duke on tape. He has speed, strong defensive technique and a really high lacrosse IQ. Haus is difference maker in transition with 12 points this season, but often it is the decision he makes to not take a careless shot that impresses me. Haus and the defense for Duke will be key in continuing to keep Notre Dame's midfield. Only a sophomore, Haus plays like a senior who does not want his season to end.

Evan Washburn, the former Delaware defenseman and current CBS Sports Network and NBC Sports Network lacrosse commentator, provides a column each Monday during the NCAA Division I men's lacrosse season, and weekly power rankings during the MLL season. Follow Evan on Twitter @EvanWashburn.


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