January 22, 2014

#LMRanks: No. 13 Johns Hopkins Blue Jays (MD1)

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | College Preview 2014

Johns Hopkins' offense promises to show a different look again this season. Wells Stanwick will figure prominently in any changes. (John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com)

Previous: No. 14 Bucknell Bison

Vitals

2013 Record: 9-5 (Independent)
Coach: Dave Pietramala (14th year)
Record at Johns Hopkins: 147-50

Power Ratings

Offense: 3
Defense: 3
Goalkeeping: 3
Faceoff:
3

Top Returner

M Rob Guida (Sr.)
A second-team All-American in 2012, Guida has been the best all-around midfielder at Johns Hopkins for at least two years. He's back at full strength after a broken collarbone limited him to only six starts last spring. He can use his excellent vision and quickness to help the Blue Jays on attack as well in 2014. "[Guida] can play out in front, from behind [the goal] or on both wings," Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala said.

X-Factor

D Jack Reilly (Sr.)
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Reilly was out of place two years ago as a LSM, but his brand of skill and athleticism is well-suited down low as a cover man. Pietramala expects Reilly to anchor the inexperienced close unit by looking after the opponent's top attack threat regularly. "If [Reilly] can play the best guy and do what I think he can do, we've got a chance to be very good," Pietramala said.

Tournament Trend

2009 Quarterfinals
2010 First Round
2011 Quarterfinals
2012 Quarterfinals
2013
Did Not Qualify

What's New?

After struggling to score consistently by relying on midfield dodgers to initiate its offense, Hopkins has turned the page schematically like numerous schools have in recent years. The Blue Jays will be committed to hard cutting and pick-and-rolls, in an effort to exploit the off-ball and finishing skills of their shooters. "Instead of the offense being predicated on getting shots for two or three guys, we want [opponents] to have to defend six guys," he said.

Telling Number

3.71
The Blue Jays' scoring margin ranked third-best in the country in 2013. It was a strange and maddening spring at Hopkins. The Blue Jays whipped their share of inferior teams handily, but lost to five ranked teams by a combined 14 goals, including crushing, back-to-back, one-goal setbacks to North Carolina and Albany.

Enemy Lines

What rival coaches say

"You hear that they're going to be making changes offensively, but we'll believe it when we see it."

— One rival coach

"New offensive identity will change their look. Who can break a defense down for the Jays? The loss of a top faceoff man and three mainstays on the defensive side are big... New offense? Are they committed to it?... Cannot think that this team and this coaching staff will settle for anything less than a return to the NCAA tournament and a chance to compete for a berth on final four weekend in Baltimore... Offensively, they have hinted at changes in their approach, but there has been a lot of talk in previous falls about other changes as well that have not been followed through on once the season hits and it becomes the same methodical Hopkins offense... If they do change, the attack unit of Benn, Stanwick, and Brown would be about as skilled and slick as there is in the entire country and could create havoc in unsettled and transition situations. The issue may be that none of them can put the fear into opposing defenses in dodging and getting to the goal.

"Guida may be the one guy on offense who can break anyone down consistently and create his own shot, but for the first time in his career all the attention will be going to him in the midfield... Defensively they lost Durkin, Bassett, and Lightner, but still have a great pole in Pellegrino and a very solid close defenseman in Jack Reilly and a great defensive system overall that is always a tough matchup for any offense... Question mark in the middle of the field at the faceoff X and especially in the goal, two areas of major strength for this team last year as Poppleton was one of the country's best and Bassett was very solid between the pipes... Will probably have a chip on their shoulders after last year.

"Newfound energy and enthusiasm will be found in Blue Jay territory. The game has not passed Petro by. He is preparing to bring this younger group to the final four in 2014, and they will respond. The younger guys can take a beating, and they will respond. After three years of it, maybe the answer is different but these guys will find a way. They will be led by Wells Stanwick, who was a balanced scorer with 24 goals and 23 assists last year. Brandon Benn is a prime target inside with 34 finishes last year (was the one assist a shot he took that a teammate caught and stuck?)... More than any other team in the country, the Blue Jays are looking forward to putting 2013 behind them. 2014 will feature a new offensive scheme and some new faces.

"They're loaded with talent, and you have a player in Stanwick that you have a tremendous amount of respect for. Whoever's around him, you know what you're getting. They have a bear of a schedule, so you know they'll be battle tested. Their strength is probably going to be at the midfield. Guida, Brown and Sanders all had good years. They're going to be smaller than you're used to, but they're well skilled and should be able to attack from different angles rather than just downhill like they've done in the past.

Long-stick midfielder Mike Pellegrino is "a great pole," one rival coach said, and will be counted on more with key defensive figures from past teams now graduated. (John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com)

"As the year went on, a lot of those younger guys got invaluable playing experience. A lot of those guys are ready to take that next step. I think they'll be right in the mix. A lot of those younger guys in the midfield were getting more time on offense than some of the veterans. At times, they flipped that midfield and the young guys were on the first midfield and the older guys were playing defensive midfield or running on the second line. Guida being back for the whole year really helps them, as does getting some guys healthy that were banged up.

"Hopkins is always a team that will be well coached and prepared, with a clear sense of pride. Not making the tournament for the first time, the team is going to be sufficiently motivated. You hear that they're going to be making changes offensively, but we'll believe it when we see it. The've got skilled guys, and depending on how well they gel as a team, they could be solid.

"They've sort of been the Green Bay Packers for years and years. They ran down the middle of the field with big, strong people and knew they would do it and that's what they did. They could beat you up on defense. Every year, we hear Pietramala say they're going to change and every year it doesn't change. If you're them, you have to look at it and say 'It has to change.' They have to be able to be a little more creative offensively. Are they willing to change to adjust? They're not devoid of talent there but it's a team very much in flux. I think it's a program that's at a little bit of a crossroads. I think they're one of the more interesting teams to keep an eye on going into this season to see how they change a bit."

2013 Recap

In a Nutshell: Hopkins opened the season with three easy wins over unranked Siena, Towson and Michigan. The Blue Jays would not win three straight for the rest of the year, thanks largely to an offense that went through too many droughts against quality opponents. Hopkins hit bottom with an 8-4 drubbing by Loyola on April 27 in its fifth and final loss. That knocked the Blue Jays out of the NCAAs for the first time since 1971.

High Point: On April 13, in an absolute must-win situation, the 6-4 Jays traveled to College Park to play archrival Maryland, which then was ranked no. 1. Hopkins executed a combination of shutdown defense and possession offense masterfully with a 7-4 victory that revived the Jays' fading playoff hopes.

Low Point: On Friday night, April 5, six days after suffering an 11-10, overtime loss against North Carolina, the Blue Jays lost control in the fourth quarter against upstart Albany. The Great Danes, despite getting zero points out of Lyle Thompson, the game's top scorer, zapped Hopkins with three fast-break goals down the stretch to deal the Jays a devastating, 10-9 setback.

2014 Preview

Best Case: The experienced offense clicks in the new system, as a core of good shooters and finishers – led by Stanwick, Benn and Brown – take pressure off of a young defense. With its transition game sparked by Phil Castronova, Mike Pellegrino and new goalie Eric Schneider, Hopkins averages over 12 goals per game and charges back into the NCAA tournament. Stanwick puts up Tewaaraton Trophy numbers, Benn passes the 40-goal mark, and the Blue Jays win 12 games and just miss a return to the Final Four.

Worst Case: The defense takes a long time to coalesce around its new players. Schneider is inconsistent in his first and only season as a starter. Reilly reminds no one of Tucker Durkin while struggling with one-on-one matchups against top-flight opponents. The Blue Jays avenge last year's loss to Loyola in the regular-season finale, but it's not enough to overcome several key losses, as Hopkins barely misses its second straight NCAA tournament.

Self-Examination: Dave Pietramala on....

A Ryan Brown (So.)
"He showed he could score goals last year. He's got great hands. But we moved him to midfield, and he hit the freshman wall by the end of the year, and he hit it hard. He's in much better shape this year."

M Phil Castronova (Sr.)
"Early in his career, Phil was not the same decision-maker that he is now. He wrestled with us [coaches]. He wanted run more offense when he was playing [defense] with a short stick, and he didn't pick the best times to do it. He's proven to us that he can make those decisions and make those plays. We have to allow him to take more chances. It's amazing the way he's recovered from those [knee and Achilles' tendon] injuries."

A Brandon Benn (Sr.)
"He has to be more assertive. I want to see him stretch the defense and pull the trigger. There were moments last year when he held back and tried too hard to be unselfish, even though he did score 34 goals for us. We need him to be more selfish with his shot."

Lacrosse Magazine will continue its 2014 college lacrosse preview throughout January and into February, with team-by-team breakdowns of the top teams in NCAA Division I, II and III men's and women's lacrosse. Follow the countdown at LaxMagazine.com/LMRanks and on twitter at #LMRanks.


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