March 5, 2014

NCAA Notes: Desperate Equals Dangerous for Penn State

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | Lambrecht Archive

Penn State is 3-1 and needs to have a strong regular season, as there is no AQ for the Nittany Lions to chase for a berth in the NCAA tournament this spring. (John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com)

As the season passes the quarter pole for the majority of Division I men's lacrosse teams, and as this endlessly nasty winter hopefully begins to fade, time to mention some noteworthy items that have graced the game – or not.

Since ninth-ranked Penn State – set to join the Big Ten next year – got booted from this year's Colonial Athletic Association tournament and thus lost any chance at an automatic qualifier for the NCAA tournament, it has approached the first month of the season with extra urgency. The Lions have to. Quality, nonconference wins likely will be a huge key to its hopes of grabbing one of eight, at-large bids, especially with the threat of the power-packed ACC possibly reducing that number to three or four at-large slots. After losing in OT to Loyola on Feb. 15, PSU responded with a one-goal win at Notre Dame and last week's 11-8 victory at Ohio State. Next up is struggling, no. 11 Denver (3-2). The Lions have won 14 straight, true road games spanning three seasons.

FELLAS, IT'S HARD TO WIN

Just in case some teams throughout the 67-team, D-1 world aren't fully aware of how spread out the talent is, and how danger lurks around many corners as a result, here's a warning. Twenty-seven contests had been decided by one goal as of March 4, and 12 of those decisions had gone to overtime. That included two games that required three OTs and one that needed a fourth session to produce a winner.

YES, THERE IS A PULSE

Granted, unranked Towson was not expected to pose a serious threat to Johns Hopkins and Loyola, who were top 20 residents in mid-February (now top 5) with too much firepower on paper for the Tigers to handle. But four days after understandably fading in the second half of a 15-8 loss at Hopkins, Towson sleepwalked through an embarrassing, 20-4 cakewalk by Loyola on Feb. 19. The Tigers were late reporting for the national anthem, gave up the game's first nine goals without a hint of resistance, and didn't even bother to commit a foul at Ridley Athletic Complex. To their credit, Towson showed some pride by edging Georgetown, 8-7, before drilling Mount St. Mary's on Saturday, 9-1.

THE LITTLE THINGS LOOK SO HARD

Everybody knew no. 9 Syracuse (2-2) was suspect in the faceoff game. The Orange hid that glaring problem skillfully enough to reach last year's national championship game, capping one of John Desko's best coaching jobs yet. So far, the 'Cuse is only winning 44.3 percent of their draws, but that doesn't fully explain its 0-2 start in the ACC and its average of 16.5 goals allowed in losses to Maryland and Virginia. Opponents are simply getting too many extra possessions, thanks to some horrendous clearing by the Orange. Syracuse, which is surrendering an astounding 47.5 shots per game, looked lost trying to transfer the ball from defense to offense in Saturday's 17-12 loss at UVA.

HELLO PATRIOT LEAGUE

It was one thing for no. 4 Loyola (4-1) to score 14 unanswered goals against overmatched Holy Cross in its inaugural Patriot League contest. But Saturday's 14-7 rout at Lehigh – a two-time, defending PL champion coming into 2014 – was a real eye opener. The Greyhounds have looked increasingly sharp on offense since the fourth quarter of the season-opening, 14-13 loss in overtime at Virginia, and are averaging 15 goals per game on 38.3 percent shooting. In the past two weeks, Loyola has taken seven of a possible eight weekly conference awards. There's evidently a reason the Greyhounds were picked to win the league.

STILL A SURPRISE

UMass has started strong at 4-0 but has a big challenge with Albany coming to Amherst this weekend. (Cecil Copeland)

With the consistent success they have achieved under coach Greg Cannella, a 4-0 start by the Minutemen of UMass is hardly a shock. UMass has opened with four straight wins 12 times and three times in the past four years. But with a nice blend of youth and experience and its ability to control tempo, the Minutemen are turning heads with another fine defense and with freshman attackman Nick Mariano, who has scored 14 of the Minutemen's 42 goals. Mariano dropped five goals and six points in Saturday's 15-2 shellacking of Brown. It was the first time in 13 years that UMass had held an opponent to two scores. UMass opened with one-goal victories against Army and Ohio State, before greeting the Ivy League with an 8-4 win over Harvard and the Brown rout. UMass has out-scored its opponents in the first and third quarters by a combined 23-6.

CHANGE IS GOOD

Duke coach John Danowski gave incumbent goalie Kyle Turri a legitimate chance to retain his job. But after the junior followed a flat performance in the season opener against Jacksonville by making one save as Denver took a 5-1, first-quarter lead a week later, in came sophomore goalie Luke Aaron. He sparked Duke to a 14-10 win over the Pioneers, and it's now clearly Aaron's job. He has started three games and has a .653 save percentage and a 3-1 record after Saturday's 10-6 loss at Maryland, which claimed top ranking and dropped the Blue Devils to no. 3. Aaron, who cracked in the face of Maryland's shooting barrage in the third quarter, kept Duke within striking distance while nearly matching Niko Amato on what was a great day to watch goalie play.


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