McAnaney: Hopkins, Syracuse Feeling the Heat
Consecutive losses to Syracuse and Virginia have put Ryan Brown's Blue Jays in the same precarious position they were in last year, searching for a signature win. (Kevin P. Tucker)
With Maryland losing to North Carolina, the college men's lacrosse world has a juicy "who's No. 1" debate on its hands this week. If Cornell was in the top 10 in the preseason, there probably would be no argument. But I am going Loyola.
Yes, Loyola has a loss to a Virginia team that Cornell handled, but the Greyhounds dominated a Duke team that I just saw beat Syracuse 21-7.
Loyola will have a hard time improving its resume the rest of the way outside of its home game against Johns Hopkins, while Cornell still gets Princeton and Syracuse, so let the debate continue.
While we all focus on the top spot, don't sleep on 10-20, where Bryant and Fairfield made some significant movement in my poll (and others).
A look back at the games that had the most significant impact on the landscape:
Virginia 11, Johns Hopkins 10
Duke 21, Syracuse 7
I lump these two together because the two titans of the sport are now as close as you can get to playing must-win lacrosse. The Orange must win two of three games against Notre Dame, North Carolina and Princeton with no slip-ups against Binghamton or Hobart. It's very doable, so don't write Syracuse's obituary yet. But with Liam O'Connor, R.G. Keenan and Doug Tesoriero poised to give the faceoff-challenged Orange fits, Syracuse must find a way to fix its Achilles' heel.
Johns Hopkins finds itself in a similar situation to last year, when the Blue Jays missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in 42 years. Just flip the results from the Princeton and Virginia games. The Blue Jays have several opportunities remaining for that signature win the selection committee loves to reward, and you know they would love to take care of it Saturday against North Carolina.
Otherwise, the elephant in the corner will get bigger and they might start to cradle the sticks a little more tightly.
Yale 16, Princeton 15
Last week, Johns Hopkins lost when Ryan Brown scored eight goals. In this one, somehow Princeton lost when Jake Froccaro scored 10.
"He was great and it was an incredible, unbelievable performance," Yale coach Andy Shay said. "At one point, I asked my coaches, 'Should we change how we are guarding him?' But we couldn't change. Someone on that team is going to score."
Shay won't have to second-guess himself, because Brandon Mangan (5g, 2a) and Conrad Oberbeck (3g, 3a) played big, and because the Bulldogs made the small plays at the critical times that they did not come up with against Cornell.
Oh yeah and because Eric Natale came up with a game-saving stop with 8 seconds left in regulation.
"Eric played really well," Shay said. "Sure, when you give up 15, there are some you would like to have back. But there was Kip Orban taking a shot with 8 seconds left, and Eric made the save. That was the game."
Cornell 17, Penn 9
Was Saturday's loss to Albany the death knell for Penn State? Banned by the CAA from its conference tournament, the Nittany Lions (4-4) now have little hope of procuring an NCAA tournament at-large bid. (Rich Barnes)
The Big Red's home win over Virginia was a statement nationally, but strolling into Philly and blitzing the Quakers was the neighborhood bully reminding the Ivy League that this is still its corner.
"It was the most complete game we have put together," Cornell coach Matt Kerwick said. "Once we settled down defensively, we turned it around and kept going at them. We didn't want to take our foot off the gas pedal, and it showed in the second half."
While Matt Donovan, Connor Buczek and Dan Lintner are definitely the Big Red's Big Three — they combined for 11 goals and three assists — this game showed the importance of junior midfielder John Hogan.
"He is our glue guy," Kerwick said. "He is our most consistent guy with a great lacrosse IQ who always seem to be in the right spots. We give out the hammer award for Ivy league games only, and trust me, that's a big deal. He went 1 and 4 (one goal, four assists) today and got the hammer."
Albany 17, Penn State 10
When this score popped up on ESPNU's bottom line, one probably thought it was another crazy day with the Thompson leading the way for the Great Danes. But while Lyle Thompson did have eight points, coach Scott Marr felt the game was decided on the other end.
"The defense set the tone," Marr said. "They had the ball almost the entire first quarter, and at the end we were leading 3-1. It's always key for us to get a lead, so a ton of credit goes to the defense. We are extremely excited about how we have been playing on 'D' the last few weeks."
It also helps when your goalie makes 19 saves. Albany's Blaze Riorden continues to improve in the cage.
"He was outstanding," Marr said. "He stole three or four and when you have a goalie that steals a few, that fires everybody up."
The reason this is an impact game, however, is Penn State. The Nittany Lions' season unofficially is over. At 4-4, even if they win their remaining five games and even with the Feb. 22 victory over Notre Dame, it likely won't be enough to procure an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. And that's their only way in.
It's a shame the CAA stuck to its guns and banned Jeff Tambroni's club from its postseason tournament, because in my eyes, this is not the same as Syracuse and Pittsburgh bolting from the Big East or Maryland and Rutgers running to the Big Ten. Penn State is a Big Ten school, does the CAA really expect it to say no to Big Ten lacrosse? And really, the only people getting hosed here are the student-athletes who had nothing to do with any deals worked out in a boardroom in Chicago or Baltimore.
My Top 20
6. Notre Dame
7. North Carolina
10. Johns Hopkins
16. Penn State
20. St. John's
Eamon McAnaney is an ESPN lacrosse announcer and former Notre Dame lacrosse captain. Check back to LaxMagazine.com for more commentary throughout the college season. For a list of upcoming ESPN and other lacrosse broadcasts, visit LaxMagazine.com/TV.
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