Coyne v. Censer: Can the NESCAC Grab Four?
Mike Giordano and the Panthers are one of four NESCAC teams that could grab one of the 26 spots in the NCAA Division tournament. But will No. 11 Middlebury be able to beat No. 14 Trinity on the road Saturday?
It has the best team. It has the best player. It has the most ranked teams in the Top 20 poll. It's sub-.500 teams would be shoe-in winners of half the other conferences in Division III.
On top of all that -- or, perhaps, because of that -- it appears the NESCAC could very well set the record for most NCAA tournament bids from a single conference this spring when one automatic qualifier and three at-larges make the field of 26.
Science fiction, you say? Let's crunch the facts.
You know Tufts is in, whether the Jumbos win the conference tournament or even pick up another loss or two along the way. In fact, during these lean economic teams, the NCAA might want to think about just delivering the Walnut & Bronze to Medford and save the travel costs of the tournament. Or perhaps it could donate the saved money to Haverford so it could expand the parking at its athletic facilities from six spots to, say, 10 or 12.
While there are still some important contests to be played, it's easy to make a case that Amherst (10-1), Trinity (8-1) and Middlebury (7-2) will all have an above average chance of snagging one of the at-large berths. With the expanded number of Pool C bids this year -- we're up to six; one more than last year -- the NESCAC could take what it needed and still leave enough table scraps for the Centennial, Empire 8, CAC, etc., to fight over.
Might even be one there for the Black Squirrels when everything is said and done.
The weirdest part about the NESCAC earning an unprecedented about of at-large berths -- and perhaps a bit ironical -- is that these bids really are not that important to the student-athletes and coaches in the conference. They just play for the love of the game.
CENSER: I don't think I could've enjoyed my Tuesday night any more if it had involved some bourbon and a bunch of Jenny McCarthy Singled Out reruns. Jac had sent me his picks earlier that afternoon, and after reading through what you just read, I put it aside with the idea that I'd come back to it later.
I have limited patience for his typical NESCAC chest-thumping and fear mongering. While I'm sure that introductory rant probably earned Jac ski points at Okemo and some goodwill towards his kids in the Deerfield admissions office, it obviously peeved the Division III lacrosse gods.
By the time I had come back to the ole' interwebs, Tufts had lost to Endicott and Middlebury had been taken to the brink by upstart Skidmore. Not more than a day later, Williams got knocked out by Union and Springfield was a goal away from taking down Amherst. Like that, Jac's NESCAC-centric thesis was beginning to come apart (like one of those defunct J.Crew sweaters) at the seams.
Onto the games...
Ithaca (6-4) at Nazareth (8-3) – 1 p.m., Saturday
COYNE: I'll admit it; this is completely a hunch game for me. I've just got a good feeling about the way Ithaca is playing right now. All signs point to the Golden Flyers winning this game, but Naz's inconsistency has me leery. Plus, Bombers goalie David Gal is playing at a very high level.
Ithaca will have to grind this game out, however. They can't get into a shootout, as that's not how the Bombers are built. If Brian DiBetta can have a strong day at faceoffs and Gal comes up large, it'll be Ithaca, 9-8, in overtime.
CENSER: Picking the Golden Flyers is an exercise in the unpredictable. Sure, Naz has a couple of nice wins (Geneseo and WNEC), but it was absolutely stomped by a middling Bowdoin squad playing without Kit Smith.
The question for Ithaca in this game is can they reach ten goals? When the Bombers hit double digits, they're a tough out. My gut says it's going to be hard in this one though. Naz, 12-6.
No. 6 Stevens (12-0) at No. 4 RIT (10-0) – 1 p.m., Saturday
COYNE: It's the Gene Peluso Bowl. RIT's former coach returns to campus for the first time since his departure in 2009, this time as the head coach of the undefeated Ducks. While the two teams have that in common, they have arrived at this point of the season undefeated via two different methods.
The Ducks have been pounding teams on their way to the No. 6 ranking. Other than the three-goal win over Lynchburg on the road, the closet game for Stevens has been six markers. On the other side, six of the No. 4 Tigers' 10 games have come by two goals or less, including a pair of overtime triumphs. That might be a benefit for RIT in what is sure to be a close game. I'll buck the trend, however, and take Peluso's new team by a deuce, 12-10.
CENSER: The battle for E8 and engineering supremacy is on.
Frankly, I can't see Stevens losing this game. RIT's been pretty banged up (star attackman Iric Bressler hasn't played the past couple games), and as good as Canuck longpole MJ Kiekebelt is between the stripes, he can't do it all.
Not to mention Stevens seems to have found its answer at the faceoff X. Against St. John Fisher last Saturday, junior Michael Steinhauser went 21 for 25 on the day with 16 groundballs. Faubert, Laurita, McHugh, and the rest of the Ducks roll, 17-11.
No. 3 Stevenson (14-1) at No. 2 Salisbury (14-0) – 1 p.m., Saturday
COYNE: This game has a different feel than years past. Instead of Stevenson being the upstart program trying to take down the biggest bully on the block, the Mustangs -- on the strength of their spectacular non-conference schedule and impressive wins -- have usurped the "team to beat" mantle from the Sea Gulls. That notion has been exacerbated by Salisbury's inability to put away lesser opponents with extreme prejudice as it has done in the past.
Regardless of the "feel" of the game, the past two years have shown us that, a.) this will be the first of three meetings between the two teams and b.) the winner of the regular season match-up will lose in the CAC championship game, but win the NCAA tournament contest. Salisbury has the better goalie and is playing at home -- two big keys for me -- but I'm going to go with another road team. I'll take Stevenson, barely, 12-11.
CENSER: Jac's right. The Gulls may be undefeated, but they certainly aren't putting the same fear of God into people anymore. The team's biggest concern continues to be their pedestrian half-field offense. Not to mention it's been almost a month since the Gulls (or the Mustangs, for that matter) played anyone who's going to make them sweat.
The most obvious question for Stevenson then is will they make Bradman, Zordani, and Mendes earn their goals? Or will they succumb to the cheap "U" imitation and give the Gulls plenty of extra man and unsettled situations?
My guess is Stevenson will want an up-and-down track meet, and Salisbury will savor the opportunity. 12-11 Gulls.
Clarkson (7-4) at Hamilton (7-2) – 1 p.m., Saturday
COYNE: The Liberty League has been a snoozer for the past five years, but things are picking up for this conference. Not only does the Liberty lack a clear frontrunner, but there are five teams that have a legitimate shot at taking down the AQ. These two teams are among that group.
Hamilton stayed with RPI and has gained confidence during the course of the season. Their only two losses are on the road (the other was to Union) and have a true playmaker in junior Jon Leanos (18g, 22a, and son of Drew coach Tom Leanos). Clarkson is a grizzled team. They don't really blow anyone out -- heck, they only beat Vassar by a pair of goals -- but the Golden Knights have a way of keeping it close and giving themselves a shot at the end. This game will play out that way, with Clarkson shaving off an 8-7 victory.
CENSER: Jac picking a ho-hum Northern game. Let's just say I'm not surprised.
I've never really understood Hamilton. Here's this top-notch liberal arts college with some institutional advantages in a pretty darn good league. Yet all they want to do is go run off to join the NESCAC. Maybe I'm missing something, but having to make a bunch of six-hour commutes and being "Midd Lite" isn't the way to win conference championships.
Anyway, the Continental's are off to a nice start, but Clarkson's red hot and will grind out another one here. 7-6, Golden Knights.
No. 11 Middlebury (7-2) at No. 14 Trinity (8-1) – 2 p.m., Saturday
CENSER: In their real first test of the season last Saturday, the Bantams couldn't keep it going for sixty minutes against a relentless Tufts squad.
Sure, Midd plays a little slower and more methodical than Bialosky, Hessler, and co. But attackers David Hild, Mike Giordano (doing a nice Pete Smith impression), and the rest of the Panther offense are still a handful. Midd, 13-7.
COYNE: The turnaround by Trinity is one of the better stories of the year so far, but the Bantams are still a team with a lot of holes. That became even more apparent during the Tufts game (granted the Jumbos expose holes in most teams...except Endicott). Trinity does have something going for them in this game, however: Middlebury is a different team on the road than at home.
Both of the Panthers losses have come on the road and two others were one-goal games (the W&L contest was technically on a neutral field, but it was Washington, D.C., which certainly counts as "the road"). If the Bantams had a better faceoff unit, I'd toy with the upset here, but I only see one more potential loss on the regular season schedule for the Panthers, and it ain't Trinity. Midd Kids, 12-7.