Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Blue Jay's Back: Lessons from Round 1

The ever elusive Blue Jay has given me his top ten lessons learned from the opening round of the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championships. Round two will be this weekend on ESPU and promise to be very exciting. Check it out if you can…

1. The GWLL was not overrated: Many thought that with three teams being represented, the GWLL, was receiving too much credit. With Notre Dame knocking off one of the hottest teams in the nation in Colgate, Ohio State blowing out higher seeded Cornell on their home field, and Denver playing Maryland tight to the very end, the GWLL is the second best conference this year, behind the ACC.

2. UMBC is the real deal: Even with an 11 game win streak to close the year there were many doubters about whether UMBC was a top-flight team. Despite 3 overtime wins and a historic 11-2 comeback for a 14-13 win over Albany in the America East Championship game (after losing top scorer Ryan Smith early in the contest to a torn ACL), the Retrievers were sent down to Charlottesville where they very nearly knocked of another higher ranked ACC team in the first round. (Last year, they defeated Maryland at College Park ) They lost to the second seeded Cavaliers, 10-9. UMBC has wins over two of the remaining teams in the tournament (Maryland and Ohio State) and also defeated first round loser Denver. Coach Don Zimmerman has built a great program at UMBC, who was a win away from the final four last year.

3. Defense wins championships: We saw success from more conservative, half field teams like Hopkins, Notre Dame, Maryland, and Navy, while run-and-gun higher seeds North Carolina and Cornell are done. This was epitomized in the nation’s leading defense, Navy, upsetting free-flowing North Carolina down in Chapel Hill. We even saw offense generated from this defense, as Maryland, Navy and Ohio State all saw goals coming from long sticks, while Ohio State goalie Stefan Schroder even got into the act with an electric coast to coast score to open the contest.

4. Tradition: Since 2003, there have been 5 teams who have made it to the final four more than once, all of whom advanced this past weekend (Hopkins, Virginia, Syracuse, Maryland, and Duke). Throw in a Navy team which made it to the finals in 2004 and you get the idea it isn’t coincidence who came to play this past weekend.

5. The travel rule needs to be amended: Given teams need to be in a given radius to still use a bus, the GWLL situation used up the first round flight limit of two. This forced Canisius to stay up to play third seeded Syracuse while higher ranked Duke and Virginia had much tougher opponents in Loyola and UMBC. Hopkins also drew Hofstra since Baltimore was the only other city within the specified range. Meanwhile North Carolina had to play Navy who upset the Tar Heels while Hopkins handled Hofstra. The point of the playoffs is to find a true and fair champion; teams play in their conferences all year, let them travel a bit for the sake of fairness.

Net Crasher’s Note: Imagine if Loyola or UMBC actually did pull off upsets? (Both teams had opportunities throughout the game to do so) Something tells me Coaches Danowski and Starsia would be dropping lacrosse sticks in favor of pitch forks.

6. Weather Conditions: For better or worse, the weather has created some interesting games in the NCAA tournament. In 2003, a muddy M&T Bank Stadium saw an extremely sloppy championship game, as Tillman Johnson turned out a great performance. Hopkins could not generate much all afternoon, and Virginia won the championship 9-7. Hopkins found themselves the beneficiary of a pair of weather delays in ’05 and ’07. The Jays won a pair of thrilling overtime games over UVA and Notre Dame, both wins coming on the path to national championships. This year the rain came on Sunday, producing an 8-7 comeback overtime win by Notre Dame over Colgate, and a crazy, back and forth 10-9 win for UVA over UMBC at Klockner. It’s funny how the same teams seem to be involved in these contests. Perhaps Virginia or Notre Dame will use the momentum to fuel a run?

Net Crasher Note: UVA-JHU in 2005 was one of the great sports moments of all-time. Go ahead, challenge me…I dare you.

7. Record Breakers: In recent memory, there have been few players as successful as Paul Rabil and Matt Danowski. Both are two time Tawaaraton nominees and locks to be three-time first team All-Americans, and both set meaningful records this weekend. Danowski went for 7 points against Loyola to break Joe Vasta’s career points record of 343. Rabil, with a 4 goal afternoon, got to 101 goals on his career, which broke the Hopkins midfield scoring record, previously held by Dave Huntley. (Father of Rabil’s teammate and classmate, Kevin Huntley)

8. Living (at-)Large: Of the three unseeded teams which gained at-large births (Ohio State, Denver and Navy), two were victorious, and the third, Denver, as mentioned earlier certainly earned their keep. I think this shows the selection committee did a fine job when deciding between bubble teams, despite the initial backlash from the selections.

9. Goaltending: It is very difficult to win a championship unless your goalie can play well throughout the playoffs. Often times, we see it’s a spectacular effort from the goalie that will lead teams to victory on Memorial Day. Tillman Johnson did it for Virginia in ’03, and Jesse Schwartzman, despite being only a slightly better than average goalie his career, was huge in championship games over Duke in ’05 and ’07. All three of these accounts lead to tournament MVP’s for said goalies. This weekend, the most impressive performance was turned in by a team who lost, Colgate, as Tim Harrington made 18 saves on 24 shots. No keeper took over a game (in victory, at least) in the first round. Consistent with the parity all season, we have still yet to see which goalie is going to step up and take over this tournament.

NC’s Note: Keep your eyes on Joey Kemp out of Notre Dame. He was playing like a man possessed at the end of the Colgate Game. Hopkins goalie Michael Gvozdan also has a lot to prove. His performance in the tournament will likely prove whether he is the rightful successor to Schwartzman.

10. Warrior: Warrior has perhaps launched the most ridiculous advertising campaign…ever. I guess it’s a step up from seeing the K-18 commercial on repeat with Kyle Harrison doing fitness drills around Baltimore.

NC Note: Check out one of the commercials here!

No comments: