December 17, 2016
This is it. Finally, the remaining four teams in college lacrosse will take the field this Memorial Day weekend at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia to decide a national champion.
Cornell will face Duke in the first game Saturday, followed by the matchup between Denver and No. 1 seed Syracuse. The winners will meet on Memorial Day in the national title game.
As we move closer to the semifinals, let's take a look at some questions that will be answered during the first two games of the weekend.
Can Syracuse's offense keep up with Denver?
In the quarterfinal round, Syracuse only scored seven goals in its narrow victory over the Yale Bulldogs. The Orange offense was quiet for most of the game, and did not show off the depth of its roster. Yale has a gritty defense, but Denver will also be a tough match for the attack of Syracuse.
Everyone knows about talented Syracuse midfielder Jojo Marasco, but who else will step up for 'Cuse? The second midfield line is extremely talented and has the ability to rack up the points, but its performance against Yale was less than stellar.
Denver has shown that it can score against any team in the country. The Pioneers have scored 31 goals thus far in tournament play, and will certainly look to get a 15-goal performance from their offense in the game coming up on Saturday.
Syracuse will have to dictate the pace of play to keep up with Denver in this one. If the Orange can win faceoffs, they will have a chance to win it but must make the most of their possessions.
Can Duke hold Rob Pannell and Steve Mock in check?
Rob Pannell and Steve Mock are one of the best attack duos to ever step on the field. They are dynamic for Cornell, with Pannell engineering the offense from behind the goal. Mock has a knack for finding space inside the crease area, and his quick hands allow him to finish in tight.
Duke's defense is extremely gritty in its own right. The unit has the ability to match up with anyone, which we saw in its matchups against their ACC foes during the regular season. Although Duke's conference gives them a challenge every week, Pannell and Mock are in a league of their own.
Pannell scored eight points last weekend, while Mock had seven. With these two playing so well right now, Cornell's defense has not had a ton of pressure on them thus far. Cornell has cruised to two victories in its first two tournament games this year.
The Blue Devils must keep Pannell behind the goal to be successful. If they allow him to pass the goal line, he will turn into a triple-threat, giving him the opportunity to dodge, feed or shoot. If Duke can keep Pannell at X and pack in its crease defense on Mock, it will have the best shot of keeping this game competitive. This is much easier said than done.
Either way, this game should be extremely entertaining. Two speedy teams taking the field is exactly what the doctor ordered this holiday weekend.
Will Bill Tierney make another goalie change?
After Denver trailed by six early in the game against UNC, Pioneer Head Coach Bill Tierney made a bold move in changing his goalie. Tierney removed Ryan LaPlante and subbed in Jamie Faus.
Faus lit a spark under his team, finishing the game with an eye-popping 68 percent save rate. His success allowed his team to rally from behind and win a close one, 12-11, advancing to their second final four in four years.
Faus' performance against the Tar Heels should earn him the start this weekend, but nothing is for certain. The Pioneers had a tremendous regular season with LaPlante in goal, and giving up on a long-time starter is tough for a head coach. Does Tierney already have his mind made up?
Denver should start Faus and go with the hot hand. However, I will not be surprised if LaPlante starts the game and plays well.
Will Rob Pannell clinch the Tewaaraton Trophy?
Rob Pannell, with a strong performance this weekend, can emerge as the front-runner for the Tewaaraton Trophy, which is given each year to the nation's most outstanding player.
Albany's Lyle Thompson may have had one of the best scoring seasons in history, but Pannell has the convenience of having games remaining on his schedule. Denver took down Albany in the first round of the tournament, and ended the illustrious resume of Lyle Thompson's season.
Unlike MVP awards in various other sports and leagues, the Tewaaraton award takes postseason play into consideration. The longer Pannell plays, the better his chances of winning the award.
Even if Pannell loses on Saturday, I predict he will take home the trophy. His career at Cornell has been outstanding, and although it is not a career award, the selection committee is human and understands his impact on the game over the past few seasons.
The talented Cornell attacker has the opportunity to surpass the 100-pont mark for the season this weekend, as he has 95 thus far. I think Pannell would win if the award were given today, but a strong performance this weekend would certainly put the trophy on ice for the All-American.
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