2011 NCAA Lacrosse Championship: Previewing the First Round

Brian Spaen@SpaeniardContributor IIMay 13, 2011

2011 NCAA Lacrosse Championship: Previewing the First Round

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    Duke celebrating winning it all last year against Notre Dame. They will return to the tournament as the fifth seed.Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    This weekend begins the road to Baltimore as the college lacrosse tournament kicks off.  Syracuse, who was ranked No. 1 alongside Notre Dame most of the year, defeated them in a late regular-season game and has retained that No. 1 seed going into the tournament. 

    As always, we should have some solid plays and shocking upsets all weekend long.  There seems to be more up-tempo offenses this year, which likely means higher scoring games to attract casual viewers.

    Of the four games being previewed in this article, only the Notre Dame vs. Penn game should be a lower scoring affair.

    Outside of the top four seeds that will be previewed in this article, Duke is the defending champion from last year and returns as the five seed. They will be hosting Delaware, and in recent history, the Blue Devils have dominated first-round opponents. 

    Denver is the sixth seed and will be hosting their first-ever tournament game.  This is a huge step in moving the sport more to the west. 

    There are few western professional teams out there, but the sport is growing in the state of Colorado. They will host Villanova, whose up-tempo offense may put them at a disadvantage at high altitude.

    The remaining top seeds are seventh-seeded Virginia and eighth-seeded North Carolina.  They will play Patriot League champion Bucknell and Maryland respectively.  I don't believe Bucknell will be much of a threat to Virginia, but UNC will get all they can handle against their conference opponent.

    Here's a preview of the other four games.

Penn @ (4) Notre Dame

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    Championship runner-up Notre Dame has played well all season, but has lost two straight going into the tournament.Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    Saturday, May 14
    2:30pm ET, ESPNU

    PENN (Ivy League At-Large)
    8-6 / 2-5 Away

    Key Players
    Corey Winkoff: 35 points (Eight goals, 27 assists)
    Al Kohart: 28 (25 goals, three assists)

    Brian Feeney: 7-6 (.491 save percentage)

    NOTRE DAME (Big East At-Large)
    10-2 / 6-0 Home

    Key Players
    Sean Rogers 23 points (17 goals, six assists)
    David Earl 24 points (15 goals, nine assists)

    John Kemp: 10-2 (.609 save percentage)

    If you're into a defensive, grind-it-out game then this is for you.  Both teams are coming in struggling after hard finishes to the season against top opponents.  Notre Dame was previously undefeated all year until their last two games against Syracuse and North Carolina.

    Notre Dame has the edge in this game.  They win faceoffs eight percent more of the time than Penn and they also clear the ball at a seven percent better rate. 

    Notre Dame has a clear edge in penalties, as the Irish rarely make mistakes with 40 less penalties on the season than Penn has.  Penn has had more man-up opportunities and have converted them more than Notre Dame.

    Both teams do not have fluent offenses, neither of them have high assist rates.  Both teams also tend to shoot and score more in the second half.  There's a disparity in the second quarter of games, with Notre Dame being far superior, getting 11 more goals this season and 13 more shots on goal.

    This game has all the makings of a low-scoring affair early with both teams trying to find their rhythm.  It's hard saying what will be the outcome, as both teams have struggled on defense against quality opponents as of late.

Hofstra @ (3) Johns Hopkins

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    Saturday, May 14
    12:00pm ET, ESPN2


    HOFSTRA (CAA At-Large)
    13-2 / 4-1 Away

    Key Players
    Jay Card: 43 points (28 goals, 15 assists)
    Jamie Lincoln: 39 points (29 goals, 10 assists)

    18 Andrew Gvozden: 13-2 (.621 save percentage)


    JOHNS HOPKINS (Independent At-Large)
    12-2 / 6-1 Home

    Key Players
    Zach Palmer: 44 points (21 goals, 23 assists)
    Chris Boland: 43 points (30 goals, 13 assists)

    Pierce Bassett: 12-2 (.586 save percentage)

    It's incredible how close this game is when you compare statistics during the season.  Both teams prefer the up-tempo game and take a ton of shots in the first half compared to the second half. 

    The only glaring differences are Hopkins scores one more goal a game, they take three more shots a game, Hofstra has 15 more assists and six more penalties this season.

    If the game is close in the fourth quarter, Hofstra is generally smarter with the ball and opponents don't nearly have as many saves as the Pride do. 

    Goalie Andrew Gvozden has faced about just as many shots and Hopkins' goalie Pierce Bassett and has had a higher percentage of saves.

    This game should be close throughout and a great way to start the tournament.  If Hofstra can get the upset, they will have home field in the next round.

Hartford @ (2) Cornell

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    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    Saturday, May 14
    7:30pm ET, ESPNU


    HARTFORD (America East Champion)
    11-6 / 6-3 Away

    Key Players
    Carter Bender 51 points (33 goals, 18 assists)
    Ryan Compitello 49 points (22 goals, 27 assists)

    Frank Piechota 6-4 (.546 save percentage)
    Scott Bement 5-2 (.527 save percentage)


    CORNELL (Ivy League Champion)
    13-2 / 7-0 Home

    Key Players
    Rob Pannell 82 points (37 goals, 45 assists)
    David Lau 41 points (24 points, 17 assists)

    AJ Fiore 11-2 (.514 save percentage)

    There are two things you can point to that show why Hartford is mismatched in this game: turnovers and penalties.  The Hawks have had nearly 100 more turnovers this season and have had 36 more penalties. 

    Cornell shoots more efficiently and converts man-up opportunities more often.  The only edge Hartford really has is at faceoffs, getting them 15 percent more often than Cornell.

    What will be interesting to watch is the up-tempo speed of Hartford against Cornell's defense.  The Big Red has a solid defense but they normally don't see high-octane offenses like themselves. 

    Because of their big leads, Cornell usually shoots less in the second half.  Hartford will need to keep up with them or things could get ugly early.

Siena @ (1) Syracuse

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    It is likely that we will see Syracuse and Cornell on the same field in the championship game.Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    Sunday, May 15
    7:30pm ET, ESPNU


    SIENA (MAAC Champion)
    13-4 / 4-2 Away

    Key Players
    Bryan Neufeld 65 points (40 goals, 25 assists)
    Danny Martinsen 52 points (30 goals, 22 assists)

    Tom Morr 13-4 (.588 save percentage)


    SYRACUSE (Big East Champion*)
    14-1 / 8-1 Home

    Key Players
    Stephen Keogh 39 points (32 goals, seven assists)
    JoJo Marasco 36 points (19 goals, 17 assists)

    John Galloway 14-1 (.563 save percentage)

    Syracuse retains the No. 1 seed after losing a tough game at home to Cornell earlier this season, coming off of a short rest after the rough game against Princeton.  Honestly, that little hitch in the Orange's season could be exactly what they needed to be contenders.

    The interesting thing about this game is that if you just look at statistics and not actual quality of play, Siena blows this team out of the water offensively.  They are fast, and about as up-tempo as you can get.  Also, they have no defense. 

    Opponents of Siena have shot over 200 more times against them this season than they have against Syracuse.  Siena has had 134 more turnovers and have committed 91 penalties this season.  Syracuse has a huge advantage at clearing with a 12 percent edge.

    Syracuse has a more efficient offense, and this team will likely pull away in the second half.  While the Orange may need to find a little bit more offense to be real contenders in this tournament, it shouldn't be hard for them to do in this game.

    *Due to the Big East not having an automatic qualifier, Syracuse was selected at-large.