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March 25, 2010
Virginia midfielder Shamel Bratton inverts behind the cage on Cornell defender Max Feely. © Greg Wall
Virginia midfielder Shamel Bratton inverts behind the cage on Cornell defender Max Feely. © Greg Wall

UnCensered: Who'll Win It All? Loaded Question

by Joel Censer | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online | Censer Archive

Syracuse long poel Joel White might be the best player in the country, period, writes Joel Censer.

© Greg Wall

I admit I’m a real cheapskate about my cable. And when I first started writing about lacrosse, not having ESPNU and DVR was a problem.

Luckily, my parents live half an hour away, and I was able to co-opt them to record games so I could come over on Sundays to watch.

Big couch. All the channels. Doting parents. I expected to be screaming for the meatloaf in no time.

But by the second weekend the old roommates were annoyed.

“Joel, we can’t work downstairs anymore. And all your lacrosse games are leaving us no room to record any more 'Monk' reruns.”

We eventually compromised, and since then I’ve actually found myself watching most of the games with my dad.

He asks a lot of questions: “How’ d that goal happen?" "Why’d that freshman challenge Petro?" "What is Dave Cottle wearing?”

Some I can obviously answer better than others. But the most difficult?

“Who do you think will win it all this year?”

Six teams, UVA, UNC, ‘Cuse, Princeton, Maryland and potentially Hofstra have separated themselves from the pack. (I think Duke is getting there -- and it’s hard to put Maryland in a different category than the Blue Devils when they only beat them by a goal in OT -- but I still want to see the Dukies play Georgetown).

And while I like each of these teams, each has flaws. So I don’t really know who my favorite is. Here I rank the teams and explain what could potentially trip them up.

Note: I didn’t include Hofstra because I haven’t seen them play. Plus, I’d assume by the playoffs that Canadian star attackmen Jay Card and Jamie Lincoln’s fearlessness around the crease will be somewhat mitigated by everyone else having national health care too.

Too soon?

#1 Virginia

Don’t know if Shamel Bratton is still smarting over his hamstring, but watching him get stripped by a couple Towson short sticks was discomfiting. He and the rest of the Cavalier midfielders turn the ball over too much.

Additionally, not having a consistent third attackman hurts. Freshman Matt White’s invisible during stretches and first-year Connor English is too much of a gunner right now. Anyone notice that when Towson was running their patented zone the Cavs put Shamel on attack?

Goalie Adam Ghitleman can also be Christina Ricci streaky.

#2 North Carolina

They play fast, pressure you with rangy poles, and get up and down the field in the hurry. I like that. But do they win faceoffs at a high enough clip, have enough of a presence in the middle of the field with their long poles, and the depth at offensive midfield to sustain this against everyone? I mean it’s a big drop from their first line of Sean DeLaney, Jimmy Dunster and Cyder DiPietro  to their second. But it helps that they have Billy Bitter, the one attackman who can draw a slide whenever. I’ll be interested to see how this plays out against Maryland this weekend.

#3 Syracuse

I don’t understand why so many people say the Orange have figured out their six-on-six woes. I’ve watched them three times now and every time I come around with the same feelings. Stingy on defense (pole Joel White might be the best player in the country), deadly in transition and unsettled situations, and pretty unremarkable when they’re playing settled offense. I know Cody Jameison put it through his legs, but scoring 10 goals against Hopkins, a pretty green defense that starts two freshmen, isn’t going to cut it.

#4 Princeton

I’d love to wax poetically about the Tigers’ flaws, but I don’t really know what they are. When I watch them, I like their balance. They have attackmen who go to the rack, midfielders who can score, and John Cunningham and Long Ellis are some of the better long poles in the country. Still, getting taken to overtime by Penn is alarming. Maybe they just had tired legs from a tough mid-week trip to Chapel Hill. Or maybe they just play down to their opponents.  We’ll find out. The Ivy League’s brutal.

#5 Maryland

In the same boat as the Orange. Solid defense and goaltending. Unbelievable at starting transition and cashing in when they have numbers. And probably have more quality depth at the midfield than they’re given credit for. But I’m still waiting for a coach to put a short stick on attackman Travis Reed, and double-pole the midfield. Then we’ll see if they get it going on offense. Considering UNC defenders Ryan Flanagan and Michael Jarvis both have played up  top before in the careers, I have a feeling we’ll see that look this weekend.
Odds and Odds

• Really enjoyed John McPhee’s New Yorker article on Denver coach Bill Tierney. The article was pretty basic (just a summary of Denver playing Syracuse), but having a writer of that caliber describe Tierney’s pregame speech -- where the former Princeton skipper talks about his former experiences at the Dome, being treated with kid gloves this year, and wanting the same venom from ‘Cuse fans that he used to get -- was a real treat. Additionally, it gives the sport’s characters and stories nuance in the mainstream media beyond that of playing an “affluent” or “rough” sport.

• Also, props to my dad for his new book and performance on NPR.

Joel Censer is a 2008 graduate of Haverford College, where he was an All-American defenseman (thus, the weekly long pole bias) and helped lead the Fords to the second round of the NCAA Division III tournament. Comment below and check LMO each week for more "UnCensered" musings.

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