March 2, 2011

UnCensered: How Long Before Hopkins Dismounts Dark Horse?

by Joel Censer |

Dave Pietramala has Johns Hopkins on the rise again with a scrappier, hungrier version of the Blue Jays.

© John Strohsacker/

Another year of college lacrosse, another year of "UnCensered."

In this weekly diatribe, you'll get to hear me discuss and debate my usual list of lacrosse-related rants. Do Syracuse and Maryland have the half-field bonafides to win in May? Is the v-hold really the most effective thing a defender can do at GLE? Can teams be more than just mid-major upstarts using a whole bevy of Canadian scorers on offense? Does ESPNU really plan on splicing concert footage of Jared Leto (rocking the pink mohawk, no less) with college lacrosse highlights for an entire year?

Anyway, here are a few quick early observations from this past weekend.

Hopkins is playing harder...

I've read all the stuff about Hopkins embracing the underdog role this year, focusing on the little things and pretending like it's not a team chock full of Under Armour All-Americans. But preseason platitudes are preseason platitudes, and after the opening whistle, all that stuff goes out the window.

The more I watch the Blue Jays, though, the more I'm convinced that they have some version of the dark horse mojo thing going. (But with the Homewood faithful dutifully trolling message boards, we'll see how long it lasts). Because while Towson, Delaware and Siena can't be considered murderer's row, this version of the Columbia Blue and Black scraps, plays hard, and looks like a completely different bird than the wounded Jay that Duke carved up in the first round of last year's NCAA tournament.

For me, the biggest upgrade for them is between the stripes. Fifth-year Harvard transfer Ben Smith might not be Matt Bocklet or Corey Harned, but he adds flair and moxie to the pole position that's been severely lacking at Homewood the past few years. Freshman southpaw d-middie Phil Castronova is as electric a guy as Hop has had at that position since Benson Erwin was chewing guys up. Not surprisingly, offensive studs John Ranagan and John Greeley, who can both run end-to-end, are doing what many top-notch midfielders do from their freshmen to sophomore year: they grow up.

Should we be doing something differently in the States?

During the Hopkins-Siena ESPNU telecast Paul Carcaterra (who always does a nice job) mentioned that Hopkins' freshman attacker Brandon Benn (who's currently rotating in on the extra man and as the fourth guy) had the right kind of pedigree to be a big-time offensive player. What I think he meant was that Benn, who grew up in Brampton, Ontario learning the box game (and then played high school field lacrosse at Culver Academy in Indiana), greatly benefited from a mixed box-field experience.

The point wasn't without context. Hopkins starting attackman and Ontario native Zach Palmer has come out the season like gangbusters, while Siena's Bryan Neufeld's (another Ontario guy) efficiency around the cage was one of the lone bright spots for the Saints.

So, if having both indoor and outdoor experience is so beneficial, why do so few American high schoolers train in the box?

Look, I realize lacrosse at the youth/high school level is supposed to be fun, and I'm not espousing some U.S.S.R. model where we target our best kids and then ship them up to Ontario or Western Canada for pick-and-roll training. But the truth of the matter is that the indoor game does a significantly better job conditioning kids to do many of the high-end, interior-type skills than whatever we're coaching in the U.S. It's no coincidence that 15 of last year's top 40 goal scorers were Canadians, or that a country that has a fraction of the number of people playing lacrosse (and playing a different game, no less!) still gives us everything we can handle in the World Games.

So, if American high school coaches are serious about improving their players and the field game, shouldn't they jump at opportunities to emulate Benn's varied experience?

Lukewarm for the Terps

Before we get the constant media refrain telling us how great the Maryland offense is, let's get a few things straight. When Brian Farrell, Jesse Bernhardt and Co. can run roughshod in transition, and the opposing team decides to slide early (giving ample opportunity for Grant Catalino to set his feet and let 'er rip), yeah, Maryland's going to score 20 goals.

This isn't to say I don't think the Terp offense played well or that they're not contenders. If anything, Will Yeatman concentrating on football has left less of a logjam on the offensive side of the field. But I am very curious to see how their midfielders respond (can they drill 10- to 12-yard shots on the run?) when opponents start shortsticking Travis Reed and are hesitant to slide.

Which brings me to my next point....

What's going on with the Georgetown defense?

I have trouble believing it's just a coaching/schematic issue when this is the same exact staff that dominated with Brodie Merrill, Andrew Braziel, Kyle Sweeney and Reyn Garnett in the early 2000s.

But I don't think the Hoyas could've played Maryland any worse on Saturday (especially when it was obvious Curtis Holmes was winning faceoffs).

Why slide early when no one on that Maryland team has any kind of history of being able to consistently create for himself? Why get in a footrace when the Terps have the best transition guy (Farrell) this side of Joel White and an attack that feeds off the unsettled?

Wouldn't turning the game into a slow-down, half-field slug benefit the Hoyas? To me, it didn't seem like Maryland's first year goalie Niko Amato wanted any part of those three Max Seligmann bullets.

Duke's offense

Look, I'm not going to be the 62,034th person to argue that Duke needs to score more goals. Charlie Sheen has substance abuse issues too, right? But I'll say I feel for Justin Turri. The tough-nosed West Islip grad went from being in the perfect complementary role -- one where he could step in from the right wing and deposit Ned Crotty skip passes -- to being the only Blue Devil midfielder with much experience. I still don't know if the southpaw is built to carry an offense (I think he's better when he can set his feet than dodging on the run), but someone's going to have to play lead dog for the Blue Devils.

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