March 23, 2011

Lambrecht: Spring Forward for Some, Spring Cleaning for Others

by Gary Lambrecht |

Injuries, an anemic offense and the best-looking Ivy League in recent memory are on the verge of burying Chris Bates and the Princeton men's lacrosse team.

© Joe Rogate

Spring is finally, mercifully, officially upon us. With Division I men's lacrosse conference schedules beginning to heat up as the season kicks into a higher gear, it's a good time to take stock of some of the developments around the game that have helped to get us through the last of winter.

Dome Sweet Dome

I've watched the replay maybe eight times, and each time I reach the same conclusion. Just before he dives and releases the shot that appeared to give Johns Hopkins a huge, 5-4, overtime victory at top-ranked Syracuse, Blue Jays attackman Kyle Wharton gets pushed into the crease by Orange defenseman Thomas Guadagnolo, who arrives a step late and cuts off Wharton's angle as he was attempting to circle the crease to the left of Syracuse goalie John Galloway. The goal was waived off with four seconds left in OT, and the Orange quickly ended the suspense after winning the opening faceoff of the second overtime. Had this game been played at Homewood Field instead of the Carrier Dome, do the Blue Jays get their first marquee victory of the season and send the Orange back north with their first loss of 2011?

The Philly Hotbed

Who would have thought The City of Brotherly Love would be represented like this on the lacrosse field? Penn has risen to No. 13 with an offense that barely generates seven goals and 20 shots per game, and the Quakers win just 45.6 percent of faceoffs. But ball control and an excellent, young defense (6.5 goals, 10 forced turnovers and 24 shots allowed per game) have helped the 4-2 Quakers give up six goals or fewer in each of their wins. Meanwhile, No. 7 Villanova, which gets its sternest test of 2011 when Syracuse visits Saturday, might be the coolest story of the young season. Attackmen Kevin Cunningham and Jack Rice already have combined for 53 points, and the Wildcats have won four, one-goal contests, including recent, back-to-back takedowns of Penn and Princeton.

The Wildest Cat of All

Villanova is blessed with arguably the best scoreless player in the game in senior long-stick midfielder Brian Karalunas. He has forced nearly five turnovers per contest and has resembled a Hoover when it comes to picking up ground balls. If you thought the true takeaway artist was dead, Karalunas will change your mind. For fans at Nova on Saturday, one of the real treats will be watching Karalunas and Syracuse first-team All-American LSM Joel White disrupt and control the middle of the field.

Only Two Left

It didn't take long for the ranks of the unbeaten to dwindle to two teams. Only top-ranked Syracuse (6-0) and No. 3 Notre Dame (4-0) have unblemished records. Something tells me that won't be the case when the Orange and the Irish meet at the Carrier Dome on April 30. The way those defenses deny, the first team to reach seven goals could be smiling at the end.

You Might Not Recognize Them

When you think Navy, you think defense, first and last. You rarely expect the Midshipmen to reach 10 goals. That identity has been turned upside down in 2011. The Mids (4-4) run, catch and shoot better than any team since the 2004 squad that went to the NCAA title game, and freshmen attackmen Sam Jones (19 goals, 45.2 percent shooting) and Tucker Hull (15 goals, 13 assists) have been magnificent. But the Mids, who are tied for 13th in Division I scoring (11 goals per game) and are fighting their way out of a 1-4 start, are ranked a lowly 34th in scoring defense. Navy has allowed 9.13 goals per game, having surrendered 10 or more scores on four occasions. Navy is 1-3 in those games.

Ridiculously Special

In addition to leading the country in scoring with a 14.5-goal average, second-ranked Virginia has been astonishingly good on special teams. The Cavaliers (7-1) are second in the nation in extra-man offense with 13 goals in 22 attempts (58.1 percent). Their man-down defense has killed 30 of 32 penalties (.938). That is tops in Division I. Now, Virginia must tighten up its six-on-six defense. Or maybe the Cavs should just take the field with five defenders and see what happens.

It's Good to Share

Hard to find fault with No. 5 Maryland's offensive execution so far. The Terps (7-1) are averaging a healthy 12.9 goals and rank among the nation's top five in several statistical categories. Most impressively, Maryland has assisted on 69 percent of its scores, as it leads the NCAA with 62 assists. Six different players have produced at least 11 points. The shoulder injury that has kept senior attackman Travis Reed out for two games has not caused a hiccup in College Park. If the Terps win the ground ball battle decisively against visiting, No. 8 North Carolina on Saturday, it could get a bit ugly for the Tar Heels, who probably need another heavyweight effort from freshman faceoff ace R.G. Keenan.

Princeton Over and Out, Almost

Injuries, an anemic offense and the strongest-looking Ivy League in recent memory are on the verge of burying Princeton (1-4, 0-1). Fresh off their first loss to Penn since 1989, the Tigers sit in last place in a league where Cornell remains the team to beat, and upstarts Yale and Harvard are packing offensive heat. Princeton's offense dearly needs Jack McBride (groin) and Tom Schreiber back at 100 percent. Its defense is hurting without Jonathan Meyer (hamstring) and Rob Castelo, who blew out his knee in the Tigers' 8-3 win at Hopkins on March 5. Princeton is going to have a tough time even qualifying for the conference tournament.

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