April 22, 2011

Lambrecht: Ups and Downs of 2011 Season

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com

Cornell attackman Rob Pannell should be a shoo-in for the Tewaaraton Trophy, writes Gary Lambrecht, as only Army's Jeremy Boltus is even withing shouting distance of his 5.55 points per game for the third-ranked Big Red.

Some thoughts as the NCAA Division I men's lacrosse regular season homestretch swings into view:

West Point wonders

No. 18 Army is as puzzling as it is talented. The Black Knights have a superb, one-two attack punch in feeder Jeremy Boltus and finisher Garret Thul, one of the game's better igniters in long-stick midfielder Tim Henderson and a senior force in goalie Tom Palesky. They have beaten third-ranked Cornell. Yet, there they were, falling behind struggling, unranked Navy by four goals late in the first half last Saturday, in a game they needed to secure a berth in the Patriot League tournament. It was the same kind of listlessness Army (8-4, 3-2) showed in stretches during losses to Bucknell and Colgate. Yes, the Black Knights recovered with a vengeance by running overmatched Navy out of its own stadium with a 14-9 victory. Yet, how Army could look so disinterested in the first half against its fiercest rival is a mystery to me. Not a good sign.

Just rename them the Pannell Big Red

It sort of rhymes with the name of the institution, and that's how ridiculously dominant junior attackman Rob Pannell has been for Cornell. Through 11 games, Pannell (30 goals, 31 assists) has averaged 5.55 points. Only Boltus (4.83) is less than a point behind him among the elite scorers in Division I. Pannell is a shoo-in for the Tewaaraton Trophy. The biggest questions are, can Pannell carry the Big Red to an NCAA title, and how is he going to top this incredible act in his final season in Ithaca?

The America Least

Kudos to UMBC for getting off the deck with such a young team to win three straight and even its record at 5-5. Don Zimmerman-coached teams typically improve significantly over the course of the spring. But UMBC's rise also illustrates how down the America East is in 2011, as first-place, 13th-ranked Stony Brook (7-3) is the only school with fewer than five losses. The only squad going to the NCAAs is the league tournament champion. That will be the Seawolves, who have problems on defense not even wonderful players such as senior midfielder Kevin Crowley and senior faceoff man Adam Rand can hide. Remember, these guys lost, 9-8, to a Towson (2-9) team that can barely score.

Maybe this is the end

It's late April, and unranked Georgetown (5-6) is still looking for a quality win. The Hoyas have been productive on offense, horrendously undisciplined on defense, even with the great Barney Ehrmann cleaning up ground balls and causing so many turnovers. Year after year, this school gets top-flight recruits. They haven't reached an NCAA tournament semifinal since their only trip in 1999, and are on the verge of missing their fourth consecutive NCAA tournament. Will the Georgetown administration demand something better? If so, after 22 seasons running the Hoyas, head coach Dave Urick, the face of Georgetown and one of the Mount Rushmore figures of the sport, might be on his way out.

So young, so what

No. 2 Johns Hopkins starts eight players who are either freshmen or sophomores, and its underclassmen-dominated defense is the best the Blue Jays have had since 2005. No. 6 Duke starts six underclassmen, including lightning-quick freshman Jordan Wolf at attack. No. 9 North Carolina leans heavily on youth, starting with freshman attackman Nicky Galasso, who is the game's most creative feeder this side of Pannell. At Penn State under first-year coach Jeff Tambroni, the Nittany Lions (6-5) have a tremendous rebuilding block in freshman goalie Austin Kaut, who leads Division I in saves per game (13.82) and save percentage (.633). To paraphrase Charles Barkley, if you must decide between talent and experience, always choose talent.

Don't sleep on them

Now that fourth-ranked Syracuse has fallen hard by losing its first game, an 11-6 whipping at the hands of No. 3 Cornell, the dumbest thing any potential opponent could do is to underestimate the Orange. Attackman Tim Desko (knee) and defenseman John Lade (ankle) need to get healthy, and Syracuse needs to find the offensive step it displayed while blitzing Duke early in that 13-11 victory at the Big City Classic. With so many proud, talented seniors, this team will be an extremely tough out in May. I think top-ranked Notre Dame will get a preview of that on April 30 at the Carrier Dome, where the Irish will become the last unbeaten school to go down.

What a waste

Rutgers senior Christopher Mattes has been among the top faceoff specialists in the nation all season, and he entered this week leading Division I having won 67.9 percent of his draws. Rutgers takes care of the ball extremely well (fifth-fewest turnovers) and has held opponents to just 7.36 goals per game (seventh-best). But, when you get killed on ground balls (ranked 51st), shoot a paltry 25.5 percent and make the fewest saves (6.64 per game) in the country, you deserve to be 5-6 and going nowhere.

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