May 13, 2011

Sixteen Players to Watch in NCAA Tournament

by Corey McLaughlin |

Hofstra's Andrew Gvozden has the highest save percentage of any goalkeeper in the NCAA Division I men's lacrosse tournament. He's No. 11 on Corey McLaughlin's sweet 16 list of players to watch this weekend.

The postseason is where the best players are meant to shine, or where new names become known to many for the first time. Some on this list you may know already; others you may not. Either way, keep eyes on each of these sweet 16 players. There is one from each team in the NCAA Division I men's lacrosse tournament, listed in descending order of my excitement level of watching them play.

16. Steele Stanwick, Virginia, Jr. A
The calming presence for this Virginia team is only ranked so high on this list because you know what you're going to get out of him (and I wanted to start with a big name to encourage further reading). He's going to have one or two goals and four or five assists. He's nursed an injured ligament in his foot that has kept him out of practices and some regular season games, but it's his offense to run now without Shamel Bratton dodging from the midfield and Rhamel Bratton still questionable to appear. There are still plenty of offensive playmakers for Stanwick to get the ball to. A reunion with crease scorer Chris Bocklet seems in order these playoffs.

15. Mike Huffner, Bucknell, So. D
Admittedly, it was difficult to pick just one player to watch from Bucknell, which speaks to their depth and balance. It is truly a team of no stars. But based on their third-ranked scoring defense nationally (6.88), and about six players who can all produce consistent offense, Bucknell really should just go ahead and win this whole tournament as long as it gets good faceoff and goalie play. Huffner was named first team All-Patriot League as a sophomore after missing most of his freshman season because of injury, which earns him a nod here. He'll have to play well against Virginia's talented offense. But for Bucknell, also watch midfielder Ryan Klipstein (30g, 19a), attackman Mike Danylyshyn (18g, 17a), midfielder Charlie Streep (25g, 9a), attackman Todd Heritage (23g, 7a) and attackman Billy Eisenreich (17g, 13a), all players that Virginia's sometimes-porous defense will need to account for.

14. Kevin Kaminski, Delaware, Sr. M
Pesky Delaware has the guns and the fortitude to give Duke all it can handle, in part because of Kaminski. Since losing its final two games of the regular season to Penn State and UMass, Delaware won on the road at Hofstra and beat UMass in a rematch for the CAA title and tournament AQ. Kaminski was CAA tournament MVP. A few of us shrugged our shoulders when two Delaware players were selected in the final two picks of the Major League Lacrosse draft to have the Blue Hens finish with four picks, like Maryland, Notre Dame and Stony Brook. But maybe that speaks to their depth. Kaminski is a wily veteran, having played in his school-record 70th career game in the CAA championship. He scored three goals there, including two goals in a CAA semifinal upset win over Hofstra.

13. Jordan Wolf, Duke, Fr. A
This was hard, considering John Danowski's self-described team of "no stars." But there was hype surrounding Wolf midway through the season when speedster started to tear it up after being moved from midfield back to his natural attack spot. Heck, John Christmas told Lacrosse Magazine and contributor Joel Censer that as a youngster seeing Wolf for the first time, "He was running around like a little Mikey Powell." Wolf was then brought down to earth on national television at the New Meadowlands by Syracuse shutdown John Lade. But he's been steady, is second on Duke in points, and it's tournament time now, baby. The best shine and Wolf is one of them.

12. Corey Winkoff, Penn, Sr. A.
I first saw Winkoff play against the U.S. Under-19 team in the summer of 2008. He wasn't on Team USA, instead playing for a team of Long Island all-stars assembled for a scrimmage game at Cold Spring Harbor High School, which just happened to be Winkoff's home turf on Long Island. Winkoff scored four goals that day, the most of anyone on the field. At Penn, he's produced 135 points over the last four years. He's been mainly a feeder this season, with 27 assists accounting for most of his 35 points, but he can score as well. Maybe he can sneak out one or two that may be the difference in what could be a low-scoring game with Notre Dame.

11. Andrew Gvozden, Hofstra, Jr. G
One of the more underreported story lines of the season is how Gvozden has finally started an entire season in goal, and that Hofstra — known quite well for its bevy of offensive players — has a defense, a unit that has allowed the fewest goals per game in the nation (6.20). Gvozden is a big part of it. He had the highest save percentage during the regular season of any goaltender in the tournament (.621). He was in and out of the lineup his first two years, would show flashes of great play, but then coach Seth Tierney would have his reasons for pulling him as well. No more. Gvozden is a veteran now and returns to Homewood Field and Johns Hopkins, where his older brother, Michael, played and where Andrew made his college debut for Hofstra in 2009.

10. Joe Cummings, Maryland, Jr. A
He's injured, but my hunch is he will play after sitting out the regular-season finale for precautionary measures dealing with a banged up right arm. Without Cummings and Grant Catalino last Saturday, the Terps' offense was bland against Colgate, and relied heavily on Ryan Young creating from "X." Cummings is dynamic and able to score from a variety of positions on the field.

Villanova long stick midfielder Brian Karalunas continues to fly under the radar somehow despite leading the nation in cause turnovers by a full turnover-plus more per game than the next guy.

© Kevin P. Tucker

9. John Lade, Syracuse, Sr. D
Lade isn't on this list so much because he needs to prove anything — he can shut down the nation's best when healthy — I just want to see if he is back to 100-percent health. He's dealt with a nagging ankle injury that forced him to miss two games and parts of others, including when he needed to take himself out of the loss to Cornell because he felt he didn't have the quickness to guard Rob Pannell on a bum ankle. If he's completely healthy, Syracuse's defense gets that much tougher.

8. Bryan Neufeld, Siena, Jr. A
He owns the nation's longest active point scoring streak at 52 straight games. He's evolved his game since his freshman year at Siena, when he arrived under-recruited and signed with Siena in the second half of his senior year of high school. For his first two years he could defer somewhat to older, experienced go-to players on offense. But now he's that guy, and has flourished in that role this season. Facing the Syracuse defense won't be easy.

7. Billy Bitter, North Carolina, Sr. A
ACC freshman of the year Nick Galasso was tempting to place here for the Tar Heels' representative, but strangely enough I think you know what you're going to get out him -- some exceptional play for a freshman, not a lot of mistakes and looking to get his teammates involved. I'm more interested to see if Bitter can rekindle his 2009 breakout season form in the 2011 playoffs. He's shown flashes of his old self, and dartability, this season. Will the third-overall pick of the MLL draft to the Denver Outlaws glow in this final tournament?

6. Mark Matthews, Denver, Jr. A
I wrote Tuesday about the significance of Denver hosting the first NCAA tournament game west of the Mississippi and what it means off the field. Well, there are bound to be some plays made on the field as well. The Canadian Matthews has a dazzling array of offensive moves He leads the Pioneers with 62 points with 41 goals.

5. David Earl, Notre Dame, Sr. M
Lacrosse Magazine cohort and editor Matt DaSilva wrote a great instructional piece on the "complete midfielder" for the July issue of LM, which is being sent out to the printer as we speak. The star of the complete midfielder? David Earl. Faceoff wing play, on- and off-ball defense and offense, what to do when there's 20 seconds left and you're the best player on the field and get double-teams by defenders trying to strip you of the ball. What do you do in all these situations? David Earl knows.

4. Tim Fallon, Hartford, Sr. FO/M
Stony Brook coach Rick Sowell was asked about his thoughts on the America East conference before the start of the season. "Watch out for Hartford," he said. Why? "They got the best faceoff guy in the country, Tim Fallon." Look at Hartford now, and watch Fallon to see if he can give the Hawks possessions and keep what should be a Cornell win close for at least the first quarter. Fallon has the third best faceoff win percentage of any player in the tournament (.627), behind Johns Hopkins' Matt Dolente (.673) and Hofstra's John Antoniades (.661).

3. Zach Palmer, Johns Hopkins, So. A
Everything in my gut says Palmer is ready to be a bonafide star. Still fresh in my mind, many weeks later, was his behind-the-back, over-the-right-shoulder goal from nine yards straightaway a few Saturday nights ago against Maryland. It tied the score at nine about midway through the fourth quarter. You don't see a behind-the-back shot from the center of the field too often, much less one in that situation with that much pace to beat a goalie high. Maryland defenseman Jesse Bernhardt shut off Palmer's front side, but it didn't matter.

"He's probably one of two people in the country that can make that play," Maryland coach John Tillman said of Palmer afterward. "There's a guy who was one of the best players in Canada a few years ago, and that's why he's at Johns Hopkins. He's in traffic, he's got a guy all over him, throws it behind his back."

Palmer has the pedigree coming from The Hill Academy, coached by Brodie Merrill. Palmer leads Hopkins with 44 points on 21 goals and 23 assists, and is putting 78 percent of his shots on goal.

2. Brian Karalunas, Villanova, Sr. D
The long stick defender is described as a "wrecking ball" by Long Island Lizards coach Jim Mule, who got the steal of the preseason Major League Lacrosse draft by picking Karalunas in the sixth round. Besides being named Big East Defensive Player of the Year — remember, the conference includes strong defensive teams and players from Notre Dame and Syracuse (notably Joel White) — Karalunas leads the nation in caused turnovers per game (4.53), averaging more than 1.2 more per game than the player in second place. He almost gave Villanova a win against Syracuse earlier this season, by forcing a turnover by JoJo Marasco with less than 1:30 left and feeding Kevin Cunningham for a game-tying goal. Marasco later won the game on a goal with six seconds left, but Karalunas' performance left observers buzzing. The nation will really get to see him now.

1. Rob Pannell, Cornell, Jr., A
What special things is the "the little general" — that was his nickname growing up in Smithtown on Long Island — going to do in this tournament? Every team he plays has to devise some plan to handle him. That's the definition of a great player.

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