March 16, 2012

UnCensered's Four Fearless Predictions

by Joel Censer |

Will Johns Hopkins ever go with a power midfield of John Ranagan (above), Lee Coppersmith, and Rob Guida in the interest of double-digit scoring?
© John Strohsacker/

At last weekend's Face-Off Classic, we were supposed to be treated to another knockout round of Rob Pannell vs. Steele Stanwick. The game's premier quarterbacks would exchange slice-passes and question-mark dodges like they were haymakers. Instead, Pannell was relegated to cheering on his teammates from a cart on the sidelines. While Stanwick had his share of SportsCenter moments (an on-the-ground pass to Mark Cockerton, the game-winning assist), he too was hobbled by a hip injury and a stingy Big Red defense.

Still, there was drama. Jack McBride met his old Princeton teammates and found some 2009 mojo in the Heels 9-8 win. Princeton's Alex Capretta got back to doing what he does best (you know, setting his feet and cranking from ten yards). Cornell's Connor English (a UVA transfer) did the whole "How you like me now" routine, dropping two quick fourth-quarter goals to bring the Big Red within striking distance.

This weekend, the slate of games only improves. There's the contrast of styles in South Bend and in Baltimore. Notre Dame, a defensive machine that has made a living off of chewing up offenses, has to deal with Denver's cadre of free-wheeling, pick-friendly, slick-sticked Canadians. Meanwhile, Hopkins, a team that has never met a half-field possession it didn't like, will face foot-on-the-gas pedal nemesis Syracuse at Homewood Field.

Down on Tobacco Road, Duke and Carolina see if either of their talent-rich offenses can find an identity. Not to mention top-ranked Virginia plays Ohio State in the Horseshoe, Penn goes to Princeton for an Ivy League tilt, and a red-hot UMass makes the trip down to Happy Valley to take on Austin Kaut and the Nittany Lions.

Of course, games like these deserve prognostications. As your fearless sports pundit, here are four weekend predictions.

Fearless Prediction No. 1

Bill Tierney's defensive coaching bona fides are going to get brought up a lot from now until Memorial Day.

I'm a huge fan of this Denver squad. The early loss to Ohio State (who then spent the rest of February and March in nosedive mode) and the one-goal squeaker against Hartford took off some of the pre-season Lacrosse Magazine cover luster. But in an era where how many goals a team can score directly correlates to postseason success; it's the Pioneers who have the most explosive offense. When the dust settles in May, I think Denver will be ticketed to championship weekend.

The Pioneers need to improve a few things. They've been too sloppy with the ball (averaging 18 plus turnovers a game). And the defense is still a little green.

But they've begun tightening it up. The 14-6 smackdown at Penn State was a good indicator. And I think they will beat Notre Dame by a few goals this weekend.

When Denver starts the Canadian steamroll towards Foxboro, lacrosse pundits will be quick to point out that Tierney -- the architect behind the quick-slide and those dominant defensive-oriented Princeton squads – had to catch the Pioneer defense up with a Mark Matthews, Cam Flint, Jeremy Noble and Co. this season. Personally, I'm patiently waiting for the obligatory Ryan Mollet, Christian Cook and Damien Davis Princeton references.

Fearless Prediction No. 2

North Carolina's offense figures it out.

I watch a lot of NBA. After taking in some New York Knick games the past few weeks all I could think was how disjointed they looked on offense. A Carmelo Anthony post-up would be followed by Jeremy Lin trying to run some semblance of a spread pick-and-roll, which was then followed by J.R. Smith hoisting a three. It was "Your turn, my turn" offense at its dysfunctional finest.

Watching the Heels struggle on the offensive end last Saturday, I couldn't help but think of the Knicks. A bunch of super talented individuals who didn't seem to have flow, chemistry or roles carved out for themselves.

But when you think a little more deeply about the Tar Heel offense it makes some more sense. Nicky Galasso missed all pre-season with a broken foot. McBride hasn't played a meaningful lacrosse game in nearly two years. Georgetown transfer Davey Emala has had to learn a whole new system. Jimmy Bitter and Joey Sankey may be stop-and-go savants, but are still wide-eyed freshmen. Put these issues around increased expectations and the Baby Blue pressure cooker, and you're going to get some turnovers, stagnant offense and growing pains.

I think UNC starts shaking off some of the cobwebs and gets the Duke gorilla off their back on Friday.

Fearless Prediction No. 3

Last year's Kyle Wharton's no-goal will be replayed more than a half dozen time during the Hopkins-'Cuse telecast.

Yes, we get it. Hopkins should have won last season's 5-4 barnburner in the Dome. Kyle Wharton could not have dived through the crease, when he had an Orange defenseman's stick planted into his back.

But what people forget is that before last year's game no one was even quite as sure about Hopkins' talent level. John Ranagan wasn't an established end-to-end terror. Zach Palmer wasn't consistently chucking those deadly skip passes. Tucker Durkin wasn't in the conversation for best defenseman in the country. Ditto for Pierce Basset in net.

But going blow-for-blow with the Orange up in hostile territory gave those young guys moxie and the confidence that they could be elite Division I players.

Personally, I think the rematch is the most interesting game on this week's docket.

For the Hop, we know they're going to defend. But on offense, was the Princeton game an aberration? Or in 2012, can the Blue Jays consistently drop double digits on elite defenses? Will they be willing to get up and down the field with the Orange track stars? Will they ever go with that power midfield of Ranagan, Lee Coppersmith, and Rob Guida?

As for Syracuse, I don't think anyone really knows what to expect. Whether we're talking about in goal or at the face-off stripe there are still plenty of question marks. For me, I'm most interested in the Orange's half-field settled offense. Against Virginia, they looked lost at times, especially against the zone.

Like Connor English and McBride, former Blue Jay attackman Tommy Palasek will get an opportunity to remind his former teammates and the Homewood faithful about his turbo jets. I think he's been a little too gun shy this season.

Fearless Prediction No. 4

Princeton gets to the Ivy League final and makes the NCAA playoffs.

I like how Princeton's playing right now, although I'm not sure they have the depth or number of guys who can create their own shot to go too far in the playoffs.

Against Hopkins a couple weeks ago, I was confused why the Tigers were letting Alex Capretta (an elite outside sniper) initiate, as junior Jeff Froccaro and sophomore phenom Tommy Schreiber looked on.

Recently the Frocarro-Schreiber pair has dodged more aggressively (the picks help), dropping a combined 13 points on Villanova.

If Tyler Fiorito starts making a few more saves (the slow start mirrors his sophomore year), I think the Tigers take down the Quakers 11-7 to start the long Ivy League slough.

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