May 10, 2012

Tewaaraton Favorites, Omissions, Prediction (Men)

by Matt Forman | | TwitterFinalists Announced

Oregon native and Colgate junior Peter Baum may benefit from greater television exposure in the NCAA tournament, although the Raiders must also get past UMass in the first round to help his Tewaaraton chances.
© Rich Barnes

The race for the Tewaaraton Award, presented annually to the top player nationally in collegiate men's and women's lacrosse, is down to five players in each gender, as announced Thursday morning.

Now, the competition begins as the postseason gets going this weekend. We handicap the field, discuss a few omissions from the list and take a peek at trends that may predict the winners.

Handicapping the Field

5. Will Manny, UMass, Jr., A
The headliner of Massachusetts' dynamic attack that features three 50-point scorers, Manny ranks third nationally with 75 points (43 goals, 32 assists), leading the Minutemen to Division I men's lacrosse's only undefeated regular season (15-0). The 2012 CAA Player of the Year can score from anywhere — setting up UMass' offense at X, dodging to create his own shot or finishing on the inside. He joins Sean Morris (2005 and 2006) as the only UMass players to be nominated for the Tewaaraton Award. Of the finalists, Manny has the toughest road to capturing the trophy, just like the Minutemen have arguably the most difficult path to Foxborough. They'll have to get through Colgate and either Duke or Syracuse to make the semifinals, and every eventual winner has at least reached the final four. But "Willy the Kid" will benefit from TV time, as UMass has probably had the least national exposure of the teams represented.

4. Mike Sawyer, Loyola, Jr., A
Relying on his righty rocket time-and-room step-down shot that he can score with from seemingly anywhere, Sawyer finished the regular season third nationally with 46 goals. He led Loyola's fourth-ranked scoring offense — one of the nation's most consistent, prolific and feared units — all season, as the Greyhounds scored double-digit goals in all but three games. After leading Loyola to the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, Sawyer becomes the first player in school history to be named a Tewaaraton finalist. Though Sawyer has posted gaudy goal-scoring numbers, some might knock him for his nine assists, which are 20 behind the next-closest finalists. Additionally, running mate Eric Lusby, long-stick midfielder Scott Ratliff and short-stick middie Josh Hawkins all garner significant attention. While it's impossible to "steal" votes from Sawyer, the fact that the Greyhounds have three other studs on the team could hurt Sawyer's individual candidacy.

3. CJ Costabile, Duke, Sr., LSM
In the absence of a bonafide 70-point scorer that Duke has been accustomed to in recent years, but playing alongside a host of recognizable names — Jordan Wolf, Rob Rotanz, Justin Turri, Mike Manley — Costabile has been the Blue Devils' most valuable weapon. He is a do-it-all performer, even if the stats hardly tell the story of Costabile's season. He wins nearly 52 percent (119-of-231) of faceoffs. When he doesn't win them, he hounds the ball between the stripes. He's a ground ball goblin, picking up 113 — fourth nationally and first in the ACC. He covers the opponents' top midfield scorer. He sparks transition. He scores (6 goals, 4 assists). So Costabile will be everywhere this postseason. But, as Joel White (Syracuse, 2011 and 2010) and Brodie Merrill (Georgetown, 2004 and 2005) know, it'll be difficult for non-offensive player to win the award; none ever has. Costabile likely would need several highlight-filled performances late in the tournament to overcome that history.

2. Peter Baum, Colgate, Jr., A
The nation's leading scorer with 93 points (64 goals, 29 assists), Baum tallied 18 more points than Manny, the next-closest finalist. It's also the most in NCAA men's Division I play since 2008, when Tewaaraton finalist Zack Greer (Duke) recorded 95. Baum's Tewaaraton case was called into question earlier this year, when it wasn't clear if Colgate would make the postseason, and the Raiders, and Baum (an Oregon native), hadn't received much national television exposure. Both of those qualms have been eliminated; Colgate made the bracket and it has been on TV four straight games, in which Baum posted 16 goals and 13 assists. Now, it's a matter of how far the Raiders roll in the postseason. The nation's second-ranked scoring offense will have plenty of chances to get up-and-down against UMass in the first-round, and potentially the winner of Duke-Syracuse in the quarterfinals. Baum would benefit from shining bright on the biggest stages.

1. Steele Stanwick, Sr., A
Stanwick, the reigning Tewaaraton Award winner, could join Syracuse's Mikey Powell (2002 and 2004) as the only two-time recipient, though Stanwick would be the first to do it in back-to-back seasons. He ranks second nationally in points per game (5.07), having totaled 26 goals and 45 assists. At this point last year — granted, he was battling nagging injuries — he had posted 23 goals and 26 assists. So it's safe to say Stanwick has met and exceeded expectations, even while being the focus of every opponent's defensive game plan. Since Rob Pannell went down with a foot injury in the second game of the season, the Tewaaraton has been Stanwick's to lose. And now? That's largely still the case. Only an early-round upset loss, coupled with loud performances by other candidates, would alter the course. Remember, we're talking about a historical talent here. Stanwick ranks No. 22 all-time in NCAA Division I career points with 260, and he's Virginia's all-time leader. Sit back and enjoy the show.

Surprise Omissions

Notre Dame's John Kemp comes up just short of being the third goaltender to be named a Tewaaraton finalist.
© John Strohsacker/

John Kemp, Notre Dame, Jr., G
Kemp comes up just short of becoming the third goalie ever to be named a Tewaaraton finalist (Princeton's Trevor Tierney in 2001, Syracuse's John Galloway in 2011). Apparently coach Kevin Corrigan's plea to the Committee didn't swing enough votes. After Notre Dame beat Syracuse for the first time in school history, Corrigan said: "John's terrific. He's the best goalie in the country. He may be the best player in the country. I keep hearing all these people talk about all these offensive guys for the Tewaaraton and I'm wondering why John's not part of that conversation." Certainly Kemp was a part of the conversation. To me, he's the only non-finalist who should feel snubbed. The Potomac, Md., native anchored Notre Dame's top-rated scoring defense, ranking first nationally in goals against average (5.88) and save percentage (.642). It just makes you think: How much would a goalie have to do to win the trophy? For comparison, Tierney in 2001 posted these vitals: 5.73 goals against, .671 save percentage. Last year, Galloway was 6.70 goals against, .572 save percentage.

Marcus Holman, North Carolina, Jr., A
Holman is the straw that stirs the drink for the Tar Heels' young offensive unit that features three freshman and two sophomore starters, including jitterbug linemates Jimmy Bitter and Joey Sankey. As coach Joe Breschi said after North Carolina's ACC Tournament semifinal victory over Virginia: "Marcus Holman really runs the show down there [on offense], and he does a terrific job of organizing those young bucks." After bumping down from the midfield, Holman has been unstoppable, posting a balanced scoring production of 33 goals and 33 assists. That included a 10-point performance (6 goals, 4 assists) against Michigan last week. Why does Holman fall short? Likely because the Tar Heels have 11 double-digit scorers, and everyone gets involved.

Mark Matthews, Denver, Sr., A
The Canadian, and Denver for that matter, might not have had the regular season prognosticators expected coming off a final four appearance last May, but the senior guided the Pioneers back to the postseason anyway. And now, Matthews and Denver are heating up. Matthews ranks 10th nationally in points per game with 56 (39 goals, 17 assists), and he matches his reputation (fourth overall selection in the 2012 MLL Draft) with ridiculous highlight-reel finishing ability. A three-time first-team All-ECAC performer, Matthews is Denver's all-time leader in goals and points. How did he miss the list? Well, the Pioneers were snake-bitten for most of the season, dropping four one-goal games, including three in overtime. With another victory or two, Denver might have avoided the bubble discussion and Matthews might have been a finalist. He also was battling a broken finger for the latter part of the season.

Most to Gain

No one has been able to slow Baum this year. If it continues in the postseason, the nation will notice. With unprecedented parity this season — really, 14 tournament teams could make a legitimate case right now they can win it all — Colgate could crash the party, and Baum stands the most to gain. Play along for a second: What happens if Loyola, Duke, Virginia and UMass are all upset before reaching the semifinals? It's not so far-fetched. Only one top-4 national seed from the last two seasons (Virginia in 2010) has made the final four. In 2011 the No.'s 5, 6 and 7, plus one unseeded team, made Memorial Day Weekend. In 2010 No.'s 5 and 7, and one unseeded team, made it. So if a scenario like that happens again — and even if Colgate gets knocked out too — who gets the Tewaaraton? Stands to reason it would be Baum, the nation's leading scorer.

History Says...

The postseason's top performer — the best player on the best team — will win the Tewaaraton. The claim that the regular season doesn't matter in Tewaaraton voting is not true; in order to win the award, the recipient must be one of five finalists, which are named before tournament time. But, as mentioned earlier, herein lies an interesting dilemma. What if all the finalists get knocked out early? And then, what if the postseason's best player isn't among the five finalists? Remember, the Tewaaraton is presented annually to the "player of the year." Really, this could be interpreted or defined liberally and subjectively.

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