June 12, 2012

LM Early Offseason Top 15 (MD1 Nos. 15-11)

by Matt Forman | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

JoJo Marasco should bump down to attack, writes Matt Forman, to be the quarterback of Syracuse's re-worked offense.
© Greg Wall

With the 2012 season still rattling around our minds, Lacrosse Magazine decided to take a fresh, early offseason look at next year's potential top 15 teams. What are their strenghts, weaknesses and question marks lingering over the summer? Here are Nos. 15-11. Check back to LaxMagazine.com on Wednesday (for Nos. 10-6) and Thursday (for our top-5).

Note: These lists do not reflect or indicate LM's official preseason rankings for 2013.

15. Syracuse (9-8)

2012 Final Regular-Season Rank: 16
2012 Preseason Rank: 8
Key Returnees: Derek Maltz (28g, 9a), JoJo Marasco (12g, 19a), Luke Cometti (11g, 1a), Brandon Mullins (27gb, 13ct), Brian Megill (62gb, 37ct)
Key Losses: Eight seniors. Tommy Palasek (24g, 30a), Tim Desko (22g, 11a), Bobby Eilers (22g, 8a), Kevin Drew (7g, 3a, 34gb)

Three Questions:

  • How can Syracuse improve on faceoffs? The "X" was a question mark all season, and the struggles cropped up against Duke in the NCAA tournament first round loss. Seven different players took draws, and they combined to win 46.4 percent — some of that stat can be attributed to wing play. Coach John Desko made it clear addressing faceoffs would be Syracuse's No. 1 priority. Defenseman Brian Megill provided a spark late in the season, but he likely isn't the long-term answer. Ricky Buhr and Chris Daddio both return.
  • Who's the starting goalie? The quick answer would be freshman Bobby Wardwell, who debuted nine games into 2012 against Princeton with the season on the line, though three different players started between the pipes — all three return. Wardwell, a top recruit who won the Under Armour All-America Game MVP, was expected to redshirt after suffering a concussion early in the year. Wardwell gained confidence with experience and made 10 saves against Duke. Knowing Wardwell is "the guy" might boost morale. Either way, the goalie will play in front of an athletic defense that features Brandon Mullins and Brian Megill, along with shortie Steve Ianzito.
  • Will Syracuse have enough offense, needing to replace three of four 20-goal scorers from the school's lowest-scoring unit in the last decade? The answer: Would Abraham Lincoln tell a lie? JoJo Marasco, the caretaker of No. 22, should bump back down to attack, where as the quarterback his numbers should exceed his 2011 totals (23 and 18). Freshman Matt Walters showed flashes of his lethal outside shot on the extra-man unit. Hakeem Lecky and Henry Schoonmaker need to take a step forward, and should see more runs. Syracuse also graduates short-stick defensive midfielder Kevin Drew; will the Orange be able to get up and down as easily?

14. Princeton (11-5)

2012 Final Regular-Season Rank: 12
2012 Preseason Rank: 13
Key Returnees: Tom Schreiber (32g, 28a), Jeff Froccaro (27g, 12a), Mike MacDonald (22g, 8a), Tucker Shanley (20g, 8a), Forest Sonnenfeldt (17g, 6a)
Key Losses: 13 seniors. Alex Capretta (23g, 11a), Chad Wiedmaier (32gb, 33ct), Jonathan Meyers (50gb, 14ct), John Cunningham (53gb, 5 ct), Tyler Fiorito (7.07 GAA, 59.5%)

Three Questions:

  • How does Princeton stack up in the Ivy League? All five of the Tigers' losses in 2012 came against NCAA tournament teams, and only one was against an Ivy League foe — Yale. The Bulldogs will be strong again next year and Rob Pannell's extra year at Cornell makes the Big Red an immediate title contender, while Brown has the pieces in place to take a step forward. Gazing way too far into the crystal ball, the Ivy League should be a two-bid league. Princeton will have to adjust to losing 13 seniors quickly, then handle conference competition.
  • Can the defense be a top-10 unit once again? With the offensive firepower of Tom Schreiber and Company, it won't have to. Princeton has held its opponents to an average of fewer than 8 goals per game in three of the last four seasons, but the nation's No. 6 scoring defense graduates first-team All-American Chad Wiedmaier and honorable mention long-stick midfielder John Cunningham, not to mention second-team All-American goalie Tyler Fiorito. That's a ton of talent to adjust for in one offseason. And remember, Princeton went 4-9 two years ago.
  • How much more can we expect from Tom Schreiber? Though he was banged up a couple games during his freshman campaign, Schreiber more than doubled his production last year, jumping from 29 to 60 points while doing the St. Anthony's shuffle against seemingly every opponent. Arguably the most dynamic midfielder in the country, Schreiber makes the Tigers' offense tick. The unit returns five of its six leading scorers, and though they don't have a dominant initiator, Schreiber is a master field general.

13. Penn State (9-6)

2012 Final Regular-Season Rank: 14
2012 Preseason Rank: 14
Key Returnees: Shane Sturgis (19g, 11a), Nick Dolik (18g, 4a), Gavin Ahern (13g, 5a), Danny Henneghan (62gb, 50.9% FO), Austin Kaut (7.93 GAA, 58.4%)
Key Losses: Five seniors. Matt Mackrides (30g, 12a), Jack Forster (27g, 15a), Ryan Link (51gb, 15ct), Ryan McGarvey (17gb, 1ct)

Three Questions:

  • Will playing such a tough schedule pay off? The Nittany Lions were the last team left out of the NCAA tournament, as they were just one win short of making the field. Part of second-year coach Jeff Tambroni's formula: Assemble the toughest non-conference schedule possible: Penn State played eight non-conference games, six of which came against postseason contenders, for the No. 8 strength of schedule, according to LaxPower. Of the Nits' six losses, five were against tournament teams. It's a philosophy that can backfire — see 3-10 Penn, with the No. 1 SOS — but immediately raises expectations.
  • Where will the scoring come from? Top scorers Matt Mackrides and Jack Forster, who each finished with 42 points, graduate from an offense that averaged 8.73 goals per game (45th nationally and shot 25.8 percent (52nd). Shane Sturgis, who started 13 games in 2011 but only five last year, should lead the unit along with Gavin Ahern. But Penn State will need Pat Manley, Steve Aitken or others to emerge.
  •  How strong can the defense be? Every starter at close from the nation's No. 10 scoring defense will be back in Happy Valley — Steven Bogert, JP Burnside and Jack Donnelly — as will third-team All-America selection Austin Kaut, who has earned a reputation as one of the nation's top goalies. They play a disciplined, collective style that suffocates opponents, and will compete with everybody this side of Notre Dame for the title of the nation's best unit.
Tewaaraton Award finalist Will Manny returns for a UMass team that may find tougher sledding in next year's Colonial Athletic Association race.
© Kevin P. Tucker

12. UMass (15-1)

2012 Final Regular-Season Rank: 1
2012 Preseason Rank: 12
Key Returnees: Will Manny (44g, 33a), Kyle Smith (33g, 19a), Colin Fleming (26g, 8a), Jake Smith (28gb, 11ct), Ryan Hollenbaugh (25gb, 12ct)
Key Losses: 11 seniors. Art Kell (33g, 20a), Anthony Biscardi (21g, 7a), Mike Fetterly (7g, 19a), Tom Celentani (32gb, 24ct), Greg Anderson (26gb, 5ct), Tim McCormack (7.09 GAA, 60.6%)

Three Questions:

  • Can the Minutemen repeat their magic? It would be tough for anyone to predict another 15-win, undefeated regular season, but this is especially the case with the Colonial Athletic Association's ever-increasing strength. Before UMass' NCAA tournament loss Penn State, Hofstra and Drexel gave the Minutemen a run for their money. Related: Will UMass consider beefing up its schedule with tough out-of-conference games? Despite ranking No. 2 in the RPI, UMass was given the 6-seed by the Selection Committee and drew Colgate in the first round; it didn't face its first tournament team until...the tournament.
  • How will UMass handle the loss of Art Kell and Anthony Biscardi? Tewaaraton Award finalist and Crafty lefty quarterback Will Manny and partner in crime Kyle Smith return, but fellow attackmen Kell and Biscardi combined for nearly 100 points last year. The nation's No. 3 offense will score, but defenses are going to pay more attention to Manny.
  • Who will replace Tim McCormack? The fifth-year senior and leader of the defense started 28 games over the last two seasons, and he saved 55.3 percent of shots in 2012. The heir apparent is Zachary Oliveri, a U.S. U-19 team member and highly regarded recruit. He's an outspoken, active goalie who will command the unit. Top cover defenseman Jake Smith, who went toe-to-toe with Peter Baum, will anchor the defense after losing multi-year starters Greg Anderson and Tom Celentani.

11. Denver (9-7)

2012 Final Regular-Season Rank: 13
2012 Preseason Rank: 5
Key Returnees: Jeremy Noble (25g, 21a), Eric Law (26g, 16a), Wes Berg (26g, 11a), Cam Flint (16g, 7a), Chase Carraro (14g, 6a)
Key Losses: Eight seniors. Mark Matthews (47g, 17a), Alex Demopolous (20g, 27a), Patrick Rogers (3g, 5a, 33gb)

Three Questions:

  • Can the Pioneers reverse their one-goal trend? Denver went 1-6 in one-goal games in 2012, including its 10-9 defeat to Loyola in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals. Some have suggested — perhaps slightly tongue-in-cheek — that Denver and Loyola might have met in the national championship if they were paired on opposite sides of the bracket. That speaks to Denver's overall strength. Usually these trends reverse, or normalize, over time. Unless there's something endemic plaguing the program, and there's no reason to believe that's the case here: Denver didn't play tight.
  • Who steps into Mark Matthews' shoes? The "Master of the Toe Drag" departs Denver as the school's all-time leader in points and goals. He attracted a swarm of defensive attention every time he stepped on the field, and seemingly always made something happen when the ball was in his stick. The Pioneers, led by offensive coordinator Matt Brown, won't have difficulty scoring in 2012. They just have to figure out where the scoring will come from. Freshman Wes Berg looks like the next Matthews, though he's a smaller, right-handed version. Jeremy Noble, Eric Law, Cam Flint and Chase Carraro are very dangerous.
  • Who's the starting goalie: Ryan LaPlante or Jamie Faus? It's a good "problem" to have, but one that coach Bill Tierney will have to handle delicately, assuming Faus is healthy. Faus, also the starter in 2011, tore his Achilles against Notre Dame in the sixth game of the season. LaPlante was never supposed to play last year — he was at home in Colorado when Faus got hurt, then flew out to New York to face Cornell on short notice — but he started 10 games and posted a .535 save percentage. The guess here? Faus is the guy, while LaPlante takes a redshirt.

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