April 8, 2013

Washburn: Breaking Down My Top 20 Poll

by Evan Washburn | LaxMagazine.com

Evan Washburn is not sold on Notre Dame, which has played six games decided by two goals or less.
© Marc Piscotty

The calendar has turned to April and teams are now in the heart of their conference schedule, the most important games of the season.

The polls will start to become much more important as the NCAA tournament conversation heats up.

Last week I listed my entire top 20, along with my ranking system. This week we are taking it to the next level, with breakdowns and expectations for each team.

1. Maryland (8-1)

I was on the call on CBS Sports Network for the Terps' 11-8 win over Navy on Friday night. I walked away impressed with Maryland once again. It wasn't prettiest win for Tillman and company, but credit Navy for playing its most inspired lacrosse of the season during this rivalry game.

Pick your poison when dealing with Maryland's weapons. The Terps have six players with double-digit point totals. In the net, Niko Amato is playing better than any goalie in the nation and in transition there is no better team.

As I said Friday night, if Maryland does not walk away from championship weekend with the title I will be shocked.

2. Cornell (10-1)

It had all the makings of another top-5 upset, but the Big Red outscored Harvard 7-2 in the fourth quarter and got out of Cambridge with a 14-12 win.

Cornell, like Maryland, has a lethal offense that is generating more goals than any team in the country: 147 on the season. This group loves to put the ball on cage, outshooting opponents 506 to 364.

Cornell faces it's toughest test of the season thus far Wednesday night when they take on Syracuse in the Carrier Dome.

3. North Carolina (8-3)

The Tar Heels are the hottest team in the country. They have won five straight games against the likes of Maryland, Brown, Johns Hopkins and Virginia.

We knew what this offense could do, but the improved defense is now the story.

Freshman goalie Kieran Burke has settled in and is playing great . He is coming off of the best game of his career making 23 saves in the 10-7 win over Virginia.

The Tar Heels should head into the ACC tournament with a 10-3 record.

4. Denver (9-2)

The Pioneers got all they could handle from Bellarmine on Sunday afternoon, escaping in double overtime 11-10. Eric Law is having an incredible season and this game could be that Tewaaraton moment he needs. Law had three goals and two assists, including the game winner.

Denver has not lost a game in regulation since Feb. 17 and will now visit Loyola with the top seed in the ECAC tournament on the line.

5. Loyola (9-2)

The Greyhounds are back.

They have won five straight games and are playing the type of lacrosse that brought them the national championship last year.

Defensive midfielder Josh Hawkins and long stick midfielder Scott Ratliff combined for six goals on six shots in Saturday's 13-7 win over Fairfield.

This team heads into the season's biggest game — Saturday against Denver — playing its best lacrosse.

6. Syracuse (7-2)

The Orange can be inconsistent at times, but their good is really good.

Going to Princeton and beating the Tigers in a 13 -12 shootout was impressive.

Their stock is up right now but the meat of the Big East schedule still remains, along with a Wednesday night matchup with No. 2 Cornell.

7. Princeton (6-3)

The Tigers only drop one spot in my poll after a loss to Syracuse.

The biggest concern to come out of the loss to the Orange that Princeton was outscored 6-3 in the final quarter after starting the fourth with a two-goal lead at home.

The X-factor for this team will be freshman goalie Matt O'Connor. He will have to be great for this team to realize their goals.

8. Duke (9-4)

The Blue Devils have stood up to all the early-season doubters, including myself, and again sit as a top-10 team in April.

When Duke is playing with a sense of urgency, and as a unit on the defensive end, they can beat any team in the country.

9. Penn St. (8-3)

The Nittany Lions are my sleeper team, if they can finally get into the NCAA tournament.

They have the formula for a deep run. A top-5 defense (7.3 goals against) and a dynamic offense led by the attack of Jack Forester, Shane Sturgis and T.J. Sanders.

The trio has combined for 99 points this season.

Penn State would be best served to win the CAA tournament as the way into the NCAA tournament, but at this point their resume is looking pretty good with wins over Denver, Bucknell, Drexel and Villanova.

10. Notre Dame (7-2)

Most polls have the Irish ranked much higher than 10th. Their resume is impressive with wins over North Carolina, Denver, Penn State and Ohio State.

I'm just not sold on the overall talent level and depth of this team.

To me there is a difference between finding a way to win games and constantly finding yourself in tight games, no matter the competition.

Notre Dame has played six games decided by two or less goals, and three have gone to overtime.

11. Bucknell (10-2)

The Bison are my surprise team of the season and once again find themselves in good shape heading into a huge Patriot League showdown with Lehigh.

Coach Frank Fedorjaka has again put together a team that is very unselfish offensively; seven players have double-digit point totals. The defense continues to slide quickly and frustrate opponents and, oh yeah, there is that pesky 10-man ride.

Despite a great start I still have Lehigh repeating as Patriot League champions, but Bucknell could be the Colgate of 2012.

12. Ohio State (7-3)

I'm still not sure how good the Buckeyes really are, largely due to the way they have played against the top-tier teams.

Despite that uncertainty, I think they will most likely head into the ECAC tournament at 10-3 and on a four-game winning streak.

13. Albany (7-3)

The Danes will be a tough matchup for any of the top eight NCAA tournament seeds.

The Great Danes had the lacrosse world watching on Friday night, to see how they and Lyle Thompson would perform on the big stage at Homewood Field.

Albany made a statement, winning 10-9 in the final minutes against Johns Hopkins. Lyle Thompson, however, struggled. He went scoreless while turning it over five times.

The Danes will win the America East and be a tough matchup for any of the top eight NCAA tournament seeds.

14. Lehigh (8-4)

The Mountain Hawks beat Colgate Saturday 13-10 in what was the most physical game of the weekend.

The officials were busy in this one, throwing 20 penalty flags and putting the timer on 11 times.

As I mentioned earlier, I have Lehigh repeating as Patriot League champions. I think they have the most depth of talent in the league and have put any early season cockiness in the rearview.

15. Johns Hopkins (6-4)

The Blue Jays have no top-20 wins and head into Saturday's road, rivalry game against No. 1 Maryland with more questions than answers.

The final five games for Johns Hopkins will be must see TV as the Blue Jays try to extend their streak of NCAA tournament appearances to 41 straight.

16. Penn (6-3)

After a hot start the Quakers have cooled off, losing three out of their last four and are lucky to still have a spot in the Top 20.

Their only shot at the NCAA tournament will come by winning the Ivy League.

17. Drexel (8-3)

The Dragons have an offense that can light up the scoreboard, but a bad habit of slow starts.

The CAA tournament is an old school slugfest, and that is an environment where Drexel can thrive.

18. Villanova (4-6)

It was a good week for the Wildcats, who got Big East wins over Georgetown and Rutgers. This team is now 3-0 in-conference and atop the standings, with three games remaining.

Villanova is much better than their record indicates and by the eye test could be a tournament team.

19. St. John's (7-3)

Dealing with success is often more difficult than attaining it.

After the program's biggest win over then-No. 1 Notre Dame, the Red Storm lost to unranked Georgetown Saturday 14-13.

St. Johns is now 2-2 in the Big East and is on the outside looking in on the conference tournament. They play Villanova and Providence in the next two weeks to decide their post-season future.

20. Hofstra (7-4)

The Pride have played good teams tough and won the games they should. In the next three weeks they face North Carolina, UMass and Penn State.

Evan Washburn, the former Delaware defenseman and current CBS Sports Network and NBC Sports Network lacrosse commentator, provides a column each Monday during the NCAA Division I men's lacrosse season. Follow Evan on Twitter @EvanWashburn.

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