May 21, 2013

Stevens' Final Four Preview from A to Z

by Patrick Stevens |

Denver senior Eric Law is one of only three players nationally to put up at least 40 goals and 30 assists this season. The other two are Tewaaraton Award finalists Rob Pannell and Lyle Thompson.
© AJ Mast

Duke plays Cornell and Syracuse faces Denver on Saturday in the NCAA Division I men's national semifinals, both airing live on ESPN2 at 2:30 at 5 p.m. ET, respectively.

The title tilt is scheduled for 1 p.m. Monday, live on ESPN. will also have complete coverage throughout the weekend of all divisions, with live blogs, post-game reaction and more.

Here's what to watch for at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, home of the NFL's Eagles:

A is for attendance. The crowd for the semifinals plummeted by almost 30 percent last year, falling to 31,774 — the lowest since the championship weekend moved to NFL stadiums in 2003. Title game attendance has dipped four straight years, with the last three setting successive lows. A return to Philadelphia after an extended absence plus Syracuse's presence figure to help reverse those trends.

B is for Wesley Berg. The nifty Canadian is the first player in Denver's Division I era to score 50 goals in a season, reaching 56 with four scores in the Pioneers' quarterfinal defeat of North Carolina. He already has 109 career points as his sophomore season approaches its conclusion.

C is for Carson Cannon, an all-ECAC selection as a sophomore and one of the pillars of Denver's defense. While the Pioneers have allowed six of their last eight opponents to reach double figures, the work of Cannon and the close defense on North Carolina's potent attack of Jimmy Bitter, Marcus Holman and Joey Sankey (a combined five points) on Sunday was stellar.

D is for Ben DeLuca. He's the only one of the four remaining coaches making his first semifinal appearance, and the history of first-time coaches at the final four in the last 20 years isn't great. Since 1993, only one of the 15 final four newcomers came away with a championship. Of course, that was Loyola's Charley Toomey last year.

E is for extra-man, something Cornell is particularly adept at defending. The Big Red's man-down defense ranks fourth nationally at 77.4 percent and has stifled all seven extra-man chances by opponents in this postseason.

F is for Brendan Fowler. The relentless faceoff man is Duke's most reliable weapon, winning 64.9 percent of his draws (303-for-467) over the course of the season. Fowler is well-positioned to set the Division I record for both faceoffs won in a season (the current mark of 311 was set by Delaware's Alex Smith in 2007) and faceoffs taken in a year (480, established this season by Albany's Kevin Glueckert).

G is for goalie split, one of the signatures of Denver this season. Ryan LaPlante typically plays the first half before giving way to Jamie Faus after the break, but the Pioneers switched things up and yanked LaPlante less than 10 minutes into Sunday's quarterfinal against North Carolina. Faus made 11 saves and allowed just five goals the rest of the way as Denver rallied to win. But Denver coach Bill Tierney told LaPlante immediately after the North Carolina game that he would start against Syracuse on Saturday.

H is for host city, which will be Philadelphia for the first time since 2006. Lincoln Financial Field was home to the memorable Johns Hopkins-Virginia semifinal in 2005 and Virginia's coronation to cap a 17-0 spring a year later. There won't be an unbeaten champion, but there is a memorable final four history in the City of Brotherly Love.

I is for Steve Ianzito. The Syracuse defensive midfielder and captain left Saturday's defeat of Yale with an ankle injury and did not return. He's an important contributor for the Orange, and his is one of the more significant injuries to monitor entering the weekend.

J is for journey, which can cover any of the teams remaining but especially Syracuse's senior class. No graduating group has left Syracuse without a trip to the semifinals since 1979, and this group of Orange avoided ending that streak after being part of a pair of first-round exits (2010 and 2012) and a stunning quarterfinal loss in 2011. Now, they'll try to avoid becoming the first Syracuse seniors to leave without collecting a championship since 1999.

K is for Thomas Keith, the Cornell long pole who brings a four-game point streak into the final four. Keith scored a goal in the Big Red's tournament opener against Maryland and assisted on the last of Steve Mock's seven goals in the quarterfinal rout of Ohio State last weekend.

L is for Eric Law. The senior has 40 goals and 35 assists for the Pioneers, one of only three players nationally (along with Cornell's Rob Pannell and Albany's Lyle Thompson) to have a 40-30 season. His 75 points are also the most for a Denver player in a season since it moved up to Division I.

Cornell's Doug Tesoriero is one of three faceoff men competing this weekend with winning percentages in the top 14 nationally.
© John Strohsacker/

M is for JoJo Marasco. The senior set Syracuse's single-season record for assists by a midfielder, piling up 38 including the game-winning feed to Dylan Donahue in a quarterfinal defeat of Yale. Only one player has managed more assists in the last 10 seasons for the Orange — Kenny Nims, who had 42 for the 2009 national champions.

N is for Noble, both Jason and Jeremy. The twin brothers (both of whom wear No. 45) have played important parts in getting their respective teams to the semifinals. Jason Noble leads Cornell in caused turnovers (34) and has started every game on close defense for the Big Red. Jeremy Noble, of Denver, returned from an injury earlier this month and scored a fourth-quarter goal against North Carolina in the quarterfinals.

O is for Josh Offit, a senior on Duke's second midfield who has piled up nine multi-goal games and has not gone back-to-back contests without a goal all season. Offit didn't score in Sunday's quarterfinal defeat of Notre Dame, and could be particularly vital if the weather makes depth an issue this weekend.

P is for Rob Pannell. What else would it be for this weekend? Pannell already has 15 points in this tournament; the single-postseason record is 26. He is also up to 347 career points, second all-time behind former Duke star and current Blue Devils assistant Matt Danowski (353). He is also five points from becoming the ninth player in Division I history to record 100 points in a season.

Q is for quick starts, something Duke never seems to muster each season but always overcomes. Over the last four years, the Blue Devils are a combined 12-12 through their first six games. For the rest of those seasons, Duke is 47-8 — including 12 wins in 13 games since a 2-4 start this year.

R is for rebound, which is one way to describe Cornell's recovery this spring. The Big Red produced seven straight 10-win seasons before last season, when they missed the tournament with a 9-4 record. Only three teams have won a national title after missing the tournament the year before: 1983 Syracuse, 2008 Syracuse and 2012 Loyola.

S is for scoring, and there should be plenty of it this weekend. All four teams average at least 11.72 goals, with Cornell (second at 14.59 goals per game) the highest-scoring team to make it to the semifinals since 2008 Duke (15.2).

T is for title rings, something both Denver's Bill Tierney and Syracuse's John Desko have at least a fistful of coming into the weekend. Tierney won six national titles between 1992 and 2001 at Princeton and will coach in his 12th final four. Desko guided the Orange to five titles in a 10-year span and has taken Syracuse to Memorial Day weekend for the 10th time in 15 years.

U is for unseeded. Cornell's presence in the final four marks the fourth consecutive year an unseeded team made it to Memorial Day weekend. More to the point, four of the last five unseeded teams in the final four advanced to the championship game (2006 Massachusetts, 2010 Notre Dame, 2011 Maryland and 2012 Maryland). None of them, however, claimed a crown.

V is for Max Van Bourgondien, the Cornell senior who is the only starting midfielder left in the field to record three consecutive hat tricks. Van Bourgondien has five hat tricks on the season and has rolled up 27 goals and 13 assists overall while starting every game.

W is for Jordan Wolf. The Duke junior is a goal away from his first 50-goal season and moving into the top 10 on the Blue Devils' career goals list. The attackman is also tied for 12th on Duke's career points list with 190, including a team-high 74 this season.

X is for the X, as it usually is. Three of the nation's top 14 faceoff men will compete Sunday, including Duke's Brendan Fowler (third, .649), Cornell's Doug Tesoriero (ninth, .592) and Denver's Chase Carraro (14th, .578).

Y is for Taylor Young, who with 12 points in the only member of Denver's second midfield with at least 10 on the season. Only five of the dozen listed second line midfielders left in the final four have reached 10 points this year, with three of them (Josh Offit, Myles Jones and Deemer Class) reaching the 20-point plateau for Duke.

Z is for zero, the number of teams that have reached double figures in the national championship game in the last three years. Before that, only five of the first 39 NCAA finals featured both teams scoring less than 10 goals — and never in back-to-back years. The last team to get to 10 in a final? That would be Syracuse, which edged Cornell 10-9 in its last Memorial Day appearance in 2009.

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