March 21, 2014

McAnaney: Five Big Games to Watch This Weekend

by Eamon McAnaney | | Twitter

The Albany offense, headlined by the Thompsons at attack, should make for an exciting contest at Penn State. (Greg Wall)

Lacrosse Magazine welcomed ESPN lacrosse announcer Eamon McAnaney to its stable of contributors earlier this spring. Look for more from McAnaney, a sports broadcasting veteran and former Notre Dame lacrosse captain, throughout the college season here at For a list of upcoming ESPN and other lacrosse broadcasts, visit

Here are his five games to watch this weekend.

No. 19 Albany at No. 14 Penn State, 1 p.m. Saturday

This game, to me, is the headliner and most intriguing of the weekend. These two teams were popular picks in the preseason for being the next breakthrough program to get to Championship Weekend but they come into this matchup with a combined 6-6 record. The Great Danes can still claim the America East AQ but the Nittany Lions have been flying without a net all year after the CAA's decision to ban Penn State from the conference tournament because of its move to the Big Ten lacrosse conference next year.

"It's almost like we have been in a seven-game series and every game is Game 7," Penn State coach Jeff Tambroni said. "Maybe we have been asking more emotionally than is fair and we need to allow them to play the way they are capable of playing. We need to be relaxed and play with confidence and a little less worried about the result."

That will be easier said than done against the Magical Mystery Tour and an offense averaging an NCAA best 15.8 goals a game, most of which are of the spectacular variety.

"As a lacrosse fan, my goodness they are fun to watch, as long as you are not playing against them," said Tambroni. "They do some things that you just don't typically see and they are extremely comfortable in whom they are so they just go out and play and that makes them dangerous. The scary part is how it affect your emotions because your group could get overwhelmed by seeing it for the first time."

No. 3 Cornell at No. 12 Penn, 1 p.m. Saturday

Penn head coach Mike Murphy knows that every Ivy League game is created equal but he'll also point out that his phone is more active with texts and email from alums during Cornell week.

"For the last 10 years or so it's been Cornell's conference," he said. "Cornell has been an elite program for a decade. Our guys know that, they know the significance of this game. There is no doubt that there is an extra shot of adrenaline when you step on your home field against the No. 3 team in the country."

Murphy thinks a key will be matching Cornell's energy in the hustle stats and is also stressing the need to be prepared for the Big Red's big three.

"Matt Donovan is really good. Connor Buczek is as good as an athlete as any in the sport and Dan Lintner is dangerous inside," Murphy said. "If we're not ready, we'll get drilled. If we are ready it will be a really good game."

No. 1 Maryland at No. 7 North Carolina, 2 p.m. Saturday (ESPNU)

Joe Breschi might want to think about inviting Mariano Rivera or Alec Baldwin (see "Glengary Glen Ross") down to Chapel Hill to teach the Heels the finer arts and importance of closing. If UNC had held onto fourth-quarter leads against either Notre Dame or Duke, the Tar Heels would be in much better shape right now instead of hoping to avoid starting 0-3 in ACC play with No. 1 Maryland coming to Keenan Stadium. While managing end-of-game situations has been a point of emphasis for the coaching staff this week getting the first midfield line back on track is also a major priority. Think about this, UNC took the defending champs to overtime on their own field last Saturday with Chad Tutton shooting 0-10 and the entire top line shooting 0-16.

This matchup feels very similar to last year when UNC went up to College Park and turned around its season by handing the top-ranked Terps their first loss of the season. Kieran Burke made 15 saves that afternoon and he will likely need to duplicate that effort against Mike Chanenchuk, who, with 21 goals in seven games, is making an early claim for first-team All-American status.

"We needed him to be more of a vocal leader and more of a dodging presence and create for himself more," Maryland coach John Tillman said. "He was excited about it. If that was going to help us win, he was up for it."

No. 10 Johns Hopkins at No. 8 Virginia, 4:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPNU)

The chess match between Dom Starsia and Dave Pietramala is already on as both look to make adjustments after losses last week. It is in the Cavaliers' DNA to go out and pressure the ball, but how tempted will they be to dust off the 2011 postseason playbooks after seeing how effective the Syracuse zone was against the Jays at Homewood.

Pietramala felt his offense was a bit unorganized against the Orange and no matter what scheme his offense sees from Virginia he wants his to attack to be more assertive.

"We have to attack the goal," he said. "We have to make them honor us as dodgers."

He is also looking for that mentality from his whole team.

"We need to play harder, we need to guard harder and be more physical," he said. "You look at our Princeton game; we were physical and we checked hard. We need more of that."

After a 6-0 start the Cavaliers come into this one on their heels a bit after back-to-back road losses to Cornell and Notre Dame. It's probably unfair to boil things down to only two areas but the slide will continue if Virginia does not win more faceoffs and make more saves.

No. 9 Syracuse at No. 4 Duke, 12:30 p.m. Sunday (ESPNU)

Speaking of faceoffs, no matchup is more symbolic for the current debate about the increased importance and role of FOGOs and all the issues around the X than the rematch of last year's national championship game. The Orange faithful thought their team was on its way to another title with a 6-1 second-quarter lead but then keyed by Brendan Fowler's dominance the Blue Devils went on a 12-1 run and turned the game completely around. Fowler won 20 of 28 in Philadelphia and the Orange have yet to fix their faceoff woes in 2014.

"We're frustrated with it, no doubt," Syracuse coach John Desko said. "We're definitely going to be ready with a Plan B. Who knows, maybe Plan B will become Plan A."

It's one thing to not have the ball, it's another thing when it means you have to continually to defend Jordan Wolf.

"He's so quick and he goes when you don't expect it," said Desko. "Most teams will wait for the subs, but bang, he goes. He's dodging to score almost all of the time."

Despite being in the top 10 the Orange are still winless in their new league, a fact that is not lost on the players.

"They're talking about it so I don't need to," he said. "I don't like to put extra pressure on them, I'm not sweating it too much."

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