May 16, 2014

Eamon McAnaney's NCAA Quarterfinals Breakdown

by Eamon McAnaney | | Twitter | May Madness

Notre Dame may want to rethink its defensive approach against Albany's Lyle Thompson, who posted up fellow Tewaaraton finalist Joe Fletcher to the tune of five goals and two assists in the Great Danes' first-round victory. (John Strohsacker)

ESPN lacrosse announcer and Lacrosse Magazine contributor Eamon McAnaney will call all four NCAA Division I men's lacrosse quarterfinals this weekend. Here's his take on the games.

Bryant vs. No. 7 Maryland

Saturday, 12 p.m. Eastern (ESPN2) - Hempstead, N.Y.

It's a shame voting for All-American awards happens before the postseason, because the matchup between Maryland's Niko Amato and Bryant's Gunnar Waldt could go a long way in swaying voters first-team goalie ballots.

"They are definitely the two best guys we saw this year," said Robert Morris coach Andrew McMinn, who went 0-2 against the Terps and Bulldogs. "Both are difficult to read. Surprisingly, against Amato you can have success low-stick side, but if you try to go high, you are really going to have to put it past him. Waldt anticipates a bit and toys with the shooters a bit. It's very difficult to beat both inside. You will need to have time and space."

McMinn said there's a fine line between game planning for these goalies and shooters overthinking.

"They are going to make saves, so you can't be discouraged," he said. "You have to trust the scout, but that's a battle for any shooter. They are going to stop shots even if you put it in a so-called weak spot. You just have to know that going into the game."

The Amato/Waldt matchup is similar to a great pitcher's duel or quarterback matchup in that they are not really playing each other. The same cannot be said of Maryland's Charlie Raffa and Bryant's Kevin Massa, the two best faceoff men in the country.

"That is going to pretty intriguing," McMinn said. "Raffa's more of an offensive threat on his own, but Massa will push it and stay out there and have them play 5-on-5. Both of these teams like to control the game, and that starts by winning faceoffs. It will be interesting to see how the other team handles things if their guy loses a few faceoffs in a row."

Albany vs. No. 6 Notre Dame

Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Eastern (ESPNU) - Hempstead, N.Y.

"Historically, Notre Dame relies on their system and no 1-on-1 matchup is bigger than that," said Penn State coach Jeff Tambroni, whose Nittany Lions beat the Irish in South Bend but were knocked off by Albany 17-10 a month later. "I remember when I was at Cornell with Rob Pannell, and we faced them [Notre Dame in the 2010 NCAA semifinal] that even if he ended up with a short-stick matchup, they handled it with poise and within their system. So I am curious if they are going to stick with what they do."

But Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan and defensive coordinator Gerry Byrne might be tempted to tinker after watching Lyle Thompson post up Loyola's All-American Joe Fletcher on his way to five goals and two assists in the Great Danes' first-round win.

"Even if you're covering him, you're not covering him," Tambroni said. "I don't want to say Lyle is uncoverable, but you really have to dare somebody else to beat you."

A few years ago, maybe some of us would be predicting that Notre Dame's best way to win would be to win the opening faceoff Saturday and not a take a shot until High Mass on Sunday. But the Irish have scored 46 goals in their last three games, so look for the Domers to try to find a happy medium on offense.

"You can't take the first shot available; you have to take the best shot available," Tambroni said. "You can't have quick possessions against Albany. You have to be patient. Your players need to believe that they are going to create a great shot eventually."

Johns Hopkins vs No. 1 Duke

"I'm enamored with how they shoot. They can all shoot," Penn State coach Jeff Tambroni says of Ryan Belka (pictured) and Drexel, who will face Denver in the NCAA quarterfinals Sunday. (John Strohsacker)

Sunday, 12 p.m. Eastern - Newark, Del. (ESPNU)

Every time I imagine Johns Hopkins guarding Duke's Myles Jones with a short stick, I mentally flash back to Syracuse's Scott Loy towering over the Blue Jay middies on his way to three points in the Orange's 12-10 win at Homewood in March. Bottom line is this game is a matchup nightmare for Dave Pietramala and Johns Hopkins.

"We were just talking about it and wondering if not only does Hopkins bump up a pole, but do they switch Michael Pellegrino and Jack Reilly," said Virginia coach Dom Starsia, who went 1-2 against the Blue Jays and Blue Devils and will provide studio analysis for ESPN's coverage of the quarterfinals. "Pellegrino on Jordan Wolf behind and Reilly up top on Jones might be better fits."

Johns Hopkins used a similar strategy against North Carolina, and while Joey Sankey had five goals in the Tar Heel win, they were more in transition than straight-out sprints to the dodge that is Wolf's bread and butter.

The Blue Jays need a strong day from Drew Kennedy against Brendan Fowler on faceoffs, and then must make the Blue Devils defense work.

"The two-man game is a big a piece of the puzzle for them," Starsia said. "They are going to try to force a switch to give Wells Stanwick a chance against a shorty. But still, somebody on Johns Hopkins is going to have to be able to run by their man."

While the offenses for these teams may operate at different speeds, they are both executing with efficiency.

"I have felt all year that Hopkins is one of the best passing and shooting teams in the country. But to be honest, Duke is not far behind," Starsia said. "Duke can win if Luke Aaron doesn't have his 'A' game in goal. Johns Hopkins on the other hand needs a big game from Eric Schneider."

Drexel vs. No. 4 Denver

Sunday, 2:30 p.m. Eastern (ESPNU) - Newark, Del.

Yes, both the Pioneers and Dragons are loaded with Canadian talent, but there are no similarities in the offensive game plans.

"Drexel is more of a Canadian team. They are hard-charging, almost reckless looking to feed the crease," said Starsia, whose Virginia team escaped with an 11-10 win at Drexel and who has been coaching against Denver's Bill Tierney since they were Ivy League rivals in the 1990s. "Denver is the opposite. They are more deliberate, looking for more sustained possessions, and they are very patient and play with poise. Who gets the lead early will be a key, because that can dictate the tempo."

Possessions will be nine-tenths of the law in this one, and if Nick Saputo can dominate the faceoff game, the Dragon snipers will have a chance.

"I am enamored with how they shoot. They can all shoot," said Tambroni, whose Penn State team lost to both the Pioneers and Dragons. "If you slide, you cannot give them time and room. Ben McIntosh and Ryan Belka make them go."

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