April 22, 2011

Ten to Watch: Conferences Start Mayhem Early

by LaxMagazine.com

Last Week
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Overall 74-26 73-27
69-31 65-35 63-37 54-46


Each Friday, your crack laxperts here at Lacrosse Magazine Online will try to handicap the upcoming weekend for the top 10 college games across all divisions.

Power moves last week by the geezers of the group, as Ohanian pulled within a game of first place and B-Logue kept gaining ground, each with 8-2 weeks.

This week's games include the first all-inclusive conference tournament picks (ACC), with some Division II and Division III mixed in.

Follow the weekend's action here at laxmagazine.com.

MD1: Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament (in Durham, N.C.)

Semifinal 1: No. 2 seed North Carolina vs. No. 3 seed Maryland - Friday 5 p.m.
Semifinal 2: No. 1 seed Duke vs. No. 4 seed Virginia - Friday 7:30 p.m.
Championship Game: Sunday 3:30 p.m.

There is no other conference that boasts the strength of the ACC, in terms of the national rankings. Sixth-ranked Duke (10-4), seventh-ranked Maryland (8-3), ninth-ranked North Carolina (9-4), and tenth-ranked Virginia (8-4) have battled during the regular season, with all but Duke suffering in-conference defeats. The Blue Devils finished the ACC season 3-0. The other three teams were 1-2. The winner of the postseason championship doesn't get an automatic berth into the NCAAs, as is the case in six other leagues, but the ACC postseason presents an opportunity for teams to help or hurt their NCAA seeding, given everyone's highly-touted strength of schedule. Maryland plays North Carolina at 5 p.m. Friday and Duke plays Virginia at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the semifinal round. The winners play for the championship at 3:30 p.m. Sunday.

WD1: Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament (in Cary, N.C.)

Semifinal 1: No. 1 seed Maryland vs. No. 4 seed Boston College - Friday 5 p.m.
Semifinal 2: No. 2 seed Duke vs. No. 3 seed North Carolina - Friday 7 p.m.
Championship Game: Sunday 1 p.m.

The undefeated Terps will attempt to make it a three-peat in this year's ACC tournament and the ACC regular season has given fans little reason to think they won't. Maryland will be again be playing without LM Preseason Player of the Year Karri Ellen Johnson, who is still recovering from a concussion she got in the Terps' March 29 win over Towson, but at this point, they've won four games without her and the transition to a non-KEJ midfield has been seamless. The top of this ticket is less momentous than the bottom. Virginia Tech, Boston College and Virginia are tied for the basement of the ACC with 1-4 records. The Hokies and the Eagles will play in the quarterfinals (the Battle of the Birds?) and then have the unenviable task of facing Maryland in the semifinals to try to earn an NCAA tournament berth. Virginia plays UNC, a team that handed them a 8-7 loss, back in March in the other quarterfinal. The Cavaliers probably have enough quality wins in their 9-5 overall record to satisfy the NCAA committee, but a good showing in the ACC tournament would really seal the deal. The Tar Heels most recently posted back-to-back losses to Maryland and Duke. 

For anyone who is wondering why this game is being played at WakeMed Park in Cary, N.C. instead of an ACC campus: it was Boston College's turn to host, but the Catholic-affiliated school declined to hold any major events on Good Friday or Easter Sunday. Thus the league stepped in, and the games will be played at ACC headquarters in Cary.

WD1: No. 15 Princeton at No. 14 Dartmouth - Saturday 12 p.m.

It's been a big week for Princeton, which beat Penn 11-7 on Wednesday, ending the Quakers' 34-game conference winning streak. The Tigers have to keep their heads in the game versus Dartmouth though – there's a lot at stake. Currently there are three teams –Dartmouth, Princeton and Harvard -- tied for second place in league play with 4-1 records. If Princeton wins this game, it will likely share the Ivy League regular season title with Penn (5-1, playing unranked Brown on Saturday). That would put the Ivy League Tournament on the Tigers' home turf. Lose the game, and the conference tourney could be at Penn or Dartmouth or Harvard. The rivalry between these two schools is fierce – last time around, Princeton won, 11-10 in OT.

Tough call but I'll take the Big Green. Princeton's defenders skew a little small, and I don't think they have an answer for the twin towers of Dartmouth's offense, seniors Kat Collins (5'11") and Greta Meyer (5'9"). Meyer, a Kent Denver (Colo.) grad, played midfield her first two seasons at Dartmouth but head coach Amy Patton shifted her to attack last season to tremendous effect. She currently has 20g and 7a. Collins led the entire Ivy League in scoring as a sophomore but has since been hampered by injuries as a junior. This season, despite a mid-season ACL tear, she's back in action and leading the team with 23g and 8a.

MD2: No. 1 Limestone vs. No. 4 Mercyhurst (in Alexandria, Va.) - Saturday 12 p.m.

Sure, it's an out of region game, but don't think there isn't plenty riding on this game. For Limestone, this is basically a dry-run for their impending trip to the NCAA tournament. They'll get a tourney-caliber squad at a neutral site. For Mercyhurst, they are still in the thick of the Central Region/Wild Card race with Dowling and C.W. Post, so while this game is an out-of-region contest, it could still end up coming into play among secondary criteria considering how close those teams are.

It's a comment that still sticks in my mind and always pops up this time of year. It came from Bryant head coach Mike Pressler after his Bulldogs - then playing in Division II - were inexiplicably left out of the tournament. "If there wasn't a human element to the selection committee, they would just have a computer pick it," he said. Mercyhurst's performance against Limestone may not completely drive how the D-II selection process plays out, but I imagine it will be in the back of the committee member's mind. Huge game for the Lakers.

WD1: No. 13 Penn State at No. 18 Johns Hopkins - Saturday 1 p.m.

American Lacrosse Conference madness is in full effect, and both of these teams are surging late. Johns Hopkins beat suddenly-vulnerable Northwestern to crack the top-20 rankings. Penn State has won seven of nine after last weekend's double-overtime triumph of Ohio State. At 8-6, the Nittany Lions don't look all that impressive, but consider that the six losses have come to Maryland, Albany, Virginia, Loyola, Florida and Northwestern -- all top-10 teams. Colleen McCaffrey and Taylor D'Amore are Hopkins' primary offensive threats. Penn State did a great job neutralizing a similarly two-dimensional offense in limiting Ohio State's Alayna Markwordt and Brittney Zerhusen, who had been on a tear.

It's no coincidence that teams that underwent coaching changes during the busy 2010 offseason are now coming into their own. That's includes Penn State, which Missy Doherty has helped dig out of a 1-4 start, Doherty's former team Towson, which is surging as a CAA contender under Sonia LaMonica, and Ohio State, where Alexis Venechanos' Buckeyes have won six of eight -- the lone losses in that stretch coming in close fashion against Florida and last week against Penn State in double overtime. Oh, and Venechanos' old team, UMass? Cruising atop the Atlantic 10 under Angela McMahon. Looks like all that maneuvering paid off for, well, everyone.

MD3: No. 3 Salisbury at No. 1 Stevenson (CAC Championship Game) - Saturday 2 p.m.

The second act of what will likely be a three-part play, the Sea Gulls and Mustangs button it up for the automatic qualifier from the CAC and probably the top seed in the South region. Last Saturday, these two got into a tense match-up that featured 28 goals and 27 penalties. This time around will be more clinical with far less emotional eruptions. Since 2009, Salisbury and Stevenson has met seven times, and neither has won two consecutive games against each other in that span.

MD1: No. 12 Bucknell at No. 16 Colgate - Saturday 3 p.m.

Tom Clancy's thriller "Patriot Games" has nothing on this one. Winner take all in this Patriot League showdown, under the lights with a TV broadcast, for the conference's regular-season championship and home-field advantage in next weekend's four-team league tournament. Both squads are surging with five-game winning streaks — the Bison having found itself after a midseason toe stub against Robert Morris, and the Raiders long-since past an 0-2 start. Bucknell got a timely boost from the return of junior middie Billy Eisenreich from injury Friday night. The league's offensive player of the week tallied four goals, including the winner, and four assists to lead the Bison to a 12-11 win at Lehigh in a game that saw Bucknell fall behind 7-1. It's Senior Day in Hamilton, where the Raiders will look to win their first game in the series since 2008, but the star might be sophomore Peter Baum. He's second in the league in goals per game (2.58) and points per game (3.42), leads the team with 41 points (31g, 10a) and ranks fifth in the nation in goals per game. The Baum's tallied a point in 12 straight games, good enough to earn him a spot on the Tewaaraton Award watch list.

One thing the Patriot League always seems good for is incredible competition for the regular season title or conference postseason berths. While this year the four postseason qualifiers are known, this game will decide who wins the conference, and hosts next weekend's PL tournament. Based on regular-season results within the conference, the matchup looks incredibly even. I say the Bison win their third straight one-goal game. They'll hitch it back to Lewisburg happy.
With all deference to the mighty ACC, this could be the marquee men's game of the weekend. Two undefeated conference rivals playing under the lights with a national TV audience and the regular season title on the line. The winner also claims home field for next week's Patriot League Championship Tournament. For those that might be quick to dismiss the Patriot, remember that last year's champ – Army – pulled off the upset of the year by upending Syracuse in the NCAA's first round. Both of these teams could make a similar splash in this year's postseason.

MD1: No. 8 Hofstra vs. No. 15 Massachusetts (in East Harford, Conn.) - Saturday 4 p.m. (ESPNU)

When these teams meet, it's not unusual if the outcome is in doubt late in the fourth quarter. Of 36 all-time meetings between Hofstra and UMass, 19 have been decided by three or fewer goals, and 10 have been decided by one goal. Last year, UMass beat Hofstra, 11-9, at Garber Field. This year, the CAA rivals play in Connecticut as part of a doubleheader event put on by ESPNU. Hofstra has won its last six games, against a relatively easy schedule. Attackmen Jay Card, Jamie Lincoln and Stephen Bentz have combined for 98 points (8.16 per game), and the Pride are getting strong play "up the middle," so to speak, with faceoff man John Antoniades (.672 win percentage) and goaltender Andrew Gvozden (.615 save percentage). UMass is a winner of three straight, the last two coming in overtime against CAA opponents Towson and Drexel. Hofstra and UMass are in a three-way tie, with Penn State, for second-place in the CAA with 3-1 records. Delaware is in first at 4-0. The top four teams make the CAA postseason tournament.

WD2: No. 3 Limestone at No. 4 Lock Haven - Saturday 1 p.m.

With both teams in position for NCAA tournament berths, this game could determine which team will receive the coveted first-round bye in the South Region bracket. Limestone (15-0) secured its fourth straight Conference Carolinas title last week and remains one of just two unbeatens in the women's D-II ranks. Lock Haven (14-1) has been on a mission for much of the year, but has little margin for error remaining following last week's home loss to PSAC-rival West Chester. These teams have met three times over the past two seasons, with all three games decided by one goal.

WD1: No. 7 Stanford at No. 5 Northwestern - Sunday 1 p.m. Central

All of a sudden, this game has really significant postseason implications, considering that both of these NCAA tournament-bound programs tend to get the short end of the geographic stick when it comes to first-round matchups. Has Northwestern, with two straight losses, played itself out of a home seed? Not quite yet, and a win here would lock it up. As LaxMagazine.com's Sheehan Stanwick Burch pointed out in her column and on the Lacrosse Magazine Podcast, poor shooting -- including on free positions -- and careless turnovers led to the Wildcats' demise last week. You have to figure there were plenty of up-tempo, pressure-simulated practices in Evanston this week.

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