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Anne Photograp News 2024

Welcome to Round One – NCAA Tournament
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Welcome to Round One – NCAA Tournament

Welcome to the NCAA tournament, where greatness is validated. 

The tournament is a May tradition, a celebration and a party. Every team and fan base has sunshine hopes and blue-sky optimism. 16 teams walk into the weekend, only 8 survive. All that matters now is what happens next. 

Seven of the eight at-large selections enter the tournament off a loss, with questions to answer. Outside of Notre Dame, everybody in the field has three or more losses. #2 seeded Duke has five losses. I can’t recall this type of widespread carnage prior to tournament play. Princeton, Michigan and Penn State are road favorites in the first round this weekend. 

Let’s take a brief look at the 8 games. All games can be seen live on ESPNU and ESPN+ starting at noon on Saturday and Sunday. 

Saturday May 11th

St Joe’s at Virginia 

Noon, ESPNU, Anish Shroff & Quint Kessenich, (VA -4 1/2 26)

The Hawks have won 12 straight games after defeating Richmond 17-13 on Saturday capturing the A10 AQ. Virginia has lost four consecutive games. 

St Joe’s played in the 2022 NCAA tournament, giving Yale everything they could handle in New Haven. Matt Bohmer, Levi Anderson and Carter Page form one of the nation’s most dangerous attack units. This team is (7-0) when the midfield has at least 21 shots and just (3-3) when they don’t. So balance is key. 

The Hawks have a top five ride. Defender Levi Verch is the gatekeeper at midfield during their ten man (#2 nationally in opponent clearing %), refusing to let opponent ball carriers pass without punishment. 

Virginia limps into the tourney struggling on defense, in the cage and lacking firepower and depth at the midfield. Pummeled by defeats against Notre Dame (twice), at Syracuse and at Duke, you have to wonder whether the Hoos can re-kindle their previous form. This will be a confidence game for UVA. Can they hit the reset button? Will they step forward and find improvement in May? 

I wouldn’t be surprised to see three things. 1) a mix of zone defense – Injuries to their SSDM spot has taken a toll on their man-to-man scheme. Their off-ball defense has become unreliable. Slides and recoveries are a mess. Lars Tiffany has to tinker at this stage. Regardless they’ve got to simplify the man-to-man schemes and become brilliant at the basics. 2) personnel shifting at the midfield/attack 3) a goalie change – which quite honestly won’t matter if they continue to bungle assignments. UVA has a defense problem, not a goalie problem. 

Coach Lars Tiffany faces a tricky management problem. How can he find more in May? In 2021 after a 2-4 ACC campaign, the Hoos barely beat Bryant, then dusted Georgetown in the quarters on their path to the gold trophy. Can they repeat that feat? He’s been preaching a style that’s “Fast and ferocious”. 

The Cavs will turn to Connor Schellenberger to dominate his last game on the grass of Klockner. Expect Peyton Cormier to be a man on a mission after going undrafted on Tuesday. 

This matchup with St Joe’s should be electric. Both teams can score.  Both love to ride. They are mirror images in many ways. The Hawks won’t be intimidated. It’ll be fun. 

Utah at Duke

Saturday, Kevin Fitzgerald & Mark Dixon, (Duke -6 1/2 27.5)

It’s rare to see a #2 seed with five losses. Devils are looking to capture their first title since 2014. 

Fans get the feeling that on their best days, Duke can win a national title. On their worst days, Duke can lose at home to Utah. It’ll be a sentimental Saturday in Durham as Brennan O’Neil plays his last game on Koskinen. His legacy will be attached to this team’s May success. 

Worth noting is that FOGO Jake Naso has been less than 100% with an ankle injury suffered a few weeks back against Virginia. Andrew McAdorey moved from midfield to attack for the ACC tournament last weekend. Duke is the overall second choice at +500 behind the chalk Notre Dame (-135). 

Utah is making its second straight trip to the big dance as ASUN champions. At (12-4) and winners of nine straight under coach Drew McMinn, the Utes were doubled up by Denver and Syracuse in February. Possessions will be critical in round one, especially for upset minded teams. Face-off success, ground ball dominance and a hot goalie goes a long way in elimination lacrosse. 

Ryan Stines, Tyler Bradbury, Jordan Hyde and an aggressive mindset provide the belief. These games aren’t played on paper and Duke has dropped an occasional eye-opener over the years (Jacksonville 2023 & 2022, Air Force 2020, High Point 2019) to create some hope. 

Michigan at Denver

Saturday, Jay Alter & Jules Heningburg, (Michigan -1.5 22.5)

Pios won the golden trophy in 2015. This year’s group has seven super seniors and seven captains. First year coach Matt Brown has a team that can play multiple styles, usually preferring to slow things down, but capable of scoring when needed. The Pios (11-3) own wins over Hopkins, Cornell, Georgetown and Utah. The energy at Peter Barton Stadium combined with Mile High City altitude can be a home court advantage. The two best players are FOGO Alec Stathakis and LSM AJ Mercurio. 

Michigan is using the same script from 2023 and comes into the bracket with momentum on a four-game win streak.  Mikey Boehm took over the Big Ten tournament. Justin Wietfeldt is an elite FOGO. Justin Tiernan scores boatloads of goals from the slot. If you’ve been reading my poll articles every Monday, I’ve said from the start that Michigan has better talent than their record indicates. They validated that assertion last weekend. In 2023 they went up to Cornell and won a first-round game in overtime. That’s very much in play in 2024. 

Princeton at Maryland 

Saturday , Chris Cotter & Paul Carcaterra, (Princeton -1.5 22.5)

Cotter, Carc and I drove from Ithaca NY to Bristol Ct after the Ivy final on Sunday for the Selection Show. Listen to this Cannon Ball Run road trip podcast discussing the Ivy results and tourney thoughts as the brackets were revealed. 

Terps ended the season on a down note, with losses to Hopkins and Penn State. 2022 champs went (4-5) over their last nine games. Braden Erksa was injured in the Big 10 semifinals. This pairing is a rematch of a Maryland 13-7 win on Feb. 24 when the Tigers couldn’t win a face-off. The positives revolve around defender Ajax Zappittello, FOGO Luke Weirman and goalie Logan McNaney. The keepers stats have slumped recently, indicative of a defense in turmoil. Can Maryland find a dozen goals? Will Erksa play?

Meanwhile Princeton secured the Ivy AQ with victories over Yale and Penn. This young team lost to Brown and has reeled off four straight wins. They are dangerous on offense with Nate Kabiri, Coulter Mackesy and Chad Palumbo. Goalie Michael Gianforcaro seems to get sharper as the weather gets hotter. Defender Colin Mulshine is a first team All-American caliber cover man that routinely dominates his match-up. If Princeton can stay in the moment, they have all the tools to capture a road win.  

Sunday May 12

Lehigh at Johns Hopkins 

Sunday noon, ESPNU, Anish Shroff & Quint Kessenich, (JHU -4.5 21)

Johns Hopkins Goalie Chayse Ierlan is attempting to lead two different teams to championship weekend, Cornell (2022) and now the Jays. 

After failing to qualify for the NCAA tournament in 2021 and 2022, Hopkins has back-to-back appearances in the bracket as a seeded team. JHU has been to championship weekend once since 2008, in 2015 when they were unseeded and upset #7 Virginia and #2 Syracuse.

The Jays enter the national tournament off of two anemic offensive outings, scoring 7 goals against both Maryland and Michigan. They led the Wolverines 6-1 early in the B10 semifinal and then fizzled, in a lifeless performance, a 10-7 sobering defeat. Expect a wakeup call on Mother’s Day. 

Hopkins and Lehigh have met 35 times in men’s lacrosse, the latest in 1925. Between 1889 when the series started and 1925, JHU and Lehigh accounted for 20 national championships. That I did not know. 

OC John Crawley worked at Lehigh before taking the Hopkins coordinator spot in 2023 and recruited most of the Mountain Hawk roster, which will be useful intelligence. 

Patriot League champion Lehigh steps onto Homewood Field, winners of their last six games and unbeaten since April 2. Lehigh is rugged. They’re coal country tough. They are not flashy, often finding a way to win. They are battle tested in close games. 

Righty attacker Scott Cole is their top performer. Defender Richard Checo is a menace on face-off wings, off the ground and at the top point of the Lehigh zone defense causing turnovers. Playmaker Dakota Eierman got hot last week. Lefty shooter Quinn Armstrong can rip rope from distance.  

Lehigh is #68 in assists per game. They don’t pass at an elite level. They are one-handed on offense but do a fantastic job of dodging to the middle of the field. Patient and stubborn. They are #73 in offensive pace, preferring low octane games and this one has a Vegas goals total of only 21, expected to be the lowest scoring game of round one. 

First-year coach Will Scudder has done fine work, re-shaping six early losses into a six-game win streak and league championship. If Lehigh can hang around, the pressure builds for the Blue Jays. 

Penn State at Georgetown

Sunday 2:30pm, ESPNU, Chris Cotter & Paul Carcaterra, (PSU -1.5 23)

Swamp Dogs captured the Big East AQ in dramatic style last weekend. Penn State was punchless in the B10 final against Michigan on Saturday night after a semifinal win over Maryland. 

The Bricklayers are facing the Hoyas for the 16th time in program history as Georgetown leads the series 10-5. The last time the two teams met was back in 2009 when the Lions prevailed 12-11 in double overtime. 

PSU sweated out Selection Sunday. Catalyst TJ Malone and goalie Jack Fracyon star for the Nittany Lions. Malone is lethal running off picks. This is a squad that was a crease violation away from playing in the national title game in 2023. They’ve had an inconsistent season, on their best day, they look like title contenders. 

Georgetown is the underdog host. A February 25 upset of Notre Dame was followed by a five-game win streak. Lately GTown has been less impressive – needing OT to dispatch Providence and Villanova. Aidan Carroll is the primary playmaker. TJ Haley has 36 assists.  Shooter Graham Bundy Jr. was selected in the PLL draft on Tuesday night. Freshman goalie Anderson Moore from Alabama squares off with Fracyon. With temps on Sunday in the low 60’s perhaps Coach Kevin Warne will break out the silver throwback Starter jacket for good luck. 

Albany At Notre Dame

Sunday 5pm, ESPNU, Joe Beninati & Matt Ward (ND -9, 25)

Great Danes handled Sacred Heart on Wednesday night in the play in game to improve their record to (10-7). UAlbany makes its first NCAA tournament since 2018, a year they went to championship weekend. This is their eleventh appearance in the big dance for coach Scott Marr. 

The America East champs have won four straight games. Albany lost to UVA 16-10 and Yale 17-10 during the regular season. Silas Richmond is their primary offensive threat. LSM Jake Piseno sets the tempo with his energy, toughness and skill. 

ND Coach Kevin Corrigan’s roster is fortified by 25 players who are seniors or graduate students at the Mendoza College of Business. The 2023 champions host the winner of the play-in game. Since tournament expansion in 2003 the number one seed is undefeated in the first round. Bagpipers lead the country in scoring margin and have depth. They were sharp last weekend in Charlotte. Pat Kavanagh will be a Tewaaraton finalist. Goalie Liam Entenmann put on a show last weekend against Virginia in the ACC semifinal. Rudy has been consistently excellent minus one Saturday in February and are a resounding -135 to win the NCAA title. 

Towson at Syracuse 

Sunday 7:30pm, ESPNU, Drew Carter & Ryan Boyle, (SU -3.5 26.5)

The Sunday late time slot has a history of wild games, fantastic finishes and epic upsets. 

Congrats to Towson. The Tigers dominated the CAA title game 15-6 over Delaware. They march into the NCAA tournament on a 9-game heater. Towson is defensive based under coach Shawn Nadelen. Losses to Johns Hopkins, Loyola (7-8) and Virginia toughened them for league action. 

Towson beat SU in the 2017 quarters. This 2024 Towson team is well balanced with excellence at each position group – Nick DeMaio, Mikey Weisshaar, Matt Constantinides and Colby Barsz. Nadelen is no stranger to engineering tournament upsets. 

Orange occupy the Sunday late timeslot because of graduation and Dome availability. SU’s last title was won in 2009, their last championship game appearance in 2013 and last quarterfinal appearance in 2017.  This is their first NCAA tournament bid since 2021, when they got blasted 18-8 by Georgetown in a penalty riddled game. The Orange have not won a playoff game in seven years.  

Coach Gary Gait has seen his team make incremental improvements in face-off win percentage, clearing, scoring defense and have been in every game except for their last outing in the ACC semifinal against Duke. 

The offense is a treat to watch with dynamic passers Joey Spallina, Owen Hiltz, Christian Mulé and company spraying the ball around the horn with flair and precision. Billy Dwan III anchors the defense and runs the field in transition. The SSDM position is subpar. Otto averages nearly 15 goals per game but the defense has slumped the last five games. Orange need to bring the juice.  

All games can be seen on ESPN+.