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NCAA Final Four: Notes From Baltimore

0 - Published May 25, 2014 by in NCAA

And now, we’re down to two: Notre Dame and Duke, the only schools to advance to the NCAA quarterfinals each of the last five seasons, have earned the right to play on Memorial Day. For the Blue Devils, it’s the chance to defend their belt. For the Fighting Irish, it’s another chance to beat Duke and earn a belt of their own (If the name “CJ Costabile” doesn’t ring a bell, just watch ESPN tomorrow; that faceoff’s going to be looping every six seconds like a Vine video).

Photo Credits: Tommy Gilligan

Notre Dame vs. Maryland Men's Lacrosse 2014 NCAA National Championship Semi-Final Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan

Before the main event begins, enjoy a few notes inspired by yesterday’s events:

“(Forget) Your Couch”

Wait, how long has Notre Dame been the Bad Guy? When did this officially happen? After the Fighting Irish went to New York, beat Albany and ruined everyone’s fun last weekend (“I think there were 37 people cheering for us in a sellout crowd of 13,000” said Notre Dame head coach Kevin Corrigan), the team’s official twitter account (the very one that retweeted a Lyle Thompson Vine a few days before that epic matchup) took a moment to retweet a few guys who counted them out during the game.

Notre Dame vs. Maryland Men's Lacrosse 2014 NCAA National Championship Semi-Final Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan

As an encore, Notre Dame strolled into Maryland and defeated the hometown Terps, since breaking the hearts of local fans is, evidently,  kind of their thing now. “I read the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun today,” said Corrigan after Saturday’s win, “and neither one of them, I think they talked more about the Duke-Maryland match-up than they did about the Maryland-Notre Dame match-up, and I said, okay, that’s fine with us. We like being those guys.” Not sure if by “those guys,” he meant the overlooked underdogs, or the unwelcome, “we hate you too” party crashers, but whatever he meant, I’m guessing it’s at least a little of both.

NCAA Lacrosse: Men's Lacrosse Championships

Everything Old Is New Again

For the third time in four years, Denver is beating the traffic by heading home on Saturday. It was Maryland’s third final four appearance in four years as well, the key difference being that the Terps won their two previous trips, ultimately losing in the 2011 and 2012 title games. You may not know this unless you’re a big Maryland Fan (or a really big Hopkins fan), but Maryland hasn’t won a championship since 1975. If the “since 1975” part isn’t enough historical context for you, here’s a little more: in the final four that year, they beat Washington & Lee to get to the title game.

Notre Dame vs. Maryland Men's Lacrosse 2014 NCAA National Championship Semi-Final Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan

Wes Berg’s Last Stand

There often comes a point in these Memorial Day Weekend games where one guy steps up and goes into Wyatt Earp “No” mode, characterized by superhuman feats of lacrosse while trying to avoid a loss.

Remember Rob Pannell last season? The man behind this original Earp comparison (it’s from a scene in “Tombstone;” this is your annual reminder that it’s an awesome movie and you should go see it), Pannell had three goals and two assists during a six goal Cornell run in his final NCAA game. Two days later, Jojo Marasco strung together a similar effort against Duke.

This year, Denver’s Wes Berg was the star, going down swinging with a tremendous five-goal performance that became even more jaw-dropping when head coach Bill Tierney revealed in the post-game press conference that he’d done it all with a broken thumb. There is, however, one difference between Wes and his predecessors: Young Berg is only a Junior. Scary production from an underclassman. And speaking of scary underclassmen…

Duke vs Denver mens lacrosse 2014 Final Four NCAA Championships Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan vCRUftOHU6SLBbNmPb1ihrKBkO6bkcPboLVSn1lzT5Q

Who is this Myles Jones guy?

Little known fact: on the way to Baltimore, Duke’s team bus broke down on I-95. Instead of waiting for a tow truck, Myles Jones got out, pushed it the remaining eight miles to M & T Bank Stadium and parallel parked it by hand when they got there.

With 18 points in the NCAA tournament thus far, Jones dominated the early afternoon conversations throughout the crowd (and on twitter), with everyone exchanging tall tales about the staggering feats he performs. Or has performed. Or someday could perform, once he “puts it all together” or “figures it out.” He’s only a sophomore, yet has already reached that status where, if he gets the ball and starts dodging, the crowd gets excited about what might happen.

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Jones isn’t just a terrifying opponent, he’s a terrifying concept, armed with an almost illogical combination of traits and inspiring the kind of “Why are you that big and that fast?” confusion we traditionally save for NFL players. Oh, and he’s getting better, much better. His game used to be heavily right-handed, yet his past three alley goals have been lefty shots. He had five assists last season, yet has ten in this year’s tournament. If Chuck Norris hadn’t beaten us to the punch, we’d be telling Myles Jones jokes right now. Of course, that could never happen, because Chuck Norris beats everyone to the punch.

Tewaaraton Committee – Rethinking Finalists?

The finalists list is not going to change, of course, but of the five Tewaaraton finalists, Jordan Wolf is the only one who made it to the Final Four, which wouldn’t be a big deal at all, except for the fact that the award definitively takes postseason play into consideration.

Photo Credit: Craig Chase

Photo Credit: Craig Chase

Look, Committee: either name the finalists after Memorial Day or stop factoring in postseason play; otherwise, you’re only asking for trouble. Princeton didn’t qualify for the tournament, so how is Tom Schreiber possibly going to win this award? Was the committee so sure of the winner they figured they could essentially throw away one of the five spots? And just so we’re on the same page here, Matt Kavanagh could set school records for points and assists, lead his team to their first NCAA championship, and still wouldn’t deserve the honor of even being named a Tewaaraton finalist? Got it.

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Once Again, the Attendance Thing

Semifinal attendance was announced at 30,248, which is a moderate improvement from last year, but the glass-half-full story will now evolve to focus on the fact that it’s the smallest turnout in Baltimore history (Baltimore drew 45,039 fans back in 2011, and the four participants were Denver, Duke, Maryland and Virginia. There’s surely a difference between Virginia and Notre Dame’s regional pull, but it seems a bit much to believe it constitutes a 15,000 fan swing).

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Photo Credit: Sean Christman

You’ve probably heard that lacrosse is experiencing tremendous growth throughout the country, and US Lacrosse reports overall participation up 42% from just five years ago. Well, is watching lacrosse experiencing the same growth? It certainly doesn’t look like it, at least not in person. While a few top programs reported a very slight uptick in average attendance this year, Maryland, Navy, Hopkins and Loyola actually saw declines, and both Navy and Maryland seeing their averages drop by over 1,000 fans per game.

Maybe all these new fans love lacrosse so much, that on a gorgeous weekend at the end of May, they’re going out with their friends to play some lacrosse. Maybe they’re spread all over the country, and Mom and Dad think flying little Bobby across America on Memorial Day weekend (that airfare is no joke) to watch a few lacrosse games sounds pretty ridiculous.

There are multiple factors that could contribute to the drop in attendance (and again, a quick reminder that attendance is actually up this year), but if we’re really going to get to the bottom of this mystery, we’ll need something I feel this discussion is often lacking: straight-up honesty. Deal? Deal.

I’ll go first: I absolutely love lacrosse, I live an hour away from Baltimore and if I wasn’t covering these games? Eh, I probably wouldn’t have gone. It has nothing to do with money or venue, simply put, I’ve gone almost every year since high school, my favorite team isn’t playing, and I enjoy replays, air conditioning and not wearing shoes. Strangely enough, “I don’t go because I don’t feel like going” is the response I hear the least when discussing this topic.

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There, now that I’ve come clean, I have a series of questions for you:

If you didn’t go to the semifinals, why not? Is it really the venue? People often suggested moving the games to smaller venues; is that honestly what’s stopping you from booking a weekend trip to watch these games? Are you going to show up if it’s on a college campus again? Or what about the price, is that really the issue? It certainly is for some, but for how many? If Lincoln Financial Field announces $10 parking and $30 tickets next year, are you shelling out the cash for a flight, hotel room, etc.?

Is it really the teams? If Albany had beaten Notre Dame, how many of you were planning to rearrange your weekend accordingly? Even if 5,000 of you were planning to devote these days to live Thompson-watching, that still equals 10,000 fewer fans than in 2011, not including the displaced Fighting Irish fans.

I’ve had an incredible time attending the NCAA Final Four. I’ve never regretted a second of it, and there are dozens of moments I’m glad to say I witnessed in person. Furthermore, the people I see at the stadium this weekend appear to be having a great time. Parents with their kids, youth teams traveling together to watch their idols, old college buddies reuniting, etc.; it can really be an incredible experience, and I definitely think you should all go at least once.

But you know what? If you want to stay home, just stay home. You’ve got a jumbo HD flat-screen (unlike live sports, their prices are going down), a sweet couch, cheap food and (depending on your living situation) you may or may not have to wear pants. I can’t blame you one bit. But if you’re among those calling for change, just one thing (and I’m begging you): whatever you loudly declare your objection to be, make sure you own it. Because if you cite your reasons, the NCAA makes the changes you lobby for and you still don’t show up, you’re really just wasting everyone’s time.

Ok, I think we’re ready for Memorial Monday. Good luck to both Duke and Notre Dame!

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