NCAA D1 Lacrosse Preseason Report
Welcome to your 2018 Men’s NCAA D1 Lacrosse season preview!
While Connor has been doing a superb job previewing the Men’s Division 3 “LARGEST single grouping of teams in the entire sport” Lacrosse over here, and Men’s Division 2 “No, seriously we’re up to 72 teams and have scholarships” Lacrosse over here, it’s time to take a look at the biggest of boys, and that’s the land of D1.
Most of these teams have enough history and offseason news to fill multiple articles per team. Fortunately for you, I won’t go on writing that much, which will make this an informative but manageable read.
In my opinion, the best way to frame the NCAA D1 Lacrosse preseason discussion is always around the conferences. The out of conference games obviously play a crucial role in evaluating the landscape and the likelihood of postseason bids, but it’s really the conference play that drives the meat of everyone’s schedule.
Playing in a weaker conference with an in-conference loss or two on your record almost certainly shuts you out of the postseason. How a team fares in a stronger conference often predicts how well they will do on the national scene. The value of conference play can not be understated! If you have a great out of conference record with a terrible conference showing? Good luck, you’ll need it!
I’ll take a look at each conference, in order of their strength from last year.
NCAA D1 Lacrosse Preseason Report
Big Ten (B1G) Lacrosse
The B1G in 2017 was a monster. The conference’s six teams of Maryland, Hopkins, Rutgers, Michigan, Penn State, and Ohio State only lost a combined eight games out of conference. That’s 1.3 losses per team out of conference. RIDICULOUS! On top of that, they sent two teams to Championship weekend, and both of them made it to the finals. In case you forgot, one of them also won! There’s an obvious joke in there somewhere. Not too shabby for such a young conference. The scary part is they might be even better this year.
Maryland lost Matt Rambo & friends, but they return five All-Americans. Five. And those aren’t preseason picks, that’s first team through honorable mention from USILA at the end of last season. With the amount of young talent they still have, and some big time recruits who will see the field right away, the Terps won’t miss much of a step. The national runner up, THE Ohio State University, was also stripped of some big names due to graduation. They happen to be another school that had a fully loaded pipeline of some big time talent ready to go, and I really don’t see them dropping off much, if at all. In the modern world of D1 lacrosse, these schools both have straight up PROGRAMS, with great coaching, impressive recruiting, and a real focus on doing things at a professional level, on ALL levels. What’s going on at both of these schools is beyond impressive.
Behind those two, I see Penn State sitting in third, just ahead of Hopkins. Penn State still has Grant Ament and Mac O’Keefe leading the way with Gerard Arceri giving them the lion’s share of possessions. Get it? Lion’s share? Penn State? OK, I’ll get back to lacrosse. But, really, Penn State is going to be a force this season if they can get the extra possessions. This will be a dangerous team. Johns Hopkins, on the other hand, was just so spotty last year that it was hard to tell what to really expect week to week. Tinney and Stanwick should take the lead on the offensive side of the ball, but their main concern is goaltending and defense. If they get some better consistency there, this could be a Championship weekend team. And I picked them to finish 4th in their conference. That’s B1G depth!
Not to be left out are Rutgers and Michigan. Rutgers was dealt a serious blow by losing Adam Charalambides again right before the season is set to kick off. That would hurt any team. This Big Ten is hard enough at full strength, but when a team like Rutgers is right on the edge of breaking through, they need that little extra boost. I still love their roster with guys like Michael Rexrode returning on defense, but they need some of their underclassmen to step up, and fast. Michigan is working their way out from the bottom of the conference and are doing so with a new head coach. While they were showing some great promise with their non-conference slate, only one of their wins was over a team with a winning record. They followed that up with a winless conference schedule. Nowhere to go but up!
Atlantic Coast (ACC) Lacrosse
The perennial powerhouse conference was officially put into second place by the Big Ten last year. They’re still stronger than the next one up, but it was not up to the standards the ACC faithful expects year over year. No teams made it to the final four, but three out of the four NCAA tournament teams made it out of the first round. That’s a small consolation prize.
Leading off the ACC this year is Duke, who is poised to make a serious run at championship weekend once again. Their postseason success has been… lacking… the past few season, but hopefully they avoid the injury bug and their underclassmen (who have been seeing plenty of playing time) are ready to take over a bigger role. Justin Guterding was running solo a lot in 2017, but that shouldn’t repeat. With a better supporting cast, this team is ready to go, and across the board pollsters and prognosticators like Duke’s chances. It will be interesting to see if coaching the 2018 USA Team is a distraction for Danowksi and Co. Unlikely, but worth keeping an eye on.
Following Duke is some combination of Notre Dame, Syracuse, and North Carolina. Cuse lost by far the most production of this group, and Notre Dame seems to be in the best starting position. North Carolina was just so inconsistent all year long and was not able to string more than three wins in a row together. Syracuse should be great defensively, but is a little more unknown in the scoring department. Notre Dame is the team returning nearly all of their top players and will be loaded. It would actually be quite a surprise to me if they are not fighting with Duke all the way until the end and early on ND could look like the team to beat.
Then, there’s Virginia. Oh, Virginia. I know people are high on what’s happening at UVa, but the Hoos still have not beaten an ACC opponent since April 26th, 2014, and they need to break that streak sooner rather than later. Bringing in Lars Tiffany last year generated a ton of enthusiasm, but they still could not get that win. They were so close, though! A one goal loss to Syracuse (like everyone else), an overtime loss to Notre Dame, three goals to UNC, and then they were just blown out by Duke. They return a decent amount of scoring by bringing Dox Aitken, Michael Kraus, Mike D’Amario, and Ryan Conrad back. There is definitely a large amount of optimism coming out of Charlottesville, and it’s seemingly deserved. Now it just needs to play out.
Colonial (CAA) Lacrosse
The Colonial really came down to Towson, Hofstra, and then everyone else. Drexel made a strong case for 3rd in my book. Towson turned their stout defense into a final four run while Hofstra saw their season end on a hail Mary shot from UMass in their conference tournament. Despite only having three losses, their weaker conference means winning the conference AQ is the only sure way into the tournament.
Towson comes back headlined by Alex Woodall at the X, but their scoring has been practically erased. No other team in the country lost as much production as the Tigers. (Tigers is a fantastic mascot, by the way. Way better than something like a Cardinal. But I digress.) Despite the scoring losses, Towson’s strength lay in their defense last year, and I’d look for that to continue. A tough D group is something which they can build from, and it will allow their offense to mature and find new legs.
Hofstra is another really interesting CAA team, and while The Pride lost Josh Byrne, they still have Ryan Tierney back to run the show. Hofstra had a good season in 2017, but 10 of their 14 games were decided by 2 goals or less. Hofstra won 7 of these games, but three of them came late in the season. If you’re going to play tight games, in can come back to bite you. A little more offensive production or consistency and Hofstra could surprise some folks.
After those two, you have Delaware, Drexel, Fairfield, and UMass. Umass was probably the biggest disappointment and could be the biggest head scratcher right now. It was only back in 2012 that they went through the entire season undefeated before running into Peter Baum. Now they’re barely beating fellow bay stater UMass-Lowell and finished 7-8 last year. The Minutemen have too rich of a history for this to continue. Speaking of history, Delaware has turned over a new leaf and is welcome in Ben DeLuca as Bob Shillinglaw’s replacement after he retired this offseason. DeLuca did wonders at Cornell and was a fantastic assistant before getting this next gig. They may not be an NCAA team right away, but they will be a challenge going forward.
Fairfield and Drexel are perplexing teams. Each has been pulling in a steady stream of good talent. They both are capable of pulling upsets in every game, and they do it each year. Last year, Drexel’s big win was over Hofstra, but they were on the wrong side of too many close calls and while they went 3-2 in conference, they went 6-8 overall. Fairfield only mustered five wins all year, but one of them was over Towson. Go figure. I don’t expect either one to push for the CAA title this year, but they both should improve significantly over 2017.
America East (AE) Lacrosse
ALBANY!!!!! Seriously, though. This is Albany’s show. Binghamton, Hartford, Stony Brook, UMBC, Vermont, and UMass-Lowell are playing for second. The Danes return most of their scoring and their most dangerous weapons in TD Ierlan and Connor Fields. Then you add in Tehoka Nanticoke? Buckle up. This team will be tough to keep up with and few in the country, let alone the conference, will be able to do so. That being said, Albany has had some bad days in the past and can be knocked off. If that happens in conference tournament time like a few years ago when Hartford won? The NCAA selection process gets blown up.
Behind Albany, though is an interesting race. Vermont, Binghamton, UMBC, and Hartford all have relatively new hires for head coaches and a good amount of distance between them and Albany. At least on paper! UMass-Lowell is a newer program that is still trying to build a name for themselves. They have been pulling in some solid talent from their homes state recently, so they may finally reap those rewards. Of all these teams, I probably like Binghamton’s trajectory the most, but all of them have a lot of work to do before they become a consistent national threat.
Ivy League Lacrosse
For the Ivies, it will come down to Yale, Harvard, and Princeton. Cornell has fallen off a bit too much that Jeff Teat can’t even bring them back in single handed, but there are whispers that some newer guys are looking really good, so maybe this is the turnaround year for the Big Red via a new Canadian invasion. The fun thing about all the top Ivy teams is that each has a solid star to base their game around. Yale with Ben Reeves, Harvard with Morgan Cheek, and Princeton with Michael Sowers. Seeing how Princeton handles the loss of Zach Currier will really determine their season. Currier did so much for that team, no one person can replace him, but Austin Sims seems poised to be all over the place for the Tigers this year and should be a lot of fun to watch.
Aside from those teams, you have Penn, Brown, and Dartmouth. The Big Green has three wins total over the last two years, so I don’t see them making a big push right now. Brown and Penn are a little more intriguing! Penn has been hoarding talent over the past few years and is ready to burst. They had an early win over UVA last year followed by a close loss to Penn State, but then they never kept up with the hype. This year should yield better results as younger players have now settled in fully. They’re a darkhorse for sure. Brown lost Dylan Molloy and Larken Kemp, which are big losses for the Bears. They’ll still be a very, very good team, but this will be the biggest test for 2nd year head coach Mike Daly to see if his run and gun system can work just as well at the D1 level without guys like that running the show. The great thing about Daly is that he doesn’t buy into convention. If any team will try something weird or different, Brown is as good a contender as any, which always makes them dangerous.
North East (NEC) Lacrosse
This conference really does come down to Bryant. There is only one year in the past six seasons where they did not win the conference. Unfortunately, only one of those years really turned into a good NCAA run, which is when they upset Syracuse in the Dome. The only other team out of the group that has really pushed Bryant has been Hobart, who actually took the conference regular season title. It would be great to see the Statesmen repeat that effort without the likes of Frank Brown on the field, but right now it looks like Bryant is the top (bull)dog on the block.
Patriot League Lacrosse
The Patriot League is just a mammoth group of teams who loves beating on each other all season long. Last year, Loyola and Army were the two favorites as Navy took a slight back seat. BU is surging, but lost a few key players to graduation. I wouldn’t count them out. For a younger program, they show excellent consistency. It also says a lot when your key program building players wind up on MLL rosters. Holy Cross is also not the Crusaders of years past and is pushing every team they see. But with how long this season runs, the smart money is on Loyola and Army once again. They have the most depth and are the most proven of the group. But this league has shown us some crazy results in the past.
Big East Lacrosse
Yes, this is still Denver’s conference to lose, and 2018 should be no difference than year’s past. Denver should still make the NCAA tournament, and should be in their conference title game. But 2017 actually saw Marquette top the Pioneers in the first round of the Big East tournament. Little surprises like that create some interesting dynamics in league play. I also love Providence to fight for a league title as they have slowly built themselves into a program worthy of the Big East contender title. Villanova has suffered a string of disappointing seasons, but the conference coaches are all rating them very high this year. Denver’s still the juggernaut, but this is no longer a one horse race. All four of these teams could be sitting on top at the end of the year, and while there are certainly favorites, nothing is set in stone. It’s more like an Etch-a-sketch.
Metro Atlantic (MAAC) Lacrosse
This is a conference that seemed to be on the way up in the later 2000s, but has seriously struggled as of late. What’s interesting is that no team has just run away with the conference, either. The only team to ever win it in back to back seasons was Providence, and they are not even in the conference anymore. Monmouth stands a good chance of doing it this year, and for a newer program they look incredibly impressive. After a gaudy 14-4 record that saw two overtime losses, the Hawks had a close loss to Bryant in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. I’d love to see Monmouth continue to climb, especially if it helps elevate the MAAC overall. If anyone is going to push them right now, I would look to Marist, but Canisius (newly coached by Griffin alum Mark Miyashita) and Detroit Mercy may not be too far behind.
Southern Conference (SoCon) Lacrosse
The SoCon has been a truly wild conference as of late. Upstart Richmond is already competing on the national level and Air Force was there already. Despite Air Force’s wild offseason, they look to have a good 2018 lined up and are tooting their own horns on social media, which is rare for a Service Academy. Behind those two powerhouses are a slew of teams ready to make the jump. Jacksonville improved immensely though last season and is built with the same DNA as Providence in the Big East. Furman, High Point, and Bellarmine are all teams that seem to just be waiting for the right pieces to click at the right time.
Last but not least are the really new teams who still do not have a conference. Hampton, Cleveland State, and NJIT. Hampton still is not playing a full D1 schedule, but they do have dates scheduled with their fellow independents in addition to Wagner and VMI. They have their first win in the books, and are still marching towards that first D1 win. I’m definitely hoping they pull it off this year and enjoy some tighter games.
NJIT on the other hand has a full slate of D1 games. Owners of just two wins in program history (Hampton and Dartmouth), they need to keep building. There is a sweet spot for recruiting in New Jersey, and NJIT should be able to put a quality team together quickly. It’s a great school. Cleveland State is entering their second season of play and actually picked up a D1 win in their last game of the year against Detroit Mercy. And it was a convincing win, too! This is not a team shying away from the big teams as they have Denver, Ohio State, and Duke on their schedule. They have also shed all of their non-D1 opponents. They’re still a few years from an at-large NCAA bid, but of all the independents, Cleveland State looks to be building the fastest and Coach Sheridan is proving his chops at the highest levels once again. When it comes to impressive young coaches who can build a program from the ground up, Sheridan has to be right up there with the best.
Watch more CSU video magic HERE!
2018 NCAA D1 Lacrosse
What we’re going to get is excitement. There are “top” teams, but no one looks so loaded up that they can’t be knocked down. The chances of seeing an undfeated team seem very low, and it could be a true year of parity, with some surprising teams going deep into the dance. Basically, it’s going to be awesome.
Games start this week. Have at you, good sir.