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Quint Kessenich’s Top 20: April 17, 2023

Drama in the ACC and near catastrophic losses in the Big East defined the weekend. Rivalry Week is here with Hopkins-Maryland and Army-Navy. The playoff picture is crystallizing with nine AQ’s and eight at-large’s. The gap between Notre Dame, Duke, Virginia and the rest of the country feels severe, although things can change in late April and May as some squads hit the wall and others find a second wind. 

With two weeks remaining on the regular season schedule, teams are jockeying for inclusion in the league post-season tournaments. In the America East, Vermont, Binghamton and Bryant appear to be the main combatants. The ASUN runs through Utah with Jacksonville and Air Force the primary threats. The A10 is all about Saint Joseph’s with Richmond and UMass appearing most qualified to upset. The Big East has three teams in the hunt for the league gold; Georgetown, Denver, and Villanova.

The Big Ten and Ivy League races are entertaining. Delaware is the clear cut favorite in the CAA. The race behind the Blue Hens is a mess with Drexel, Hofstra, Stony Brook, and Towson trying to work their way up the ladder. The MAAC is always unpredictable. The Mount is in first place, with Manhattan in second and Marist, Quinnipiac, and Siena in the next wave. Army sets the pace in the Patriot League with BU, Navy, Loyola, and Lehigh looking to qualify for the six team bracket. This is a fantastic time to track these leagues. Every game matters and dreams are made on May 5th, 6th, and 7th when conference titles are won. It’s healthy to have such a peloton of teams contending for the NCAA Tournament and now is the time to celebrate their success.  

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Quint Kessenich’s Top 20

20) Delaware

The Blue Hens (9-3) have won four straight and are 5-0 at home. A 12-9 win at Stony Brook is the fourth consecutive game they’ve held the opponent below ten goals. If in doubt, play defense. They’ve only given up three EMD goals all season. Drexel and Delaware square off in the CAA

19) Michigan

The Wolverines (5-6) dropped a winnable game to Penn State on Sunday night. They led 8-4 and then unraveled. Playing a 45 minute game in a 60 minute sport isn’t going to cut it against a quality opponent. Michigan remains their own worst enemy. Like North Carolina and Ohio State, they failed to take care of their own business and put their fate on thin ice. 

Maize and blue welcome their Ohio State rival to campus on Friday night at 8:00pm. They’ll fight for the Creator’s Trophy in a game who’s importance on campus transcends lacrosse. 

18) Utah

The Utes (8-4) defeated Lindenwold on Wednesday 22-8 and Mercer this weekend 22-12. Their RPI is hovering at #17. Utah, winners of seven straight, have scored 145 goals in the process.  Jordan Hyde scored eight times.

Cleveland State, who’s mascot is a bearded Viking named Magnus, is at Utah on Saturday night at 7:00pm MT.

17) North Carolina

UNC (7-5) (1-3 ACC) got four point days from Logan McGovern and Lance Tillman yet somehow lost a game they should have won against Syracuse. The duo shot just 3 of 17. The 15-14 setback stings big time. This was a game that the Tar Heels needed badly. Carolina dictated the pace with their ten-man ride early yet only led 6-3, 7-5, and 11-9. The tempo slowed in the second half. The game featured ties at 8-8, 9-9, 11-11, 12-12, and 14-14 before Syracuse freshman Michael Leo took their LSM to the rack for the game winner with :12 on the clock. UNC late game offensive possessions were anemic, they lost the man-up and man-down battle while shooting poorly. This was one that got away.

Carolina went (8-6) in 2022 failing to make the playoffs. In 2021 they lost in the NCAA Semifinals with a fortified roster of fifth-year Covid-19 seniors. They went (7-7) in 2018 and (8-7) in 2019. 

UNC makes the trip to “Touchdown Jesus” on Saturday. They have a bye week April 29 and play Notre Dame again during championship week. They need to find one win in two tries against the Irish to feel confident on Selection Sunday

16) Ohio State

The Buckeyes, competing without a starting FOGO, got mauled at Hopkins. The 17-8 final has the Buckeyes at (5-7) and on death row. They would have to advance to the Big Ten Championship to get to .500. 

The Buckeyes are at Michigan on Friday night at 8:00pm.

15) Syracuse

“Head, heart, and hustle” rallied late to defeat North Carolina and in the process pumped their RPI to #20. 3,111 fans at Good Counsel HS in Olney, MD, enjoyed this rare neutral site ACC showdown. 

You can feel it. You can see it. Syracuse has turned the corner and is headed back towards the top. They currently hold Top 20 wins over Vermont, UNC, and Princeton. This proud program hasn’t won a playoff game since 2017 and haven’t been to Championship Weekend since 2013. So the UNC victory was a baby step in the right direction.

Freshmen Joey Spallina and Michael Leo were clutch. Leo, the freshman from St. Anthony’s bagged the game winner with :12 on the clock. The Orange showed mental toughness after being outplayed severely early in the contest. UNC led by two, and should have been up by five. Syracuse made halftime adjustments, they fixed the clear which was a major issue. Five failed clears in the first half morphed into a 9/10 second half stat. They also tightened the faceoff. UNC shot the ball poorly all day. Maybe Syracuse goalie Will Mark got in their head. The shooting disparity was real. UNC took 50 shots while Syracuse hit on 15 of 36. Coach Gary Gait and his staff are seeing the fruits of their labor with consecutive wins over Princeton and North Carolina.

Spallina’s smarts and savvy were on display. His ability to process game data, to probe and survey, to experiment and adapt were on full display as he saved his best and most decisive dodge for the final six minutes. Spallina has 61 points after 13 games. His rookie season stacks up historically. He leads the country in EMO goals. 

Most Points for an ACC Freshman All-Time by School

UVA – Connor Shellenberger (2021) 79

MD – Bob Boniello (1979) 79

SU – John Zulberti (1986) 74

Duke – Zack Greer (2005) 72

UNC – Nicky Galasso (2011) 56

ND – Pat Walsh (2003) 52

Otto (8-5) and Virginia have a date on Saturday at 2:00pm (ESPNU). It feels as if the Orange need one more win to leap into the postseason discussion. The Syracuse RPI is now #20 dragged down by games against Holy Cross, St. Bonaventure, and Hobart. Not playing Army and Cornell hurt.

14) Yale

Cue up the Bee Gee’s “Stayin Alive” after a 16-10 victory over Brown. Yale still has a pulse and I’ve got a gut feeling that they’re going on a run. The defense was shockingly heroic this week, baffling actually. Regardless, Yale can score, and that’s why they remain dangerous. Senior Day for the Bulldogs (6-4) at Reese Stadium saw them blow open an 8-8 game in the late second quarter. Yale only won 8 of 30 faceoffs. Chris Lyons, an old school crease man, scored seven goals on 15 shots. Yale had one penalty and just nine turnovers. 

Yale (RPI #9) visits Albany on Friday night at 7:00pm. Will this contest be the highest scoring game of the season? Dogs finish the regular season at Harvard.

13) Villanova

The Wildcats (9-3) picked up a mandatory W at Providence. Their RPI is #14, right now probably on the wrong side of the bubble. Matt Campbell has 55 points. Patrick Daly leads the way with 34 goals. Concerning is that Villanova has a lower shooting percentage (.288) than opponents (.293). 

The Cats tangle with Marquette on Saturday in Philadelphia. When you keep winning, they can’t turn off the lights. 

12) Rutgers

The Scarlet Knights (8-4) looked over their head defensively in the first half against Maryland, befuddled by the ball and player movement. They eventually settled into a comfort zone but the damage had already been inflicted, down 5-0. Rutgers half-field offense didn’t generate great looks and they only scored one goal in early offense. Maryland had the answer to NASCAR. Everyone has to raise their level (Ross Scott, Shane Knobloch, Dante Kulas, Brian Cameron, David Sprock, etc) and stop settling for wing shots and get to the paint. Shot selection is a weekly issue. Rutgers doesn’t ride, like a lot of Big Ten teams, so making a comeback when down a handful of goals becomes nearly impossible. The environment was electric, 5,800 in attendance for Senior Day. The Knights resume is fringe worthy at this stage with an RPI of 11 with wins over Loyola, Utah, Princeton and Michigan. Winning one or two remaining games is essential. 

Rutgers faces Penn State on Friday night at 6:00pm in Happy Valley.

11) Penn

A Powerful second half drove Penn (5-5) past Harvard 15-9 in Boston. Shooting 6 of 9 in the third quarter was ultimately the separator. Cam Rubin found net four times and Sam Handley added four points. Penn has banked wins over Georgetown, Princeton and Yale. The Ivy League caught a breeze this weekend and three teams (Cornell, Penn and Yale) remain viable at-large selections. 

The Big Green are up next. The Ivy League Tournament is at Columbia University’s Robert Kraft Field, situated on the northern most tip of Manhattan, on May 5th and May 7th.

10) Denver

The Pioneers picked up a 12-10 win at Towson on Thursday night behind five goals from JJ Silstrop. They scored three goals within a 14 second span, mid-way through the first quarter. That’s a program record. East Coast swing featured a bus ride up to Long Island, a visit to Bill Tierney’s childhood home in Levittown, and dinner at Dominico’s

St. John’s put a scare into Denver on Saturday in Queens. Down 10-7 late in the third, Denver scored the last five goals of the game to escape with a 12-10 win and a two-victory East Coast road trip. Midfielder Michael Lampert had six points. Goalie Malcolm Kleban had steadied the ship. 

Denver is holding wins over Utah, North Carolina, Ohio State and VillanovaBob Benson’s Friars fly to the Mile High City on Friday. 

9) Army

A loss to Cornell ends all hope of Army (9-2) securing an at-large bid. Which is a shame, because the Cadets accounted for themselves very well on Saturday in the one goal loss to the Big Red. “Fort Knox” goalie, Knox Dent stood tall. He’s second in the nation in goals against average. Paul Johnson scored four times. Army got limited production from its bench and ultimately lost at the buzzer. 

Ironically, this quality loss shows us just how capable Army is. Without a doubt they are a Top Ten team. However, their playoff data doesn’t equate to their ability. Army’s schedule is to blame. Their SOS is #42. It’s a poorly crafted slate that included only Cornell, UMass and Rutgers as meaningful non-conference opponents. Scheduling dates with Wagner and Mercer flies in the face of RPI common sense. All rational math and historical precedent indicates that Army will need to win the Patriot League AQ to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. It is, what it is. 

Army plays at Navy on Saturday night (7:00pm) on CBSSN with Chris Lewis and Evan Washburn on the call. It’s a shame that this American rivalry overlaps with Hopkins and Maryland. The two top rivalries in the sport should stand alone. A little coordination goes a long way to promote and fully capitalize on these signature events. This issue has been a consistent in lacrosse for 30 years. Why is everyone playing on Saturday at noon or 2:00pm? Saturday night for example there were no games on, and last Sunday night, Maryland at Rutgers and Penn State at Michigan overlapped. 

The Cadets and Midshipmen first met in 1924, and have played 101 times. Navy captured 17 pre-NCAA national titles and Army owns eight. Navy leads the series 62-36-3. The Midshipmen have won four of the last five dating back to 2017. Buckle up, this game is different. I love everything about it. I grew up on this game with my brother capturing the star for Navy.

8) Georgetown

Marquette (6-6) is a weird team this spring. They defeated Penn State and Michigan. Although they looked lifeless against Cornell and Providence. So the Hoyas (7-3) didn’t know what to expect in Milwaukee. To make things worse, Marquette’s grass field isn’t ready to be run on. Crying out loud, it’s April 15.

So the Georgetown game was moved indoors to the bubble where the temperature and humidity was stifling, the acoustics and visuals challenging. The Swamp Dogs got out of “Brew City” with an overtime win, sigh of relief, because a loss would have been catastrophic to their at-large NCAA Tournament resume.    

The Hoyas (7-3) received five goals on eleven shots from Dordevic. The grad transfer is has 33 goals and 6 assists on the season. Nicky Solomon had a hat-trick. Jacob Kelly scored twice and Brian Minicus added a goal. 11 of the 15 goals were scored by transfers. 

That same grass field, nicknamed Valley Fields, in Wisconsin is the host of the Big East Tournament on May 4th and 6th (CBSSN). Let’s hope it doesn’t snow. The grass surface will be a rarity for Big East teams. 

Georgetown plays at Loyola on Tuesday night at 7:00pm. This is the last meaningful non-conference game of 2023. Georgetown visits the Big Apple on Saturday to play St. John’s adjacent to the ugly parking garage.

7) Johns Hopkins

The Blue Jays (10-4) caught a huge break when Ohio State showed up in Charm City without a FOGO, apparently out with a collar bone injury. That was game, set, match. The 4,500 fans at Homewood were delirious, intoxicated with success, after some lean years.

“We Want More” dealt with a weather delay and then dusted the Buckeyes. The win should be enough for JHU to earn an at-large bid, regardless of what happens against Maryland and in the Big Ten Tournament.  

The position-less motion offense was humming. When JHU takes care of groundballs and silly turnovers, they are a tough out. The 17-8 blowout made possible by an 8-0 run that staggered OSU, flipping a 9-7 lead into a 17-7 margin by the end of the third quarter. Alex Mazzone scooped up 7 groundballs and is climbing up PLL draft boards. Matt Collison had four points after a quiet few weeks. 

Coach Pete Milliman is on the short list for ‘Coach of the Year’ recognition, in a race with Penn State’s Jeff Tambroni and Notre Dame’s Kevin Corrigan. The USILA would be smart to re-name this award, the Bill Tierney USILA Coach of the Year Award

Rivalry Week has the Jays in College Park as the underdog. Tensions will be high.

6) Cornell

Michael Long returned to the line-up on Tuesday in a 21-11 shellacking of Marquette. Coming off a loss to Harvard, the Big Red were focused and hungry, jumping out to a 10-1 lead after 17 minutes. Hard to believe that Marquette defeated Michigan and Penn State in 2023. Long and CJ Kirst combined for 12 points. LSM Brendan Staub scored his first career goal.  

Cornell (9-2) survived a power outage in defeating Army 11-10 on Saturday at West Point in front of  4,013 fans. It was a terrific scene. The Big Red led throughout, until Paul Johnson of Army gave the Cadets a 10-9 lead with 7:34 to play. Cornell dug deep and answered with goals from Michael Long and a game winner from Aidan Blake with :09 seconds remaining. Cornell lost the groundball war, the faceoff battle, the clearing stats, and specialty situations yet gutted out a win over a very tenacious and energetic Army team. CJ Kirst did not score, shooting 0-5, drawing constant double and triple teams. He’d been averaging nearly five goals per game. 

Cornell (RPI #5) faces Brown on Saturday in Providence (ESPN+).

5) Penn State

The Nittany Lions (8-3) survive and advance after a Sunday comeback which saw them outscore Michigan 5-0 in the fourth quarter. Interesting that the Big Ten would schedule dueling games on different networks. Wouldn’t everyone benefit from a 5:00pm and 7:00pm start? Goalie Jack Fracyon made 17 stops and weathered the early storm. Penn State couldn’t clear, a yearly issue, in a league that doesn’t really ride. The Big Ten generally has a half-court flow. Jack Traynor was the star with six goals, one more dazzling then the next. The Lions got drilled in the time-of-possession to begin the game. Down 8-4, Traynor went to work. They finished with a 7-1 run, likely clinching an at-large bid in the process, and sending the Wolverines into a dark place called the outer bubble. PSU squares off with Rutgers on Friday April 21.

4) Maryland

“Be the Best” showed up in front of a gigantic crowd at Rutgers and delivered the first punch. They shredded the Knights defense, jumping out to a 5-0 lead. They dissected the Knights shoddy interior coverage. They continued to shine with the extra-man, scoring a crispy goal to make it 8-3. Braden Erksa made it 9-4 to start the third quarter going solo to the net. Opponents would be well suited to be slow to slide to Maryland, the Terps don’t have elite dodgers outside of Erksa and Eric Spanos. Maryland spoiled the party handing Rutgers it’s first home loss after winning 16 straight. Maryland milked their 11-5 lead efficiently, garnering an 11-8 win. Brian Ruppel was excellent between the pipes and the Terps capitalized on Rutgers’ turnovers. Brett Makar and Ajax Zappittello clean up the loose trash in front of the net well. Terps (8-3) have sewn up an at-large bid after a stellar performance in a tough venue.

Hopkins and Maryand first met in 1895. The Jays lead the series 74-49-1 or 67-49-1 for those who don’t count the first seven games prior to 1924. It’s the oldest rivalry in the sport. Hopkins won 19 of 20 in the series in the late 70’s through 1990. The rivalry became a conference matchup in 2015. The Terps have won 9 of the last 12. The winner receives a wooden crab-shaped trophy weighing 25 pounds. The game can be seen on BTN at 6:00pm with Joe Beninati and Mark Dixon in the sky-high booth in College Park

3) Virginia

Wahoo (8-3) goalie Matt Nunes should have taken a delay of game penalty instead of dropping the ball at the midfield line after a UVA offsides call. Duke scored on the ensuing whistle into an empty net. That was the only thing Nunes did wrong on Saturday, making save after save, keeping his Wahoos in the game before they woke up after an intense locker room discussion at halftime. Nunes finished with 17 stops. The Cavalier defense wasn’t sharp off the ball and wing play on faceoffs didn’t support Petey LaSalla enough. Connor Shellenberger was back in the lineup, Griffin Schutz played well and Payton Cormier scored four goals. The Cavaliers didn’t can some good looks.  

Carc called the game in Durham and boarded a flight home to New York at 4:20pm from RDU only to be delayed by weather. The pilot timed out and the flight was cancelled. He got home at 2:00am on Sunday morning.  

Syracuse visits Charlottesville on Saturday at 2:00pm on ESPNU with Cotter and Carc once again on the call. 

2) Duke

Goalie William Helm, a transfer from D3 St. Lawrence nicknamed “Boots,” made a doorstep save in the final moments to preserve a Devils (11-2) 15-14 victory over Virginia. The Devils had led by five in the fourth quarter. Duke has won 18 consecutive regular season games against UVA. They are 23-2 against the Cavaliers since 2005. 

Duke built a 6-2 and 10-3 lead in the second quarter. They led 13-8 in the fourth. UVA ended the game on a 6-2 run.  This game didn’t feel as close as the final score. Duke got balanced scoring. Jake Naso (21-32) was excellent at the dot, getting over his Petey LaSalla hump. Brennan O’Neill’s ill advised shot with the lead and 34 seconds on the clock was mind boggling. Duke was +3 on EMO/EMD

The Devils are off this week and face Syracuse in the regular season finale on April 29 at noon. I will pivot as well, covering the Colorado spring football game on Saturday (ESPN) at 3:00pm EST with Chris Fowler and Robert Griffin III, live from Boulder.

1) Notre Dame

The Irish (8-1) had a bye week and now host UNC on April 22 at noon on ESPNU with Anish Shroff and Matt Ward. With 3.78 assists per game, Pat Kavanagh sets the pace in that stat category.

Navigating an off week is a tricky assignment. You don’t want to do too much, and can’t do too little. Finding the sweet spot between rest/recovery with staying fresh is an imperfect science. Veterans with worn out tires need a break. Getting reps for second and third stringers must be prioritized. The week without a game can give the forgotten bottom third of the roster a time to shine and develop. Notre Dame utilizes a Catapult GPS system which monitors work loads and provides clinical guidance. 

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