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Quint Kessenich’s Top 20: April 18, 2022

Quint Kessenich being the latest contributor to the Lacrosse All Stars’ team means that he will be releasing his weekly Top 20 rankings every Monday. Quint Kessenich covers lacrosse for the ESPN networks and hosts the Quintessential Podcast on Lacrosse All Stars.

Twitter: @QKessenich
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League races take center stage in April. The NCAA tournament welcomes 10 automatic qualifiers. League Champions from the CAA, MAAC, A-Sun, Big East, Big Ten, SoCon, NEC, America East, Patriot, and Ivy League advance into the bracket. Job number one is to get into your league tournament. From there, anything is possible. 

Stony Brook and Vermont sit atop the America East. Utah is unbeaten within the A-Sun. Villanova and Denver are the main threats to Georgetown in the Big East. The CAA is wide open as is the Ivy league. The unpredictable MAAC could go in a variety of directions with St Bonaventure, Monmouth, Manhattan, Marist, and even an improved Siena in the hunt. The NEC is led by St Joe’s with Bryant and LIU next in line. I’m expecting fireworks in the Patriot League tourney, right now Army, Boston U, and Lehigh are a step ahead of Loyola. The SoCon is a three team cage match between Jacksonville, Richmond, and High Point. 

The RPI continues to draw scrutiny and angst. Teams from the Ivy league hold five of the top nine spots in the RPI. Jacksonville, with an RPI of #21, is slotted behind three teams it beat – Duke, Denver, and Richmond. Go figure. If the NFL used the RPI, you wouldn’t make the playoffs if you were in a division with the Jets, Jaguars, or Lions. Teams are punished for playing foes with a poor win-loss record.

Vegas betting lines differ drastically from the RPI metrics. Here are DraftKings odds on what team will win the NCAA Division 1 National Championship. Since sports betting is not yet legalized in New Jersey, teams like Princeton and Rutgers do not have odds listed.

This poll is my opinion. It isn’t a playoff resume list. It’s not the RPI. It’s eyeballs, results and intuition – it’s the teams that appear most likely to battle for the NCAA title on Memorial Day. Feel free to post your Top 20 on the social media chain associated with this article. With spring weather being terrific, support the sport – get out to some games and enjoy. It’s the best time of year.

Quint Kessenich’s Top 20

20) Denver (7-5)

The Pioneers demolished St John’s (2-10) this week 18-4, taking 54 shots and getting offensive production from fifteen members on the roster including Stephen Avery, Andrew Aitchison, Ned Forbush, Richie Connell, Mic Kelly, and Ellis Geis. A favorite of the RPI, because of their very difficult non-league schedule, Denver sits at #13 in that formula. They are in Providence on Saturday. Denver has wins over Utah, Air Force, Canisius, Ohio State, Towson, Villanova, and St John’s. Their losses are to Duke, Jacksonville, North Carolina, Yale, and Georgetown. I don’t see them as a viable at-large candidate right now. They’ll need to be a bid stealer. Since 2010, DU has made the NCAA tournament ten times, with the only miss coming in 2019.

19) Saint Joseph’s (10-2)

The Hawks topped LIU 14-10 for their sixth consecutive win. Matt Bohmer and Levi Anderson were the offensive stars. Alex Borg won 12 of 18 draws. St Joe’s never trailed and pulled away after the Sharks cut it to 9-8 late in the third.  

Sacred Heart is up next. A calendar alert for next week, St Joe’s challenges Penn on Tuesday April 26 for the City of Brotherly Love bragging rights. 

18) Richmond (7-4)

The Spiders torched Mercer 22-9 behind 4 goals from Ryan Dunn. Mount transfer Luke Frankeny added 5 points from the midfield. Richmond is 5-1 at home in Robbins Stadium and 2-3 on the road. They travel to High Point this weekend in a dress rehearsal for the SoCon semifinals. Coach Dan Chemotti has led Richmond to three conference tournament championships in 2014, 2018 and 2019. 

17) Boston U (9-3)

BU picked up a substantial Patriot League win over Loyola 14-9 as Louis Perfetto dished out 6 assists. An 8-1 run in the second half was the margin. Timmy Ley scored his 100th career goal in the win that was televised by CBS Sports Network and viewed by 1,062 fans at Ridley Stadium. BU, now 6-0 in the Patriot League, was buoyed by the depth of scoring as Thomas Niedringhaus, Conor Calderone, James Corcoran, and Matt Baugher all contributed off the bench. Goalie Matt Garber continues to shine. Loyola drops to 5-6 after being ranked in the pre-season Top 10.

Terriers, now #14 in the RPI, are at Lehigh on Saturday at 3pm. 

16) Harvard (7-2)

Crimson are #15 in the RPI and 2-2 in the Ivy League. They have a little at-large resume, holding onto a win over BU and Brown from March 19 and are coming off consecutive losses to Cornell and Penn. The offense has gone south, only managing 23 goals in the last three games combined.  Harvard is a product of playing in 2022’s top league. They merely live in the high rent district. Without a signature win or two, they will get evicted. 

15) Brown (7-4)

Bears are now 2-2 in the Ivy after a rousing 20-13 victory over Yale in front of 1,148 fans, which throws the Ivy league standings into a jumble and vaults Brown to #9 in the RPI. They have risen from the dead. An 11-5 second half tells the tale. Brian Antonelli, Ryan Aughavin and Devon McClane all scored 4 goals while goalie Connor Theriault made 15 saves. Colin Hart, Jack Kelly, and Trevor Glavin scored career first goals. ‘Brown State’ hits the road to Ithaca this Saturday at 1pm (ESPN+). Can they keep rolling?

14) North Carolina (8-4)

Chris Gray nailed the buzzer beater in a 14-13 home victory over Syracuse that keeps their hopes alive for an at-large bid. 2,749 fans in Chapel Hill watched Gray finish with 5 goals. He should be the No.1 overall pick in the PLL Draft. Jacob Kelly added 4 assists while goalie Collin Krieg made 18 stops. Gray is now 9 points away from breaking the NCAA Division I all-time career points record. UNC shot 38%, while the Orange shot for 24%. The Syracuse defensive woes continued as they drop to 4-8 on the year, losers of their last four games. They’ve given up 66 goals in those setbacks. 

The Tar Heels, #13 in the RPI,  visit Notre Dame Thursday at 6pm on ESPNU. This is a gigantic game. 

13) Penn (5-4)

Penn is now 2-3 in the Ivy League after a hard fought 11-8 win over Harvard. This was an essential win for the Quakers, who currently sit at #8 in the RPI. They’ve backed themselves into a tight corner with little wiggle room. The Quakers finish their Ivy League slate with Dartmouth on Saturday. After that, they have St Joe’s and Albany.

12) Jacksonville (12-2)

The Dolphins controlled VMI 25-6. Jackson Intrieri scored 7 times in their sixth consecutive win. Tufts transfer Max Waldbaum set a single season record for points. Jacksonville has wins over High Point, Denver, Duke, and Richmond with losses to Utah and Johns Hopkins. Jacksonville handled Hampton on Easter Sunday.

My top candidates for National Coach of the Year includes Jacksonville’s John Galloway, Maryland’s John Tillman, Princeton’s Matt Madalon, Cornell’s Connor Buczek, and BU’s Ryan Polley. Individual awards are determined by team success. Mercer is at Jacksonville next.

11) Ohio State (8-4)

The Buckeyes put a major scare into undefeated Maryland, jumping out to a 7-3 lead before being overwhelmed in the final stages finishing the game on a 19-12 loss. Maryland won the fourth quarter 7-1. Buckeye picks, slips and two-man games, a staple of their half-field offense gave Maryland fits. Jack Myers finished with 6 points. Late face-off domination and bench scoring gave Maryland the edge.

OSU is holding critical non-conference wins over North Carolina, Notre Dame, and Harvard. That could be strong ammo on Selection Sunday. Their losses are to Denver, Cornell, Maryland and Rutgers. As long as they hold serve from here, they feel like a ‘bubble in’ team. Brutus tangles with a dangerous and young Michigan squad on Saturday and will likely play the Wolverines again the following week in the Big Ten Quarterfinals. Tricky stuff.

10) Cornell (10-2)

Army dusted Cornell 17-10, pouncing on them from the opening whistle, in an eye-opening twist of fate in front of 388 fans in Ithaca. The Ivy League is 33-10 in non-conference games, the primary reason that five Ivy programs sit in the RPI top 11. They dominated the non-conference portion of the season. Army wasn’t buying the hype. 

On Monday night, a Big Red comeback in the Dome cemented their status in the NCAA at-large field. This game was entertaining. Cornell displayed first class intangibles after being down by six, on short rest, to a central New York state rival. There was good and bad. Reasons for optimism and cause for concern. Is Cornell a championship weekend caliber team? Unlikely. Can they win the Ivy and give people fits in the NCAA tournament? Absolutely. They have an elite attack with CJ Kirst, John Piatelli, and Mikey Long. They have a phenomenal cover man in Gavin Adler, a sound defense, and are well coached. Midfield scoring is the question mark, as is overall depth. When a team shows chemistry and tenacity like this group has displayed, you must respect them. This band of brothers will be a tough out. They scrap, they compete, they find a way. #HardHat21 is a way of life. Cornell won national titles in 1971, 1976 and 1977.  They last played in Championship Weekend in 2013. and won the Ivy League conference tournament in 2018. 

Brown visits venerable Schoelkopf Field on Saturday at noon. 

9) Army (10-2)

The Black Knights are New York’s college lacrosse team with a win over Syracuse and another win this weekend over Cornell in front running fashion. Army smoked Cornell 17-10 in a game that was never close. A 5-0 first quarter set the tone. The first quarter was the finest display of Army lacrosse that we’ve seen in awhile. Ryan Sposito, the grandson of former Cornell head coach Richie Moran, scored 3 times for Army. 

Black Knights renew their rivalry with Navy on Saturday at noon on CBS Sports Network from Michie Stadium. This will always be a special game. It’s unmatched in terms of spirit, courage, camaraderie and teamwork.

8) Yale (7-3)

The Bulldogs loss at Brown this past weekend exemplifies the roller coaster nature of D1 college lacrosse this season. Just when we thought Yale was emerging as the Ivy favorite, they got crucified by Brown 20-13. The Bears up-tempo offense created 60 shots and forced 19 Eli turnovers. Matt Brandau did his thing with 7 points but the supporting cast of starters were subpar. The transition defense and decision making in this Helter Skelter styled game will be addressed. 

Albany comes to New Haven on Sunday. (Noon on ESPN+)

7) Duke (10-5)

On Wednesday night at the team meeting, Coach John Danowski showed the group a video clip from the movie “Sandlot” and finished by telling his troops to, “just show up and play”. The unpredictable Devils delivered their best 60 minutes of lacrosse in defeating Virginia 17-8 on Thursday afternoon. They showed up. They played great. They beat Virginia for the millionth time during the regular season. They always beat UVA.

Most shocking to me was the performance by their defense – winning on-ball match-ups, not sliding to eyes, and harassing shooters at the release point. Virginia’s ball movement was stagnant and that allowed goalie Mike Adler the ability to lock in on shooters, clearly on the ball in the pocket and off the lip. UVA shot 16%. Duke shorted lefty attacker Payton Cormier and UVA took the bait, dodging with their least effective ball carrier. Defenders Wilson Stephenson, Kenny Brower, Tyler Carpenter and Will Frisoli played with an edge. The shorties didn’t get torched. And when Duke made stops, they ran effectively, Reed Landin and Carpenter both nailed fast break goals.

The offense is still too often, stand around and watch the All-American dodge. Off-ball movement is scarce. Hockey assists are in short supply. Duke keeps it simple, because they have talent that can take over any game. Brennan O’Neil had an afternoon of dodging excellence. His eight points in the face of a marquee match-up tilted the scale to Duke. The win pushed Duke’s RPI from #16 to #12, a major swing. Devils own losses to Jacksonville, Penn, Loyola, Syracuse and Notre Dame  Duke has an extended vacation until a May 1 game against North Carolina at home. That’s very unusual. Meanwhile, they’ve morphed from an outer bubble castaway into a Connecticut contender.

6) Notre Dame (5-4)

Irish blitzed Marquette on Tuesday at Valley Fields and are now 10-0 all-time against Milwaukee’s best. It was 65 degrees and sunny at Marquette but apparently the grass field wasn’t ready. So they played indoors on April 12. Jake Taylor scored five goals. Since earning the starting spot three games ago against SU, the junior has 15 goals and two assists. He has complimented the Kavanagh brothers and added an interior presence. ND has improved it’s shooting rate by 20 percentage points with Taylor roaming the slot. This squad is peaking at the right time after losses to highly ranked Georgetown, Maryland and Virginia. Their setback to Ohio State was caused by questionable calls and a Buckeye 5 for 5 EMO performance. That’s all in the rear view mirror now, as veteran coach Kevin Corrigan hunts his first national title. ND has a low RPI of #17. Without an ACC tournament and AQ, every game is giant.

Rudy had the weekend off…go easy on the jelly beans and Peeps. The bagpiper will be bellowing on Thursday night at Arlotta, 6pm against North Carolina on the ACC Network. Anish Shroff and I will be in South Bend for Scotland the Brave and what may be an elimination game. It’ll be a Thursday night thriller.

5) Rutgers (10-2)

The jersey boys survived an upset scare from Michigan on Saturday 13-12 in front of a packed house in Ann Arbor. Goalie Colin Kirst was sharp and RU got critical goals from midfielders Ronan Jacboy, Ryan Gallagher, Shane Knobloch and Jack Aimone to hold off a late Wolverine rally. Jared Jean-Felix played a strong game in defensive coverage. Defender Bobby Russo runs the show. Face-offs, the lack off attack dodging and defensive help packages all will be on coach Brian Brecht’s to do list this week. The victory keeps RU in the hunt for a Top 8 seed and home playoff game. They kept their cool showing poise.

Michigan is on the cusp of being a perennial Top 20 team. Their lacrosse only facility is amazing. It was my first trip to Ann Arbor for lacrosse and I couldn’t have been more impressed. Midfielder Justin Brown is growing on a weekly basis, becoming a dangerous iso dodger to compliment Jake Bonomi. Penn State plays at Rutgers on Saturday at 4pm.

4) Virginia (9-3)

Five things jumped out at me watching the Cavaliers get trucked on a Thursday afternoon at Duke.

1) The Wahoos need to get healthy. Injuries to players like Petey LaSalla, Matt Moore, Connor Shellenberger, and Jack Peele are becoming the storyline.

2) Half-field offensive sets have regressed to hero ball. Yeah I know Duke wasn’t sliding, but why didn’t we see more invert and more picks, two man games and more ball movement? It was iso city. Contested shot after contested shot. Cavs settled offense did nothing to make the Duke defense uncomfortable. The ball died in sticks. There was no layer of complexity. No schematic wrinkle.

3) Transition defense was poor. Midfielders jogging off the field blindly after a turnover or shot isn’t the answer.

4) Some high profile freshman hit the wall in the second quarter. It thats time of year.

5) Midfield dodgers haven’t emerged for coach Lars Tiffany. 

On Saturday night with just one day of rest, the Cavaliers defeated Quinnipiac 21-9, and are now 7-0 at Klockner. A 6-1 first quarter and 15-3 half time advantage allowed coach Lars Tiffany the freedom to sit his starters. Matt Moore did not dress. Connor Shellenberger, Payton Cormier, Xander Dickson and Jack Simmons got back on track. UVA plays at Syracuse on Saturday at 4pm (ESPNU) with Drew Carter and Paul Carcaterra on the mic. 

3) Princeton (9-2) 

The Tigers snuck past the Big Green 12-10 on the virtues of 18 caused turnovers – a school record. Erik Peters made 15 saves as Princeton improves to 3-1 in the Ivy. If either Princeton and Cornell win their final two regular season Ivy games, (they play each other April 30 in NJ), that team would host the Ivy Tourney as the top seed. Dartmouth staged an epic comeback in this game to take a 10-9 lead with 12 minutes to play. Chris Brown scored twice and Alex Vardaro found the net for some insurance. Sam English finished with 5 points and Alex Slushier had another 3 goal game. This nucleus takes a back seat to nobody. Face-offs were the primary issue for PU in this game. 

Tigers play at Harvard this Saturday at 1pm. Every Ivy game is gigantic at this juncture. 

2) Georgetown (10-1)

Swamp dogs doubled up Marquette 20-10 in Washington, DC. They are the only one-loss team in D1 lacrosse. They host Loyola on Tuesday at 6:30pm on CBS Sports Network with versatile announcers Jason Knapp and Evan Washburn. The Hounds have thoroughly dominated this series and this game feels like a revenge opportunity for GT. Loyola is 36-7 all-time against Georgetown. The Hoyas are 1-12 in their last 13 meetings with the only victory back in 2015. The Hoyas then face St John’s on Saturday in the Swamp for Senior Day and the alumni game.

1) Maryland (11-0)

‘Be the Best’ found themselves down 7-3 early, then in a hole at halftime for the first time this season. They weren’t playing their best. Trailing 10-9 in the third quarter, they responded late with an 8-1 surge, defeating Ohio State 19-12 to remain atop the leaderboard. Don’t confuse outcomes with performance. Don’t start judging outcomes. Teams play poorly and win. Others play well and lose. Judge your team by how well they stuck to their process. So this win was rather incomplete, partial and exposes flaws in the Terps defense that every offensive coordinator in the country will investigate.

6,430 fans got to see the Terps claim the Big Ten regular season title, winning the second half 12-5. The Terp’s defense struggled with on-the-ball positioning, picks, rubs, slips and slides, often times losing leverage and communicating poorly. The focus down 7-3 during the team timeout was to hit the rest button. A turnaround starts with ground balls, stable possessions, and shooting smarter. Do it again. Rinse and repeat. Maryland rebooted and caught fire. That’s the positive here. They finally got punched in the face and got off the canvas. For the fourth consecutive game, ten different players scored a goal. Roman Puglise scored on a gorgeous trailer transition goal via a Brett Makar look, seems like a weekly happening. 

Terps play at rival Johns Hopkins on Saturday at 6pm on ESPNU with Jay Alter and Ryan Boyle on the call. This game always delivers. If you can, attend and bring a friend, co-worker, or neighbor to this event – perhaps somebody that’s never seen high level college lacrosse and show them what it looks like. Maryland clicks in at -105 in Las Vegas sports books to win the NCAA title. 

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