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Quint Kessenich’s Top 20: May 1, 2023

Welcome to May. Conference championship Week is here. 40 teams vying for nine automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament. Just getting to this point is an achievement for some. For others it’s merely a step on the road to bigger goals.

When the confetti settles, watch the NCAA Tournament Selection Show on Sunday May 7th at 9:30pm on ESPNU with Chris Cotter, Paul Carcaterra and myself. If you have the ESPN app, you’ve got a front seat to mayhem and a wide variety of games all week long. 

It’s time to tune out distractions. Get your mind right. Lean in and do the work. The more important the game, the more you must play to your strengths. Stay positive on this mission and be grateful for the opportunity.

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Quint Kessenich’s Top 20

20) Princeton

You can learn more about a team in defeat then you can in victory. Ironically, the one-goal loss at Cornell was an improved overall performance from the Tigers. A repeat or upgrade of that effort in the Ivy League Tournament will put them in the hunt for the Ivy League automatic qualifier. That’s their only pathway to the playoffs.

What impressed me most was the play of goalie Michael Gianforcaro (14 saves) and attack/midfielder Lukas Stanat. The keeper is quick and Stanat (2g/4a) made them pay for the disrespect of being shorted. The Tigers got a goal from every member of the first and second midfield; how often can you say that? Faceoffs, groundballs, and clearing late in the game were the deciding factors. Close defense must do better on loose balls. Stop clearing the ball up the substitution box side.

Princeton will bring the heat against Penn on Friday night at 8:30pm on ESPNU. The loser of this game will be in dire straits.

19) Vermont

The Catamounts host the America East Tournament on Thursday and Saturday in beautiful Burlington, VT. Albany plays Vermont at 4:00pm and Binghamton plays Bryant at 7:00pm. Both games are on ESPN+. Watch the championship on Saturday, May 6th at 1:00pm on ESPNU.

18) Rutgers

A loss to Maryland on Saturday night sends the NASCAR Knights into the wall, crumpled up and spinning in a fiery wreckage. An 8-6 season is well short of expectations. Wins over Utah, UMass, and Princeton aren’t going to be worthy of discussion. The Terps defense held Rutgers scoreless for a span of 21:16 going from the late second quarter to the early fourth quarter. Game over. With the transfer portal popping and 21 seniors on the roster, who knows what this is going to look like in 2024.

17) Michigan

The Wolverines (7-6) banished Ohio State (5-8), losers of five straight, into off-season turmoil. Progress has been made in Ann Arbor.

It feels like Michigan needs to win the B10 automatic qualifier. They face Penn State on Thursday at Homewood Field.

16) Utah

The Utes obliterated Queens in Charlotte. Utah and Air Force get byes into the league semifinals and await the winners of Mercer vs Bellarmine and Robert Morris vs Jacksonville. The tournament is being played at Robert Morris.

15) North Carolina

UNC (7-6) has lost three straight and failed to capitalize on a wide open pathway to the tournament. Notre Dame remains on the schedule. UNC beat JHU, their only ace. They’ll need a win and then some help.

The Tar Heels’ settled offense is still looking for combinations, chemistry, and a functional flow. They don’t score multiple pass goals in six-on-six sets. They lack off-ball players, there is no motion. Dom Pietramala’s healthy arrival in 2024 may help in that department. Ryan Levy’s IQ showed up on tape in the second quarter last week in South Bend. He has vision and can pass, so he has to play. James Matan and Dewey Egan were impactful in that loss. Lineup tinkering continues in Chapel Hill.

14) Army

A 12-11 loss on Friday night in Boston isn’t the end of the world. With Lehigh’s win over Loyola and Navy’s over Bucknell, the Patriot League Tournament is set. Boston University and Army await the winners of the Tuesday quarterfinals. Lafayette is at Lehigh on Tuesday (7:00pm) and Loyola is at Navy (7:00pm), both on ESPN+.

The semifinals will be played on Friday May 5th at Nickerson Field (BU) at 4:00pm and 7:00pm on CBS Sports Network. The final is on Sunday May 7th at noon.

Army (10-2) does not have a viable at-large resume. Their schedule wasn’t built properly.

13) Boston University

The Terriers will host the Patriot League Tournament after defeating Army on Friday night.

The win over the Cadets was gutsy and hard fought. The Patriot League Tournament can be seen on CBS Sports Network with Dave Ryan and Evan Washburn on the call.

12) Villanova

The Wildcats fell to Georgetown 12-8 in the rainy swamp. Attackman Patrick Daly (3g/1a) and goalie Will Vitton (12 saves) had stand-out performances. Nova (10-4) has wins over Penn State, Delaware, and Penn. Their Big East Semifinal game against Denver looms large. It’s a game they must have.

Jason Knapp and Steve Panerelli have the call for the Big East Tournament on CBS Sports on Thursday and Saturday.

11) Denver

Playing at Marquette on a Friday night on the grass was never going to be easy. Denver’s 15-14 OT win proves clutch in their quest to stay in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. Stephen Avery’s goal on the second possession of overtime was the deal maker. Big lefty Richie Connell had six points. Alec Stathakis won 67% of the faceoffs. Marquette (6-8) has come up short in extra time in contests against Georgetown, Denver, and Villanova. That combined with a loss to Bobby Benson’s Friars on April 1 has Marquette as an idle host for the Big East Tournament where Georgetown plays Providence and Denver faces Villanova in the semifinals.

Denver Coach Bill Tierney, who’s retiring at the end of this season, has recruited players from 31 different states during his time at Denver, while logging over 300,000 airline miles. He’s won seven national championships in 34 Division 1 seasons. His team qualified for the post season 28 times. “Coach T” has orchestrated about 7,000 practices while coaching somewhere in the vicinity of 1,000 student-athletes.

10) Penn

The Quakers (7-5) wrapped up their regular season slate with a win at Albany on Wednesday night, overcoming an 8-3 deficit. While Penn didn’t look great, they survived. A trip to the capital region of NY in April is a trap game. They started slow and were heavily reliant on Sam Handley bombs (8 points) from the perimeter. The defense did fine work in the final 24 minutes, denying Great Danes penetration and quality shots. Shorty Piper Bond was excellent and Penn utilizes tight defensive splits, packing it in. Righty Hugh Mullane scored a key goal and Robert Schain found net twice for the 14-11 margin, a game that was closer than the final score. Penn plays in the Ivy League Semifinals on Friday night at 8:30pm on ESPNU.

9) Yale

After three consecutive losses to Cornell, Princeton, and Penn, Yale has won five straight (8-4). The Bulldogs don’t have any ‘bad’ losses. They didn’t play any bottom feeders which is smart, avoided playing ACC teams, and only played one from the Big Ten, so they caught breaks when Villanova, Denver, and Boston University all had strong league seasons. Like Hopkins and Penn, Yale understands how to schedule for the RPI. You must play good teams from bad leagues. Army could use a lesson in this exercise.

The 14-11 victory over Harvard in front running style featured 4-0, 6-1, and 10-4 leads. Leo Johnson, the lefty, got the party started. The Yale defense has found some stability and held the Crimson to 0-5 on the extra man. Harvard, a playoff team from 2022 who returned the majority of its young roster, proved throughout 2023 that their inclusion in last year’s NCAA Tournament was fortified by faulty math.

Yale plays Cornell on Friday at 6:00pm on ESPNU in the Ivy League Semifinals. Winner locks up a home game in the NCAA Tournament.

8) Georgetown

Ten straight wins after an 0-3 start has the Hoyas fully resuscitated. The Swamp Dogs (10-3) defeated Villanova 12-8 earning the No.1 seed in the Big East bracket. Defender Will Bowen did great work on Matt Campbell, holding him to one solo goal on EMO. Stealth bomber Graham Bundy Jr. found his range. Back-up FOGO Carson Milburn won 8 of 13 draws which is a newsworthy item. Tucker Dordevic has 46 goals on 33% shooting.

Georgetown has wins over Denver, Villanova, and Princeton. They are firmly floating on the bubble with Yale, Penn, Denver, Villanova, Rutgers, and North Carolina. The Big East Tournament takes place in Milwaukee where the weather looks cooperative and will be played at Valley Fields on grass. Incredible how few Division 1 home venues remain grass fields; Duke, UVA, UNC, who am I forgetting?

7) Maryland

The Terps ended Rutgers season 14-11 behind Braden Erksa’s six assists. Owen Murphy was back at it. Maryland now leads the series 36-1 and has won 18 consecutive games against the Scarlet Knights. That’s hard to believe.

Great to see Brett Makar nail a corner in transition, a game defining play, that uncorked uncommon emotion. I have enormous respect for Makar. When you put yourself in the arena, you must live with both the good and bad. Never forget that the next game offers redemption. Just keep moving forward. Last week doesn’t define you. The work you put in today, does.

The Terps are set for a rematch with Hopkins on Thursday afternoon. Joe Beninati and Mark Dixon have the call on BTN.

6) Cornell

The Big Red took down Princeton on Saturday, 14-13 in overtime, sending their 2,513 fans into a frenzy. They are the regular season Ivy League Champions, historically a significant distinction that has little street cred in this era of league automatic qualifiers.

The groundball wars were worthy of Championship Weekend. Cornell won this game because of faceoffs, Gavin Adler’s work on Coulter Mackesy, and groundballs. They were plus 20 off the rug.

Cornell’s record (11-2) and RPI are more impressive than their resume. A transcript that includes just a single win over #20 RPI Army outside their home league. It’s not like the Ivy League tore it up this spring against the ACC or Big Ten. The gap between #7 RPI Cornell and #12 RPI Villanova is very tight. That’s what makes this week so intriguing.

Anish, Carc, and I will be in the Big Apple this weekend covering the Ivy League Tournament on ESPNU. Games are Friday at 6:00pm and 8:30pm and Sunday at noon (ESPNU).

5) Johns Hopkins

The Jays were idle. Terps visit Charles Street on Thursday at 3:30pm in the Big Ten Semifinals. Joe B and Mark Dixon have the call on BTN.

When I forecast and jot down what seeding the NCAA Tournament may look like on Sunday night, this is what I’m seeing.

  • ACC (1-2-3 seeds)
  • Big Ten Champion (4 seed)
  • Big Ten runner-up (5 or 6 seed)
  • Ivy League Champion (5 or 6 seed)
  • Ivy League runner-up / Big East Champion (7, 8, or 9 seed)

The seeding of 1-3 will be highly nuanced. All the criteria will come into play. Being the No.1 seed has proven to be a commodity as 18 of the last 19 number one seeds have advanced to Championship Weekend.

4) Penn State

After winning four straight, the Nittany Lions (9-3) had a bye week. I spoke with Penn State’s Jack Traynor on the latest edition of the Quintessential Podcast, presented by Axia Time. Traynor spoke about his journey from the 2019 NCAA Semifinals to being hurt, a three win season, and what it is like now having success again in Happy Valley. Quite a roller-coaster. The matinee semifinal against Michigan can be seen on Big Ten Network at 1:00pm on Thursday.

Penn State won three games in 2022. They are the unofficial Ivy League Champions in 2023 with wins over Cornell, Penn, and Yale.

Notable Turnarounds

Team2022 Record2023 Record
Penn State3-119-3
Johns Hopkins7-911-4
Notre Dame8-49-1

3) Notre Dame

Rudy (9-2) lost at Virginia 12-8 on Sunday afternoon. The Notre Dame half-field offense was stagnant and shot selection was not terrific. Midfielders too often couldn’t win their matchups. Ball and people movement wasn’t urgent. Holding the Cavaliers to 12 goals is actually encouraging, as they fixed the interior crease defensive issues and played on-ball picks smarter. So even in defeat there was progress.

Is Notre Dame’s usage of two-way midfielders Quinn McCahon and Brian Tevlin sustainable over Championship Weekend; potentially two games in three days? Fatigue was a real issue for the four Maryland SSDM’s in 2022 especially after the injury to Roman Puglise. The midfield defense position is by far, the most tiring.

The Kavanagh’s never take a play off. Their relentless energy spills onto the rest of the team. If your best player rides like a maniac, that sets a tone for everyone to follow. Their skill and passing is most evident on the Irish EMO that’s clicking at about 61%. UVA had the kryptonite for the brothers; Cole Kastner and Cade Saustad. If they meet again, Notre Dame is going to have to create creative ways to change some match-ups and make the UVA defense more uncomfortable.

I’m impressed with Notre Dame’s foot soldiers, the unheralded lunch pail guys in this lineup who are playing at a championship level. Winning an NCAA title is usually determined more by roster spots 14-20 than by the headliners 1-10.

Notre Dame has never won the NCAA title in men’s lacrosse. They’ve banked wins over Duke, Maryland, UNC, Michigan, and Georgetown. The Irish finish at UNC on Saturday at noon (ACC Network).

2) Virginia

The Cavaliers hopped on the bus to Easton, PA, on Monday. A seven hour journey with a stop for a meal. That’s ample time to nap, read, study, and watch a movie. The problem is the ride home after the 20-11 win that ended at 9:30pm. So the Cavaliers got back to campus at 4:00am on Wednesday morning. Nobody ever said this would be glamorous.

On Sunday, a day when UVA honored their 2003 NCAA title team, the Cavaliers took a 12-8 win over Notre Dame. The 2003 title game was fueled by goalie Tillman Johnson. Goalie Matt Nunes took a page from that chapter and the defensive efforts of Cade Saustad and Cole Kastner on the Kavanagh brothers made the difference. Nunes, a sophomore, made 19 saves, playing the best game of his career. Thomas McConvey and Xander Dickson were the most impactful offensive players.

The Cavaliers have final exams and a week to get refreshed for the final push.

1) Duke

When Duke (12-2) does the ordinary well, they can be unstoppable. After a bye week, they handled the Orange, scoring 18 goals. The only bump in the road was the benching of goalie William Helm after a shaky start and the porous defense. Did Helm miss one or two? Yes. Was it worthy of a benching? As an outsider and someone who’s not privy to practice, it’s impossible for us to tell, but I do know that if the head coach loses confidence in the goalie, then you’ve got problems. Goalies derive confidence from the head coach and teammates. So without knowing the prelude, it’s not easy to read the tea leaves.

Duke’s offense was clicking. Dyson Williams (6 goals) found all sorts of time and room opportunities. Brennan O’Neill (6 points) made his usual impact. They shot a season-high 46.2 percent. The defense wasn’t great. When Syracuse got the Devils eyes and bodies moving, off-ball issues floated to the surface like Caddyshack.

The Blue Devils finish the regular season with Merrimack on Sunday at Bethpage HS on Long Island. They were 8-0 at Koskinen this season and are a likely 1 or 2 seed.

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