Too-Early Top Twenty: NCAA D1 Pre-Fall Ball Assessment
Most teams haven’t started fall ball yet, but it’s never too early to start thinking ahead to May. I’m sure plenty of players on the top teams are already dreaming about playing on Memorial Day weekend, but the question becomes this: who has the best chance at actually making it to Memorial Day?
With that in mind, I decided to compile a NCAA D1 Top 20 for 2016. These rankings reflect performance from 2015, key returners, and strength of the program.
Without further ado, the LaxAllStars.com Too-Early Top Twenty.
Army hasn’t made the playoffs since 2010, when they upset Syracuse. Last season, they lost out in the Patriot League final to Colgate. To be honest, I’m not sure that this is the year that Army returns to the playoffs, but the Black Knights return enough firepower to be considered a Top 20 team.
Army loses a star in John Glesener, but returns two strong attackman in Cole Johnson and Connor Cook. A strong junior campaign from FOS Dan Grabher would be a big boost towards leading Army through the Patriot League and back to the playoffs.
Player to watch: Cole Johnson, Attack
Georgetown was a surprise last season, finishing the season with a 10-6 record and ranked 12th in the nation. Sadly for the Hoyas, that big run didn’t finish in a playoff spot. It’s hard to have a breakout season when you share a conference with the national champions, and the Hoyas finished the team by losing the Big East final to Denver.
Georgetown may have graduated some important pieces, but the Hoyas return a plenty of players and possibly the best young goalie in the country in sophomore Nick Marrocco.
Player to watch: Nick Marrocco, Goalie
18. Stony Brook
Stony Brook was a game away from making the playoffs in 2014, but unfortunately for the Seawolves, that game came against Albany. The biggest loss for Stony Brook is Mike Rooney graduating, but the good news for the Seawolves is that Brody Eastwood returns this season, having placed 3rd in the nation in goals last season.
With Albany a question mark in the post-Thompson era, maybe Stony Brook can wrestle control away and take the America East crown this season. The offense is there for Stony Brook, but can the defense handle playing Albany twice a year? We’ll see.
Player to watch: Brody Eastwood, Attack
The Red Foxes finished at 21st in the final rankings last season, earning the right to get stomped on by Syracuse in the first round of the playoffs. That game might not have gone the way that Marist would’ve dreamt of, but that playoff experience is important for a squad returning a strong class.
Marist returns both of its leading scorers in attackmen Joseph Radin and JD Recor, both of whom ended up finishing in the top 15 in total points last season. The Red Foxes should boast one of the best under-the-radar scoring offenses in the nation in 2016, and I wouldn’t rule out an upset in the first round.
Player to watch: JD Recor, Attack
The Greyhounds had a pretty rough 2015, with a lot of close losses and a handful of upsets at the hands of smaller programs. The good news for Loyola is that it won’t take much improvement to flip those one goal losses, including Virginia. Loyola has recruited well, and it recently won a championship.
The talent is there at Loyola to become a top ten squad again, they just need to mesh better. The maturation of a strong underclassman goalie will help Loyola, as Grant Limone should improve on a solid freshman year. Loyola still finished in the top twenty in scoring offense last season, in large part thanks to attackman Zach Herreweyers (50g). If they can bring that up to top fifteen, and bring the defense up to top twenty five, then the Greyhounds should once again be a contender for the Patriot League title.
Player to watch: Zach Herreweyers, Attack
Colgate returns a LOT of players from the 2015 team that won the Patriot League and managed a good fight against UNC in the first round of the playoffs. Colgate was a very balanced team in 2015, ranking in the top 25 in scoring offense and defense. Last season, however, Colgate dropped three games against ranked opponents by 2 or less goals.
Flipping the script in those close games could mean earning a seed this season, and avoiding such a strong opponent in the first round. The Raiders should be strong this season, but we’ll have to wait and make sure they can win the close ones before moving them up the list.
Player to watch: Brandon Burke, Goalie
14. Ohio State
The key to Ohio State maintaining their hot streak will be to replace superstar Jesse King. This offense stalled out at times last season, particularly in a bad loss against Rutgers late in the year, and King put the team on his back to carry them through.
With King off to the pros, the Buckeyes will have to find someone to replace those points. A strong candidate for that is senior attackman Carter Brown, who may be asked to quarterback this offense in 2016. Colin Chell is going to be big name by the end of 2016, the sophomore earned Freshman of the Week honors twice in the Big 10 last season and looks to improve on his impressive freshman run. Goalie Tom Carey should age well heading into his junior.
Player to watch: Carter Brown, Attack
Towson was so close to upsetting #1 seed Notre Dame last season and going down in history as one of the tournament’s great Cinderella stories. The good news for the Tigers is that they return pretty close to their entire offense from that team. The Tigers bring back their entire attack line, their FOGO, and their goaltender. That is one massively stacked returning core of players.
The playoff experienced gained in that ND game, in combination with Towson’s play-in game win, should be invaluable for this team in terms of confidence. This team knows that it almost beat the #1 team in May last year, and this year I expect that Towson will be playing a lower-seeded team. If I had to choose now which unseeded team has the best chance in 2016 to pull the upset, my call is Towson.
Player to watch: Joe Seider, Attack
Don’t look now, but the Ivy League is quietly becoming one of the deepest conferences in the nation. Cornell might be one of the old powers of the Ivy, but this team is definitely on the hot seat in 2016 in terms of conference power. Last season, the Ivy League put three teams in the playoffs. I wouldn’t be shocked to see three teams do it again, but Cornell needs its young players to step up to avoid being the odd team out, a la Princeton in 2015.
Connor Buczek and Matt Donovan are gone now, and the Big Red needs someone to step into their scoring shoes ASAP. Now, I trust Cornell. People wrote them off after Pannell graduated and they stuck around. I think they have one of the most underrated goaltenders in the country in Christian Knight. Cornell should still be in the conversation for the Ivy League title in 2016, but they’re no longer the team to beat in the Ivy League.
Player to watch: Christian Knight, Goalie
Speaking of the new powers in the Ivy League, let’s all welcome Brown to the conversation. Out of seemingly nowhere, the Bears produced the 5th highest scoring offense in the nation last year. They took down Cornell and Princeton last season, but they couldn’t find a way past Yale. Their season was still strong enough for an at-large bid in playoffs.
Heading into 2016, the Bears are firmly in the race for the Ivy League title. The number one reason that Brown could win the Ivy? Dylan Molloy. In a breakout sophomore season, Molloy posted 92 points (62,30) that definitely should have had him in the Tewaaraton conversation. As a junior, expect Molloy to build on those numbers and earn himself at least a spot on the final watchlist. If this offense keeps putting up 14 goals-per-game, I don’t see them missing the tournament in 2016.
Player to watch: Dylan Molloy, Attack
Seeing Virginia outside of the top contenders may be strange, but the Cavs need to prove that they can contend in the ACC. Considering the powerhouse program that Coach Starsia has built, I may be eating those words in May, but I don’t see Virginia winning the ACC. Virginia simply didn’t have an offensive star in 2015.
Last time Virginia won a championship, Steele Stanwick carried them in the playoffs. If Virginia can get a healthy James Pannell back and lighting up scoreboards, this team might have its star, and its shot at the title. However, the Cavs were 50th in the nation in scoring defense. Defense wins championships, and Virginia will have to prove that the defense has improved before it can be called a contender.
Player to watch: Greg Coholan, Midfield
The Thompson Era is finally over at Albany, and the America East is breathing a collective sigh of relief at the idea. Not so fast! Lyle Thompson may be gone, but he’s created quite the apprentice in Connor Fields. Let’s not forget that Fields led the nation in goals last season as a freshman. I don’t care who he shared a line with, that’s impressive. Albany might not lead the nation in scoring offense in 2016, but Fields and Seth Oakes means that this attack line is still in great hands.
Another reason to be optimistic about Albany? Blaze Riordan is back in cage for the Great Danes in 2016. While he mostly got attention for his beautiful goal against Cornell, Riordan quietly posted a 56% save rate in 2016, and should provide strong leadership for the Albany defense in his senior season. The post-Thompson drop in scoring may come, but I don’t see Albany falling out of the top 15 just because Lyle graduated.
Player to watch: Connor Fields, Attack
The reigning Ivy League champions have done a lot to convince everyone that they deserve to be considered the Ivy League favorites. Their defense allowed only eight goals-per-game in 2015, and they suffocated plenty of scoring offenses last season. The key to keeping the Ivy crown will be to find more goals.
Their top scorer has graduated, so who do the Bulldogs look to in terms of improving their scoring offense? Yale has often relied in a very balanced offense with a lot of scorers, but in order to take the next step and reach Memorial Day weekend, Yale will need to find a true star player on offense to carry them through the close games. The best candidate? 2015 Ivy Rookie of the Year Ben Reeves.
Player to watch: Ben Reeves, Attack
7. North Carolina
The Tar Heels lose quite the pair in Joey Sankey and Jimmy Bitter. That loss can’t be overstated. Offensively, the Tar Heels will need to provide returning star Luke Goldstock with support in order to hang with the other ACC offenses. The good news for UNC is that their defense should improve in 2016.
UNC can build from the back this season, as senior goalie Kieran Burke is a great player and strong leader. The UNC defense should improve on its 32nd ranked defense from 2016. The key for the Tar Heels will be finding enough offense to stay in the top ten for scoring offenses, as it is unlikely that the returners can maintain the 14.4 goals-per-game that last year’s squad managed.
Player to watch: Luke Goldstock, Attack
Syracuse felt like a champion for most of last season, and then Hopkins went and ended it early for the Orange. With Kevin Rice now off and tearing it up for the Rattlers, the Orange find themselves in a familiar situation: replacing an offensive superstar. Actually, it’ll have to replace a strong class of shooters, as the Orange said farewell to Nicky Galasso and Randy Staats, in addition to Rice.
Luckily for the Orange, Dylan Donahue returns for one more year in 2016, after lighting up the stat sheet for 71 points last season. The Orange have a lot of offense to replace, plus a goaltender. ‘Cuse is definitely out a lot of last year’s starters, but the Orange have proven they don’t rebuild, they reload.
Player to watch: Dylan Donahue, Attack
5. Johns Hopkins
The Bluejays had quite the Jekyll and Hyde season in 2015. The big question for 2016 is which team we see. Will we get the Hopkins’ team that started 2015 with a 4-6 record, falling out of the rankings, or will we see the team that dominated the competition in the second half of the season? The Bluejays showed what they’re capable of in the playoffs, finishing one goal away from the final despite being unseeded.
Wells Stanwick may be gone, but Ryan Brown is set to be one scary senior, and young stud Shack Stanwick may well step into his family’s history of stardom himself. Hopkins can score, they’ve proven that. If the ‘Jays can get their defense on par with their offense in 2016, Hopkins will be a team to fear, and one that could definitely find its way back to Memorial Day Weekend.
Player to watch: Ryan Brown, Attack
Another year, another loss in the final for the Terrapins. Maryland is becoming quite adept at maneuvering through the playoffs, but they still haven’t found the recipe they need to win a title. With that said, Maryland returns a lot of talent from their silver-medal squad. Matt Rambo is starting to live up to his recruiting hype, and should take another step forward in his junior season. The defense will have to replace Kyle Bernlohr in cage, but last season’s top defense should still be stifling offenses and causing attackman nightmares in 2016.
Maryland has strong recruiting, a great leader in Coach Tillman, and a defense built to win championships. If Rambo and the other young guns can step up this season, Maryland might finally win the title that’s just barely eluded them in recent years.
Player to watch: Matt Rambo, Attack
The defending champs will miss the monster that was Wesley Berg, particularly in clutch situations, but that doesn’t mean the Pioneers are ready to give up the throne yet. Connor Cannizzaro is a points-scoring machine, and should step up as the new quarterback of this offense. He’ll have Zach Miller back with him to help the Pioneers keep the goals coming, and one of the best FOGOs in the nation in Trevor Baptiste.
A big key for Denver will be replacing the experience and leadership of Ryan LePlante. Lost in the flashy offense of Denver last year was just how good their defense was. Even with Berg gone, expect this Denver offense to stay in the top ten for scoring offenses. If the defense can keep up, Denver will be right back to Memorial Day Weekend for a third straight year.
Player to watch: Connor Cannizzaro, Attack
2. Notre Dame
Someday, the close game on Memorial Day Weekend is going to go Notre Dame’s way. For now, the Irish continue to be on the outside of the champion’s circle in. The good news for Notre Dame is that the pieces are still in place for a championship. The Irish return a Tewaaraton finalist in Matt Kavanagh, who needs to regain his clutch trait in 2016 after disappearing some in the 2015 playoffs.
Also back for the Irish is the Motor City Hitman, as the massive cannon of Sergio Perkovic once against takes his talents to South Bend. Combine that with a returning goaltender and FOGO, and the Irish are once again firmly in the championship conversation. Will this be the year that the Irish finally hoist the trophy?
Player to watch: Sergio Perkovic, Midfield
The more I look over Duke’s returning squad, the crazier it looks. These Blue Devils simply return too much talent to be any lower than this. To start off with, Tewaaraton finalist Myles Jones returns for his senior season. Jones could easily be the #1 pick in the MLL draft by the time the 2016 season starts. Joining him on offense are Justin Guterding, Deemer Class, and Jack Bruckner. Kyle Rowe (61.4% win rate) returns to the faceoff X, taking over for older brother Jack as the lead FOGO this season. Luke Aaron and Danny Fowler, who split time in cage for Duke last season, both return as well.
Duke has a ton of firepower, and its depth may be the biggest factor. When you can put top recruits like Jake Seau on the second midfield line, you know you’re stacked. Duke has a bad habit of starting slow, so this prediction might not look great a month into the season, but I would be shocked if Duke isn’t at bare minimum a Memorial Day Weekend participant.
Player to watch: Myles Jones, Midfield[mks_separator style=”solid” height=”2″]
Is Ryder’s NCAA D1 Top 20 absolutely crazy or do you think he predicted the future? Sound off in the comments below!