The goal of scheduling difficult early season non-conference games is to hopefully boost a team’s resume before conference play begins. Late February/early March is one of my favorite times of the college lacrosse season. These non-conference games are very important towards constructing the rankings and getting a sense of early candidates for at-large bids once the NCAA tournament comes around.
Teams like Georgetown, Ohio State, and Jacksonville have bolstered their resumes with massive non-conference wins. These victories are great for building confidence in the short term, but they could be even more important come selection Sunday. Below are the top 5 non-conference games of the week.
5) #18 Princeton @ #3 Georgetown
Saturday at Noon (FloSports)
There isn’t a team in the country with a more impressive resume than Georgetown. The Hoyas started the season with three ranked wins over Johns Hopkins, Penn, and Notre Dame. They have two top ten wins under their belt and the Penn victory looks even better after the Quakers defeated Duke last weekend. Georgetown added another impressive victory by demolishing Mount St. Mary’s 21-4 on Tuesday. This Hoyas team is as battle tested as any team in the country.
I expect a low scoring battle between these strong defensive teams. Princeton will need to overcome a face-off deficiency and find other ways to earn extra possessions. Offensively, Princeton has looked really strong scoring 22 in each of their first two games, and hanging double digits against one of the best defensive units in the country in Maryland. The offense is led by attackman Chris Brown and Alex Slusher who have combined for 29 points through three games. The pair of upperclassmen will need to play mistake-free in order to earn the road victory.
4) #19 Denver @ #9 North Carolina
Saturday at Noon (ACCNX)
Recent trips to east coast haven’t been kind to the Pioneers. Denver opened their 2020 season with back to back road losses to Duke and North Carolina. The Pios held the lead against Duke at halftime, but their lead slowly slipped away and the Blue Devils prevailed. The would gain another loss two days later in Chapel Hill. Denver flew down to Durham earlier this season to lose by 9 against Duke. Denver is set to head back east, seeking a different result this time.
There’s millions of great things to say about Chris Gray, and he’s been one of the best players in the country. I expect Gray to win the Tewaraton this spring, or be a finalist at the very least. You know what you’re going to get out of Gray, but it’s the guys around him that remain question marks. The defense has struggled at times and the injury of Evan Egan has hurt far more than anticipated. Sophomore goalie Colin Krieg has been decent this year averaging 48% which is a small step back from his 53% freshman season.
The real problem has been North Carolina’s midfield. The Heels have struggled to find consistent play from the midfield group. UNC brought in the No.1 recruiting class which includes three midfielders ranked in the Top-25. Unfortunately, none of these players have established themselves as mainstays in this offense and they’ve struggled to see the field. None of the three midfielders (Ty English, Johnny Schwartz, or Antonio Demarco) have registered a point.
Cole Herbert currently leads the North Carolina midfield with seven points, but he finished with goose eggs in two of his five games. The Schertzinger twins lead the first midfield line, but they’ve also struggled out of the gate. UNC’s midfielders need to rise to the occasion against a strong group of Denver SSDM’s and LSM’s. Malik Sparrow is one of the best LSM’s in the nation, and Jake Edinger as well as Matthew Marino have been strong too. North Carolina is rightfully the favorite, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see Denver pull off the upset.
3) #15 Johns Hopkins @ #2 Virginia
Saturday at 1:00 (ACCNX)
You can forget about rankings and records for Hopkins vs Virginia games. Hopkins holds the all-time series lead 42-21, but the last eight games have been split four games apiece with three of those games being decided in overtime. This historic rivalry wasn’t played in the shortened 2020 season and the two programs couldn’t slot in a game in 2021 either. This will be the first meeting since 2019 when the Cavs won at Homewood 16-11.
One of the bigger headlines will be Evan Zinn’s first game against his former school. Zinn played for Hopkins over the last 3 seasons, and he played in all 16 games during his freshman campaign. Zinn was the No.7 recruit in the country and he was an important piece to the Hopkins offense. Since transferring to Virginia, Zinn has been a productive two-way middie and he’s contributed on the offensive end scoring 2 goals and 3 assists. Keep an eye out for Evan Zinn this weekend.
2) #6 Ohio State @ #11 Cornell
Saturday at Noon (ESPN+)
Saturday’s game will be Coach Connor Buczek’s biggest test in his young coaching career. Cornell has adopted a very fast play style; quick ball movement and lots of transition offense. It’s a fun fan friendly way to play, but it has its consequences. Cornell has committed 55 turnovers through just three games, and their turnover plus/minus is -1 despite a +15 goal differential. They’ll need to take better care of the rock in order to defeat Ohio State.
It’s way too early to talk about Tewaaraton favorites, but Jack Meyers has solidified his name in the early conversation. Meyers has been one of the most impressive players in the country, scoring 30 points through four games. The tall attackman can beat you in a number of ways; whether that’s winning a 1-1 matchup behind X and turning the corner around GLE to finish, or dodging with his head up to feed cutting teammates. It doesn’t matter. Meyers has gotten the job done and done so at a really high level.
1) #1 Maryland @ #7 Notre Dame
Saturday at 2:00 (ACCNX)
The crown jewel of this weekend’s slate.
These two foes are no stranger to one another. Their last meeting was just ten months ago during last year’s NCAA Quarterfinals. It was a close back-and-forth contest, but the Terps ultimately prevailed in overtime. Maryland has been the stronger team over recent years winning three of the past four matchups. These games have always been close, and three of the past five games have been decided by 1 goal.
The Irish look to bounce back after a hard-fought loss to Georgetown. It’s nearly impossible to win against a 72% FOGO and a goalie who saved 69% of shots on goal. Notre Dame had no answers at the face-off X and they’ll need to find ways to replicate last year’s success after graduating Kyle Gallagher and Charlie Leonard. They’ll need to win the face-off battle – or at least keep it close – in order to pull off the upset.