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Way Too Early Championship Picks: NCAA D1

With the majority of teams still only a few games into the season, it is definitely way too early to be making Championship picks… OR IS IT?

Connor and Krieg think otherwise and have both picked their respective teams and why they believe each team will go home a champion on Memorial Day.

[Feature Photo: Credit on Penn State portion to Steve LaCrosse, Notre Dame here.]

Notre Dame Fighting Irish – Krieg Shaw

I am traditionally a Wahoos fan, but the Catholic connection in me always has a special spot for the Irish in my heart. Considering how last year ended, and how this year has begun, I am putting my chips on Notre Dame to take home the title this year. Here’s why: Strength of Schedule and Leadership.

After a season-ending loss to Loyola last spring in the NCAA semifinals, you can bet that Notre Dame was hungry to hit the grass this season. With the second highest strength of schedule in the nation, Notre Dame has taken the necessary steps to prepare themselves for Memorial Day Weekend. Now two games in, it is clear that Notre Dame is committed to extending their season out one more game from last year.

The Irish opened up the year with a dominating performance over then #4 Duke (13-5) in Durham, then beat out #8 Penn State last weekend in an OT thriller (10-9). This strong start has earned them the rank of 2nd in the nation behind Maryland but ahead of Johns Hopkins in the USILA poll, both VERY strong teams this season.

Notre Dame will continue their season in fighting fashion as they take on #9 North Carolina this Friday, followed by tough games against Hofstra, # 10 Denver, #16 Ohio State, Rutgers, St. John’s, and a regular season finale versus Big East rival, #18 Syracuse. These games will help to prepare them for Memorial Day weekend and the early season tests should really benefit them come May.

Notre Dame Lacrosse

They certainly have the leadership to make it there too. Last season, goalie John Kemp (Sr) led nationally in both goals-against and save percentage. He has been supported by a very stout defense of Matt Miller and Stephen O’Hara. Offensively, the Irish have been led by Jim Marlatt (6,2), Sean Rogers, and a very talented freshman, Matt Kavanagh, who has been fitting right into the mix only two games into the season. This doesn’t include the hoard of other midfielders and attackmen on ND’s roster, who are all able to contribute on the field. Three of the Irish players were already named to the 2013 Tewaaraton Award Watch List.

Between their tough scheduling and great leadership, I think Notre Dame has all the right pieces to put the puzzle together and come home a champion on May 27th.

Penn State Nittany Lions – Connor Wilson

At least Krieg and I can agree that someone with a modified mascot name will this while thing. If Maryland were only called the Maryland State Crawling Terrapins, I could have picked them. Also, that would have been WAY too obvious. Who’s going to win it all? Um, the #1 team!

Now back to my PSU pick. This is a ridiculous amount of pressure to put on Jeff Tambroni and the Nittany Lions, especially when you consider it’s only his third year with the program, but it’s Penn State, and they’re used to pressure. Also, it’s way better than Sandusky or Paterno talk, so there’s that too.

Austin Kaut: Believe the hype.
Austin Kaut: Believe the hype.

Basically, I think Penn State is doing things differently from almost everyone else out there, and seeing as Loyola rode “being different” and good to the title last year, I don’t see why PSU can’t do it this year.

Although Penn State has three attackmen, and a couple of middies who can ball, I really like the Nitanny Lions because of their goaltending and defense. Austin Kaut is, in my mind, the best goalie in college lacrosse, no offense intended to Krieg or Kemp. He backstops a tough group of poles, and is a release valve that gives confidence, while also allowing the PSU D to take some risks if they need to.

The PSU defense is SUPER athletic, and fast, and they will harass you all over the field. None of the starting defenders are over 200 pounds, but all can flat out run and cover. Depth at pole and d-mid? PSU has got it. I always like a team with a solid defense, and like ND, PSU has it in spades.

Tom LaCrosse's upside is unlimited in this author's view.
Tom LaCrosse’s upside is unlimited in this author’s view.

On offense, PSU isn’t looking too shabby either. Sturgis, Forster, and Sanders have already combined for 30 points in three games, and I really like Tom LaCrosse to get better and better as the season progresses in the midfield.

If Penn State can add in some more transition goals, and defensive turnovers, they could the 2013 version of 2012 Loyola. Everyone is going to be talking about PSU come NCAA playoff time, but if you want to be smart, you’ll start talking about them NOW!

Enough from Connor and Krieg… If YOU had to pick your eventual D1 winner today, who would be your early season favorite?