NCAA Champion Contenders & Pretenders 1st Edition

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With the lacrosse season essentially around 2/3rds completed, it’s the time of year when we start to consider who is shaping up to make a deep May run, and who will fade into the background and wait for next spring. Several teams have the tools and talent, along with a solid record to get a high seed, and make it to Memorial Day Weekend in Foxboro. Others are just happy to be in the madness.

Contenders

Virginia

The defending National Champions have one of the best players in the game right now with Steele Stanwick. They stumbled in their last game against Duke, but they still sit at a solid 10-2 with the ACC Tournament looming. Looking tempo free, Virginia is fifth in offensive efficiency and seventh in possessions. Even if they stumble in the ACC, they will have a solid seed in the dance and can definitely make it to Foxboro to repeat it again.

Cornell

Cornell has been pretty good without star Rob Pannell. Which means they will be even more dangerous when he recovers from his foot injury and makes it back into the Cornell lineup. Cornell has sliced through all teams they have played with the exception of a one goal loss to Virginia at a neutral site. This team can do some damage in May and maybe get that elusive championship that escaped them in overtime in 2009.

Johns Hopkins

The Blue Jays are back. Despite having two losses to ACC teams (including top ten Maryland this past weekend), Hopkins has shown flashes of dominance. Sitting on the number two RPI right now, they have talent on both ends of the field. It seems that their defense is doing the real work however. They are second in defensive efficiency and first in the nation at defensive clearing. Their offense isn’t too shabby either.

Massachusetts

The undefeated Minutemen are trying to win the THUNDERDOME and are in the clear lead to do so. One of only two undefeated teams, the Minutemen have not impressed with their schedule, but they have certainly impressed on the scoreboard. UMass outscores their opponents 137 to 68 and have the best offensive efficiency in the nation. That kind of offense speaks for itself. Will Manny continues to impress with his offense as well. It will be interesting to see when UMass goes up against a D1 blue blood, but for now their record is still perfect and they have no ceiling to where they can go.

Notre Dame

This weekend will decide of Notre Dame finishes first for the Big East regular season as they take on Villanova, but they are the favorite to win the Big East this season. John Kemp may be the best goalie in the game right now and he is playing at a high level despite hitting a meaty Big East slate down the stretch. Kemp alone could carry the Irish to the championship again and make up for their overtime loss to Duke in 2010. Depending on how they deal with the best in the Big East first that is.

Loyola

The other undefeated team in the nation is Loyola. They do a lot of things well and one of them is winning every game, despite trailing to Fairfield and flying out to Denver to take on the Pioneers. They have solid wins over Duke, Georgetown, and Denver. They are the best offensive clearing team in the country, they get a lot of possessions a game, and have the top RPI in the nation. They have a tough road to finish perfect as they end their regular season playing Johns Hopkins, but they have the potential to run the table of Mike Sawyer keeps playing at a high level.

Duke

Before last weekend I would have ruled Duke a pretender, but their demolishing of Virginia on the road put them right back into the National Championship conversation. They smacked Virginia around 13 to 5. They also have great wins over Syracuse and North Carolina. Despite some losses they probably shouldn’t have taken, Duke is playing their best lacrosse right now. CJ Costabile is also doing it all, being a versatile long stick midfield for the Blue Devils. This team would be a surprise to win it all, but they have proven they have the ability to do it if they take care of the ball.

Maryland

They have a nice resume, with wins against Johns Hopkins, Duke, and Villanova. They also have the fourth best offensive and the eighth best defensive efficiencies. This is a team that made a surprising run to the Final Four last season by beating Syracuse in Foxboro in the NCAA Regional, and they could surprise other teams in both the ACC Tournament and the NCAA. However, they have had lapses like when they lost to UMBC and North Carolina. They are not likely to get back to the Final Four, but they certainly can do it with a favorable bracket.

Pretenders

North Carolina

When you have possessions, you can keep yourself in the game even if you aren’t playing at your best. UNC gets the second most possessions in the country. However, they have some really puzzling losses to Pennsylvania and Lehigh. Sadly Billy Bitter isn’t walking through the locker room door anymore. UNC just doesn’t have the fire power to get by the top teams in the nation right now. While their offense isn’t bad, their defense is allowing the same goals against average of 9.69 as their opponents. If the goal is to score more than your opponents (which it is) they need to do a little better in the Tournament to advance far.

Denver

Another team that gets a lot of possessions, they are third in that category. They have been playing well but if you want to be elite you have to beat an elite team. While not truly elite yet, they are undefeated and Denver was unable to end the Greyhound’s run last weekend in Denver. They win faceoffs as well, but are underachieving in the wins column despite being second in offensive efficiency with four losses on the year. They might surprise people in the tournament again this season, but they probably won’t be hoisting anything on Memorial Day.

Syracuse

Syracuse just couldn’t seem to find the will to win earlier in the season. Despite playing better as of late, and a fairly favorable schedule down the stretch, the Orange are in the odd position of missing the NCAA Tournament for only the second time since 1983. They are 16in the RPI and probably need to win the Big East Tournament to assure a bid to the dance. Syracuse lost a lot at goal with 4 year starter John Galloway graduating. Syracuse has rotated through three goalies this season seeming to settle on freshman Bobby Wardwell. But Syracuse just hasn’t seemed to win against any of the elite teams. They probably won’t see Foxboro, a stadium they have played almost perfect in, this season.

With a couple more weeks of the season left, the names on the top will start to fall to the bottom of this list, but as we all know anything can happen in May. This will become a regular feature on College Crosse as we wind down the year. We'll also be your complete guide to the NCAA Tournament as we were last season. Be sure to leave your comments below on who you think will be hanging a banner in their stadium after Memorial Day. Either way, it should be another fantastic NCAA Tournament.

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