Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE
The narrative isn't written, but this is what the outline looks like right now.
These are macro-level pieces; micro-level nonsense will occur sporadically throughout the site's preview. We're doing this in the construct of what a story may look like, so bone up on all that crap that you ignored while in English class, staring at the clock and hoping that none of that stuff would ever permeate your brain ever again.
You know the story: Two legitimate national title contenders and two teams with national championship-level talent but questions -- different in scope -- that dominate whether they can move to Philadelphia this May. This is frequently the arc of the ACC, the nation's strongest league in terms of talent depth and team quality. It's hard to argue the ACC's omnipresent nature; the relevance of the conference touches the national perspective and heavily colors the selection process for the NCAA Tournament (partly due, of course, to the league's cockamamie conference tournament). There are leagues that are as competitively balanced or otherwise carry with it a level of intrigue that makes those conferences important to the entire picture of Division I lacrosse, but the ACC -- whether it makes you want to vomit green goo or otherwise -- is the featured player in the show.
There isn't anything quite like it in the country -- including the odd league trends like Duke owning Virginia and North Carolina having a weird stranglehold over Maryland -- and 2013 should be another fun year for watching these four teams smack each other in the face with white gloves until someone dies in a duel.
Underlying background information -- team storylines -- that structures the plot.
There are two themes that will likely dominate the early season chatter about the Devils: (1) Is Dan Wigrizer, now without the mentorship of John Galloway, a strong enough keeper to send Duke to its second-ever national championship?; and (2) Will the Devils stumble a bit out of the gate as they have been known to do in recent seasons? Both are decent enough storylines, but there is something bigger at play that subordinates both of those issues well behind in terms of importance: What is Duke's offensive midfield going to look like this spring? With the Devils not playing any intersquad scrimmages in the fall, it's still unclear what John Danowski is going to try and do with his midfield lines in 2013. Let's be clear: There is lots of midfield talent at Duke's disposal, as well as an opportunity to leverage some attack depth back to the midfield for some runs. David Lawson is likely a lock for first-line midfield runs, but then it gets a little messy: Josh Offit, Jake Tripucka, Will Haus, Deemer Class, and a small army of others will likely jostle for position and continuity (especially early in the season). (And if Jordan Wolf moves from attack to the midfield to make room for Case Matheis in-close, the picture gets even more clouded.) With the new rules around quick restarts and on-the-fly substitutions potentially making offensive midfield play even more important in the run of play this season, Duke's need to figure out what it wants to do with its offensive midfield takes on a very important role in figuring out where the Devils are going to go in the spring. It's almost a crisis of decision for Danowski, and only game play is going to work that out.
How the Terps will adapt to the new rules aside, the biggest storyline around the Terrapins this season -- at least for me -- is where Maryland goes defensively after the departure of Kevin Warne to Georgetown. Warne is widely recognized as one of the sharpest defensive minds in the game, and under his watch in College Park, Maryland became -- even with lots of defensive youth -- one of the strongest defensive teams in the country. John Tillman replaced Warne with Kevin Conry (formerly of Fairfield), and Conry does come with a nice resume and his efforts shouldn't be a major concern for Terps fans, but . . . Warne created an animalistic defense, a unit that created all kinds of turnovers in 2012 and often carried a streaky goalie in Niko Amato. There just aren't a host of Warnes out there -- both in his strategic intelligence and his intensity -- and losing his heartbeat may or may not come with significant consequences. I don't expect Maryland's defense to take a serious step back from where it was a season ago -- the unit is loaded with Goran Murray, Michael Ehrhardt, Brian Cooper, Jesse Bernhardt, and Amato -- but it'll be interesting to see how the unit operates in the spring without its navigator and what that means for the Terrapins' overall success.
Carolina's defensive performance over the last two seasons has been an unmitigated trash fire. There's no other way to state it: The Heels' difficulties in achieving their potential over the last two seasons is due in large part to defensive units that have been unquestionably average. We can write and talk all day about Carolina's offensive death squad of death -- and it's really good -- but that offense is rendered useless in the totem when accompanied by a defense that has been drunk with misery. Even with limited defensive exposure due to heavy possession margins in the Tar Heels' favor -- last year Carolina finished first in the metric (+5.76) and in 2011 finished sixth (+3.80) -- the insulated defensive exposure has not generated stronger defensive results. The reason is likely attributable to Steven Rastivo having trouble killing possessions with stops and the field defense giving him limited assistance. The Heels' ball watching is continually a concern -- especially in 2012 -- and the overall defensive shooting rate is beyond atrocious for a school of Carolina's caliber (especially considering that the Heels faced a schedule ranked only 23rd in opposing offenses faced last season). The defense must improve for North Carolina in 2013; if it doesn't, the team's poll ranking will continually outpace where the Heels actually are -- in terms of production -- relative to the rest of the country.
Virginia offensive coordinator Marc Van Arsdale mentioned back in October that he was going to push the Cavaliers to play a little quicker than they had in the past. That's fine and I applaud Van Arsdale for at least spouting some rhetoric about Virginia kind of returning to its roots and becoming the kind of team that everyone hopes them to be. There's just two issues with that: (1) Since 2009, the Cavaliers have played above the national average in total possessions per game three times (2009 (+12), 2010 (+1), and 2011 (+4)), but in only one season -- 2009 -- did Virginia finish the season in the top-five; and (2) The Cavaliers are putting a lot of faces into different roles in 2013, not to mention that Virginia is going to be assimilating a lot of new faces into the offense in the overall. If Virginia really does want to accelerate things to a frantic pace, they'll be doing it in a manner in which the program hasn't really been accustomed to over the last few years. That's a serious adjustment and approach to the game, and how the Cavaliers will react will be vital to the team's success. In a year of roster transition as well, a total shock to the system may not yield immediately positive results against a difficult schedule. We'll see just how much Virginia hopes to "Go!" in the spring.
Underlying background information -- guys to know to impress people at cocktail parties -- that structures the plot.
Jordan Wolf, A/M (Jr.)
Chris Hipps, D (Jr.)
Owen Blye, A (Sr.)
Jesse Bernhardt, LSM (Sr.)
Marcus Holman, A (Sr.)
R.G. Keenan, FO-M (Jr.)
Rob Emery, M (Jr.)
Chris LaPierre, M (Sr.)
Four important conference games that will define the discussion.
GAME I: Maryland at Duke -- March 2
GAME II: North Carolina at Virginia -- April 6
GAME III: North Carolina at Maryland -- March 23
GAME IV: Virginia at Duke -- April 12
Illustrating the landscape of the universe.
I'm not trying to be a contrarian or otherwise find favor with a particular group when I write this: I think Duke is the class of the ACC this season. This isn't to say that Maryland isn't strong or that Duke is without peer in the league in 2013. It's just this: Duke -- despite some of its concerns in the midfield -- returns as much offense and defense as any team in the conference, and under the new rules that are designed to increase pace, the Devils are better situated to adapt than Maryland given the Terrapins' recent play under Tillman. Maryland slots closely behind Duke and are as dangerous as anyone if they don't regress under the new regime dominating the game. North Carolina has an edge over Virginia at the moment, partly due to the fact that the Heels have more talent in Chapel Hill than arguably any team in the country and partly due to the fact that Virginia is entering a new era without Steele Stanwick and will need to work on getting together a fresh offensive reality.