Massachusetts looks like a shell of the team that went undefeated in the 2012 regular season. Gone are many of the contributors that took the Minutemen to great heights, and the program is facing an important 2014 season that will help dictate where the program is headed in the future.
Here are some schedule highlights and games of note:
February 9: @Army; February 22: Harvard; March 1: @Brown; March 11: Providence; March 18: @Fairfield; March 22: Hartford
There are two chainsaw-wielding serial killers on Massachusetts' schedule -- Ohio State (at the Moe's Southwestern Grill Classic in Jacksonville) and Albany (at Garber Field, which should bring the Garber Gorillas out in force) -- but it's the balance of the Minutemen's schedule that is most interesting for a team that is coming off of a decent-yet-somehow-disappointing 2013 effort from Massachusetts: These dates against the meaty middle of the nation serve as the barometer to the Minutemen's season. If Massachusetts can navigate this portion of its slate with relative success, the Minutemen can build momentum toward April and the bulk of its THUNDERDOME! agenda (Massachusetts' last four games in the coming spring are all conference dates, filling its April with nothing but high-value opportunities). The Minutemen arguably eased up its nonconference scheduling this year (Army, Brown, Hartford, and Harvard all dotted Massachusetts' slate last year, but Providence and Fairfield are new additions, presumably replacing some combination of North Carolina, Bucknell, and Lehigh), and there's more clarity around the Minutemen's charge in the coming year: Wins need to inure for a team in a bit of transition under Greg Cannella.
The Path to TBD
March 15: @Penn State; April 5: Towson; April 12: @Drexel; April 19: Hofstra; April 25: @Delaware
Only five teams are eligible for the THUNDERDOME! Tournament this season thanks to the league's response to Penn State's imminent departure to the Big Ten's lacrosse concern (basically, THUNDERDOME! threw a bowl of spaghetti against the wall like a child and pitched a tantrum, excluding the Nittany Lions from the league's postseason event), and that creates both (1) an opportunity for Massachusetts to challenge for the conference's automatic invitation to the NCAA Tournament, and (2) puts pressure on the Minutemen to make sure they grasp that opportunity. Massachusetts went through the back door to the THUNDERDOME! Tournament last season with a 2-4 record, but such fortune may not exist in 2014: THUNDERDOME! appears awesomely balanced this year with the top of the league within striking distance of the bottom of the conference. What's difficult for Massachusetts is that the Minutemen will face the league's presumably three strongest teams at the start of its conference campaign; if the Minutemen struggle through its first three dates in THUNDERDOME! play, the Minutemen may need some help -- as well as assured victories against Hofstra and Delaware -- to play some May lacrosse.