There's isn't time or space for a fancy agenda-setting introduction. Let's get to the big stories from the weekend.
Providence and Quinnipiac Stare at Reality, Don't Like It
Look: The Friars and Bobcats are improved (at this point in the season) over where each team was a season ago. The fact that Providence and Quinnipiac are actually part of the national conversation is proof of that, but when you dig into how the Friars and Bobcats are going about their business -- not just looking at wins and losses, but actual performance metrics -- it becomes clear that Eric Fekete and Chris Gabrielli are dealing with a stronger situation than each program faced in 2012.
Unfortunately, meteoric rises from the basement of Division I lacrosse to the top-third of the nation aren't commonplace. Skepticism around the legitimacy of each program's start to the season was reasonable: Despite a combined 8-1 record coming into the weekend (the loss being attributable to the Bobcats' head-to-head loss to the Friars), neither team had played an especially notable schedule heading into this past weekend's slate of games -- The Friars' unblemished record was built on opponents that had combined for only a 6-21 record (Providence's schedule, based on opponent adjusted efficiency margin, ranked dead last in the nation) and the Bobcats' one-loss start to the year was against opponents that had combined for only a 9-11 record. Instead of championing each team as inclusions in the top 20, we all probably should have pumped the brakes on the Friars and Bobcats. Fortunately, college lacrosse has a way of doing that for us: Games tend to focus things when a lack of focus starts to get unruly.
Both Providence and Quinnipiac lost this past weekend, the Friars taking a boot to the teeth in a 16-8 pasting at the hands of Georgetown and Quinnipiac battling with, but eventually succumbing to, a fairly pedestrian Hartford squad. These aren't necessarily "bad" losses for Providence and Quinnipiac because, honestly, neither program is -- right now -- in a position to have "bad" losses -- the results merely indicate that the Friars and Bobcats were a bit of a mirage through the first month of the season and that these are teams that are still trying to figure things out. It takes time to build sustained success; there's no need to rush Providence and Quinnipiac to the highest caste of Division I lacrosse until they're ready to be there.
Virginia Continues Slide, Drops 11-10 Decision to Ohio State
Answer honestly: Is Virginia, based on what they've done so far this season, a definite NCAA Tournament team?
The modifier in that question is the important aspect to the query: Based on what Virginia has accomplished thus far in 2013, both with respect to results and in-game performance, are the Cavaliers one of the best teams in the nation? It's a difficult question to answer, mostly because you look at the roster -- dotted with some of the country's best individual talent in Nick O'Reilly, Mark Cockerton, Scott McWilliams, Rob Emery, Harry Prevas, et al. -- and you just assume that all the tight results the Cavs have experienced against some of the nation's better teams will somehow even themselves out as the season progresses. Yet, after Saturday's setback against a surging Buckeyes team that is positioning itself as a lurking nightmare in the ECAC, it's still unclear whether Virginia is going to get itself to the launching pad for a May lift-off.
The loss to Ohio State is more important than the fact that it dropped Virginia's record to 5-3 (filled with only one victory that may be worth a damn at the end of the season -- an overtime victory against Drexel) -- the Cavaliers' next four games are against a host of teams that are at or above Virginia's talent and performance level: against Johns Hopkins at M&T Bank Stadium; home against the nation's best squad in Maryland; a date at Klockner against North Carolina; and a visit to Durham to play a Duke team that may have snapped out of its early season funk. It is increasingly possible that the Cavaliers could drop all four games, putting Virginia's record at just 5-7 with games remaining against Bellarmine and whatever opponent (or opponents) the Wahoos draw in the cockamamie ACC Tournament.
That's not a particularly terrific situation for Virginia to be staring at, but it's not like the Cavaliers are all that far away from being 8-0: With their three losses by a combined three goals (ay-yi-yi!), Virginia isn't a total trash fire. It's just . . . until the Cavaliers can beat a team among the nation's best, there are still concerns as to the ceiling of the program in 2013. There aren't a bunch of "gimmie games" the rest of the way, and Virginia needs to turn its luck if it is going to try and raise some hell in May.
Mega Teams Playing Mega Games With Mega Consequences
There were four games this weekend that featured some of the nation's strongest teams attempting to beat each other to a pulp. The circumstances surrounding each were different, but all were happy little trees: Two maintained Ivy League implications; one featured 20 NCAA titles between the two schools (over 47 percent of all NCAA titles); and the fourth featuring two teams in the top five of the country, at altitude, with different styles and some of the best coaching in the game. This is the beauty of college lacrosse -- only a month into the season, the nation's best teams continue their marches to May not by feeding only on the less fortunate, but instead lining up monsters with nasty teeth and getting into a fistfight.
- Syracuse Trails Hopkins Only Once, Earns 13-8 Victory Over Hopkins: There are probably two important things to take away from this thing: (1) Syracuse may be entering a situation where, again, the Orange have an unsettled goaltending situation -- Dominic Lamolinara relieved an ineffective Bobby Wardwell in the second half and helped Syracuse tame a Hopkins offense that had pulled the Jays within one at the half; and (2) Wells Stanwick is a Patriot missile, but Hopkins' offense may be a ceiling-limiter for the Jays in 2013. This game probably said more about Johns Hopkins as a team this season than it did for Syracuse -- the Orange started answering its questions against Virginia and St. John's (although Syracuse is still has a long way to go if they are to legitimately become a Championship Weekend-type team) -- and I'm not sure that the Jays like what they learned in the Carrier Dome. Hopkins, while showing spurts of the type of team that could break the program's Final Four drought, were, for the most part, dominated early and late by the Orange. Strong teams don't give up six-goal runs in the first quarter against a good but not spectacular offense; Hopkins hasn't definitively established itself as part of the national elite yet.
- Jim Marlatt Should Wear Number 9-1-1, Notre Dame Wins Overtime Thriller Against Denver: The Irish have played one game -- one! -- in which the final result has been greater than a goal: A season-opening 13-5 drubbing of Duke in the snow in Durham. With an emphasis on the team's defense once again in 2013, the Irish have been alternatively a heartbeat away from victory or defeat: With two overtime victories entering this past weekend (including a triple overtime brain-smasher against North Carolina at Arlotta) and a regulation defeat at the hands of Hofstra, the Irish have the constitution of a team built on resilience and, probably, the most powerful strain of luck ever concentrated in a college lacrosse team. Saturday's game against Denver at the Mile High Classic embodied that Notre Dame identity, seeing Marlatt, a midfielder that has been as important to the Irish's success as any player on the roster, ram home an unassisted game winner with just 2:51 remaining in the first overtime period. The game was one of the best the season has provided this year, having Denver continuously building leads throughout the first three quarters and Notre Dame staying within striking distance with timely scoring from a myriad of contributors. The fourth quarter changed the complexion of the game with the Irish grabbing its first lead of the night with a John Scioscia goal from Conor Doyle at the 10:56 mark. Denver, unbowed, battled back in the mold of its weathered head coach, building a 12-10 lead with just 2:25 remaining in regulation. As is coded in the Irish's DNA, though, Notre Dame would not go away quietly, pulling within one at the 1:42 mark on a Steve Murphy goal and eventually getting the tying tally from Sean Rogers -- last season's Superman for the Irish -- on a Matt Kavanagh helper with just 42 seconds left in the game. This is all prologue to Marlatt's winner -- his tenth goal of the year -- but it is the story not just of Notre Dame-Denver, but of Notre Dame's season in totem.
- Ivy League Good Times: The Ivy League is starting to look like a rip-roaring ice cream social at the tennis club: With Cornell, Pennsylvania, Brown, Princeton, and Yale all looking like some of the nation's better teams (with an obvious sliding scale between the competitiveness of those five schools), the nation's wine-and-cheese-and-corporate-resolution conference could house the most interesting league race this year. If this weekend -- the first in which Ivy opponents squared off against each other -- is any indication, the potential of what the conference has could turn into kinetic energy rapidly: In New Haven, Steve Mock exploded for six goals in a 12-10 victory for Cornell over the Elis; at Franklin Field (a game that featured sleet, snow, lightning, and (probably) locusts), Pennsylvania got the big win it missed out on when it met Denver two weeks ago, dropping Princeton by a goal. There's something different about the Ivy League when there is depth in the conference; even though Cornell still looks like the conference favorite, with increasingly unsettled behavior behind the Red that is talented and dangerous, there are no definitives in a league that many thought was relatively static entering the season.