The Weekend in Stick: We're Halfway There (Part I)

Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE

"The Weekend in Stick": It's exactly what it sounds like -- a recapitulation of this weekend's most notable. No doink.

The season is a little more than half complete at this point, and this past weekend -- like the weekends that have seemingly preceded it for the last two seasons -- continues to make understanding things about college lacrosse -- despite half of the season in the archives -- an exercise in trying to make blood come out of your eyes. Division I lacrosse is bonkers with a capital "THIS IS FREAKING BONKERS!" and the only thing that is definite is that everything going sideways isn't only a possibility, but a likelihood.

Let's get to the big stories from the weekend.

North Carolina Engages in a Coup d'Terrapin
If I had written this statement last Friday you probably would have wondered where my tin foil hat was to keep the government from monitoring my thoughts: North Carolina is going to dominate Maryland for long stretches of play, and the only reason the score won't look worse at the end of the game is that the Tar Heels are going to take their foot off the gas a little bit. Yet, here we are: On Saturday, North Carolina built an 8-2 lead early into third quarter, survived a 4-1 run from Maryland over the later stages of the third quarter and early into the fourth quarter, and then cruised to an eventual 10-8 victory that saw the Tar Heels look like the best team in the country for extended periods of play. It was an odd scene in Byrd Stadium, and for the first time all year Maryland showed its vulnerable side (which, as we're talking about college lacrosse and not romantic comedies, isn't necessarily a good thing).

Kieran Burke, who has been a revelation for Carolina this season, was tremendous in the crease for the Tar Heels, turning away 15 shots from an offense that entered the game ranked fifth in adjusted offensive efficiency while shooting over 41 percent on the season and seeing opposing goaltenders stop just 36.62 percent of their shots (only about 24 percent of Maryland's offensive possessions have ended with a save from an opposing keeper, the second lowest rate in the nation). Burke's effort was arguably the best individual performance of the weekend, and his contributions to North Carolina's overall effort in knocking off the nation's last remaining unbeaten team -- the Tar Heels seem to have knack for this after beating then-unbeaten Johns Hopkins in the Big City Classic last year -- with relative ease.

Then there was the Tar Heels' offensive effort. It's not like Carolina is rolling with a bag of ass offensively, but against a Maryland defense ranked among the strongest units in the country (the Terps entered the game ranked seventh in adjusted defensive efficiency), the Tar Heels exploded: Led by Jimmy Bitter, Marcus Holman, and Joey Sankey, Carolina's attack accounted for 12 of the team's 16 points and paced an offense that scored on around 40 percent of their first half possessions and 32 percent of their total possessions (this includes when the Tar Heels were giving away possessions to simply burn clock). Maryland hasn't permitted that kind of efficiency all year, and Carolina rode it to a win that could be season-defining both for the Tar Heels and the Terrapins.

It was a mega win for the Tar Heels, and not just because they toppled number one -- Carolina played like a team with Championship Weekend intentions, and that is the most interesting development in all of this.

Drexel is Still Invincible (Sort of)
I don't know why this isn't a bigger story at a national level, but the Dragons are kind of invincible. Opponents empty the magazine into Drexel's chest and the Dragons simply lift themselves up, dust themselves off, and begin, once again, to stalk their eventual victim with an emotionless face as they slowly gain steam. Prior to Drexel's date with Hofstra on Long Island this past weekend, the Dragons have managed to handle things late after the situation had turned sour -- notably against Albany, Villanova, Robert Morris, and Mount St. Mary's -- and eventually stood over its kill as the Dragons' wounds slowly healed on their own. We all should have known that Drexel would bring their partial immortality to Shuart Stadium, and yet, the doubting continued.

Down 7-4 with 5:29 left in the third quarter, Drexel looked like it finally ran into too many teflon bullets. Against one of the strongest defenses in the country and a team that was hungry for a win after a tough mid-week loss to St. John's, the Dragons' THUNDERDOME! season appeared as if it'd start with a loss to one of the league's better teams. Drexel, though, did what it has done for much of 2013 -- refused to die (because it can't). Over the final 7:55 of play, the Dragons methodically stomped toward its eventual victim, getting an unassisted tally from Ben McIntosh, seeing Frank Fusco and Robert Church hook up for a goal with just 1:21 remaining, and having Ryan Belka ram home the game-tying goal with just 43 seconds remaining in regulation. Of course this is how things were going to shake out in Uniondale; it's the only narrative that the Dragons know.

The first two overtimes yielded a big bucket of nothing (Hofstra actually had a nice look at the goal in the first extra period, but Drexel's Winkelman earned a save on a doorstep attempt), but the third overtime -- the last -- would create the circumstances that has allowed Drexel to succeed all season: Starting on the man-up due to a Cody Solaja violation, the Dragons peppered with cage with attempts from Belka, McIntosh, and Aaron Prosser until McIntosh -- as the penalty was about to expire -- took a feed from Church and banged home with the winning goal with three minutes remaining in the period.

It was just another day at the impossible-to-kill-because-they're-invincible office for Drexel.

Et Cetera and Other Super Important Things

  • Bucknell is Real and Stuff: The signs had been there over the last few weeks, but it came into focus after this weekend: The Bison are probably the strongest team in the Patriot League this year. It's not just that Bucknell is on a seven-game winning streak that makes the herd a nationally-relevant team at this juncture of the season; rather, over its last four games, the Bison have limited a Drexel offense -- one of the strongest in the country -- to just eight goals, gutted out a tough victory against Cornell on the road, and went to New York's capital region and survived the Thompson Trio to the tune of an 18-12 win. Bucknell is surging, and with Frank Fedorjaka's unique approach to the game may be the toughest matchup in the country. Winning these games is terrific, but it's how the Bison are winning these games that is the most important story. A top-five ceiling for Bucknell isn't out of the question right now, and a Tuesday date against Penn State could bring that into total focus.
  • Cornell's Sortie Still CAVU: This is why making judgments on teams based on an isolated result is dangerous: Cornell, which lost to Bucknell by a goal in a mid-week game that featured a snow stoppage and, I think, locusts, came out on Saturday and unloaded on what was a streaking Pennsylvania team in a 10-5 win. The Red shut the Quakers out in the second and third quarters with Steve Mock, quietly becoming one of the nation's most undervalued offensive players, pouring in four goals to lead Cornell. Even in what is becoming a crowded Ivy League situation, the Red's season still appears to be "CAVU" -- ceiling and visibility unlimited -- and with a defense that is complementing its offense to a degree that makes the Red as strong as any of the nation's elite, a Memorial Monday appearance is well within Cornell's grasp.
  • Virginia in Deep Dog Poo: The biggest takeaway from the nightcap of the Face-Off Classic wasn't necessarily how well Johns Hopkins played -- they played out of their skulls and finally looked like a bear on the hunt after not eating for six months -- but rather how miserable the Cavaliers played for the entirety of the first half and stretches of the second stanza. Virginia has had an ugly March, opening the month with a gut-wrenching overtime loss in the Carrier Dome, following that with an uneven win against a bad Vermont team, and then embarking on a three-game losing streak that featured painful losses to Cornell and Ohio State and the ass-beating this weekend at M&T Bank Stadium. Whether the Cavaliers are going to attack the rest of its slate -- a road lined with explosive devices -- like it did Saturday is the biggest cause of concern for Virginia: The Cavaliers aren't totally out of it yet, but if they check out as they did against the Jays, Charlottesville may need to quickly respond to some May barbecue e-vites because the lacrosse show in town will be closed early.
  • Villanova Drops Syracuse: The final score was 11-10, but this is all you really need to know -- the Wildcats were plus-14 in possession margin on the day, due in large part to Tom Croonquist winning 22 of 24 draws. Villanova finally played four quarters of lacrosse against the Orange, and with possession margin so heavily in their favor, Syracuse was going to need a nail gun and a sociopathic streak to overcome a Villanova team that had been knocking on the door all season.
  • Part II is here.

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