The Tewaaraton Foundation will announced the winner of the 2013 Tewaaraton Award tonight in Washington, D.C. Five men's players -- North Carolina's Marcus Holman, Syracuse's JoJo Marasco, Cornell's Rob Pannell, Princeton's Tom Schreiber, and Albany's Lyle Thompson -- are the finalists for college lacrosse's highest honor. Each will sit uncomfortably in suits that they would prefer not exist, patiently waiting to hear which member of the quintet will join an exclusive club, one filled with some of the best players to play the game since the Tewaaraton Foundation started presenting the award in 2001.
Much is made about what the award should honor. Should it function as a postseason-type of award, honoring a player that had a good regular season but an exceptional NCAA Tournament run? (This seems dumb, especially as the NCAA Tournament names a Most Outstanding Player at the conclusion of Memorial Monday.) Should it function as kind of a "Lifetime Achievement Award"? (This also seems dumb, as the role of the Hall of Fame is to honor incredible careers.) Is the award designed to honor the "best," "most outstanding," or "most valuable" player in the country, and how do those markers intertwine with each other? (I don't know the answer to that, but the answer to all three permutations appears to be "Yes.") The volition of those questions ultimately guides how people view the Tewaaraton Award and who the Tewaaraton Foundation should honor with the trophy this season.
Regardless of the thrust of the discourse surrounding the award, this is how I'd rank this season’s finalists.
1. Rob Pannell
Arguably the most dangerous player in the game and the combustion engine for Cornell's prodigious offense this season. His 101 points this year -- the catalyst to the attack's ascension to the top of the NCAA career points hierarchy -- are impressive, but it's how Pannell generated his offense that is most impressive: In control, in opportunistic ways, against strong defensive opponents that were focused on Pannell's play at every turn (Cornell's schedule ranks 18th nationally in opposing defenses faced), consistent throughout the season after coming back from a flat tire in 2011, and thunderous in big moments. Pannell -- though he's too humble to mention it -- arguably deserved the Tewaaraton Award in 2011 over Virginia's Steele Stanwick, and the attack's performance this season was even better than the effort that he put together two seasons ago. Pannell was the best player in college lacrosse this season, a destructive force that almost erased 36 years of championship anxiousness from Red partisans. The attack both deserves and earned the award this season.
2. Lyle Thompson
There's a lot of chatter out there about Thompson -- just a sophomore -- and the season he put together for Albany. The attack was just a point shy of tying Steve Marohl's single-season point record, and the case for Thompson -- "Nobody generated the kind of stats he did!" -- is built around that fact. Here's the thing: When you adjust for competition played and do a rough estimation of offensive possession played, Thompson's points generated per 100 offensive opportunities (15.46) is only about half a point greater than what Pannell put together (15.14). In fact, Thompson actually trails Kieran McArdle of St. John's (20.73) as the nation's leading point producer on a possession basis. Thompson aggregated his points against a schedule ranked just 47th in opposing defenses faced and his team played more possessions per 60 minutes of play than any other team in the country; in short, Thompson had greater opportunity to compile points against a slate much easier than any other finalist had to face. This isn't to take away from Thompson's season or his ability -- it was an amazing campaign, he will return to school next year as one of the top three most dangerous offensive weapons in the country, and his position as a Tewaaraton finalist is well deserved -- it's just that Pannell's season -- in the overall -- was more impressive than Thompson's.
3. JoJo Marasco
I don't think another player in the county had as many clutch moments in the postseason -- both in conference tournaments and The Big Barbecue -- than Marasco. The midfielder put together a strong campaign and at times carried Syracuse to victory when the Orange looked like toast. His production -- on a possession-by-possession basis -- lags behind Schreiber, but his imprint on Syracuse's success this season is defined and notable. A lot has been made that Marasco set the single season Syracuse record for assists from a midfielder, but I'm not sure that sets Marasco apart from other players in his cohort. (In fact, David Dickson was arguably the best midfielder in the country this season at sharing the bean, putting up 48 assists on and an estimated individual assist rate (assists per 100 offensive opportunities) of 8.82 (above Marasco's 6.49 mark). What sets Marasco apart was (1) his overall play this season, and (2) his timely play when Syracuse needed him most, dragging the Orange to the national championship game.
4. Marcus Holman
A horse for North Carolina, the attack generated somewhere around 13.50 points per 100 offensive opportunities (that mark ranks fifth nationally). The Tar Heels' captain and steadying offensive hub, Holman put together a terrific year production-wise and from a leadership standpoint, helping Carolina erase some of its flaws from 2012 to become one of the truly elite teams in 2013. Departing the NCAA Tournament in the quarterfinals -- in heartbreaking, last second fashion -- probably takes the shine off of Holman's diamond a little bit, but the attack was still one of the most important and consistent players in the nation this season.
5. Tom Schreiber
He's The Human Weapon for a reason: There are few midfielders in the country that are as multi-dimensional and rapidly dangerous as Schreiber when he has the ball in his crosse. His aggregate production isn't breathtaking -- he accumulated just 59 points this season -- but on an estimated per possession basis and adjusted for competition played, Schreiber ranks in the top 20 in the country (ahead of Syracuse's Marasco). Schreiber is potent on the run -- either to distribute or shoot -- and is an action-creator that drives Princeton's sixth-ranked offense. He, along with Thompson, looks like an early lock for a 2014 Tewaaraton invitation, and it's well deserved -- there are few players in the country that are capable of accomplishing Schreiber's incredible feats of human achievement, and the only reason that he trails the other finalists this season is that the Tigers weren't given an invitation to The Big Barbecue.