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2011 NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Breakdown: #3 Johns Hopkins vs #6 Denver

Can Wharton and the offense carry Hopkins to victory on Saturday?
Can Wharton and the offense carry Hopkins to victory on Saturday?

Johns Hopkins Blue Jays: Round one victory over Hofstra by the score of 12-5.

Round One Top Performers: A Chris Boland (2 goals, 3 assists), A Kyle Wharton (3 goals, 1 assist), LSM Ben Smith (1 ground ball, 3 caused turnovers), F.O. Matt Dolente (13-20, 8 gb's) & Pierce Bassett (9 saves).

Denver Pioneers: 13-10 round one victory over the Villanova Wildcats

Round One Top Performers: A Mark Matthews (3 goals, 1 assist), M Jeremy Noble (4 goals, 2 assists), D Brendan DeBlois (3 ground balls, 3 caused turnovers), G Jamie Faus (13 saves).

One of the more exciting games of the weekend, this has thriller written all over it. Denver is due for the upset, and if any coach can out smart Dave Pietramala, it's Denver's Bill Tierney.

Tierney was an assistant for the Blue Jays in the 1980's and coached a young Pietramala while the team won two National Championships in 1985 and '87.

The Pioneers were playing without senior captain Todd Baxter which meant Tierney's squad would have to pick up the slack from other players. Freshman Jeremy Noble stepped up greatly for Tierney. Noble was key in the Pioneers' 4-1 run to close out the game and send the Wildcats packing.

As I said in my preview of the Pioneers' opening round game, they are going to beat you with their offense. These guys never give and proved that on Sunday. Down as much as three goals at one point, the Pioneers fought back time and time again. And they have the weapons to do that. Mark Matthews was fearless and Cameron Flint scored two goals from the attack position, filling in for Baxter.

Where I was most impressed was the play of freshman Jamie Faus. The kid stood on his head in the final seven minutes, making seven saves and shutting the door in the final minutes making stops on the Wildcats two leading scorers, Kevin Cunningham and Jack Rice.

The Pioneers will come at you. They wont sit back and slow down the tempo.

As for the Blue Jays, they bring talent and smarts from all over the field. Led by seniors Kyle Wharton and Chris Boland, their attack has peaked just at the perfect time. With so much talent coming from the attack, you tend to forget about the guy wearing #9 and his lethal outside shot. That man is sophomore John Greeley. Greeley had two goals on Saturday and showed signs of a former Blue Jay who wore #9.

Greeley has formed a solid duo with fellow sophomore John Ranagan. Together on the year the two combined for 31 goals. Ranagan added an assist on Saturday. As good as they have been, they are inexperienced. Greeley is also a bit immature and plays selfish at times. Come playoff time, this is something that teams can't have.

Both midfields are young for both teams. The game will be dominated by the attacks of each team.

Where the game will be won is two places. At the face off X and in the goal. These will be two of the best match-ups of the weekend.

Dolente proved on Saturday just how important he is to his team. When Dolente goes, as do the Blue Jays. While he wasn't perfect, it sure looked like Dolente was better than the 13-20 that is on the stat sheet. That aside, Dolente was able to come up with eight face-off wins in the second half out of a possible 11. Its no surprise the Blue Jays were able to control the tempo and establish a healthy lead.

For the Pioneers, Chase Carraro took every face-off for Denver and went 14-27 on the afternoon. Like Dolente, Carraro had a big second half and went 6-9 in the third quarter.

As I mentioned, each goalie stepped up for their respected teams. Again, this will be a huge part of Saturday's game. Both Bassett and Faus won their first ever playoff game last weekend, and I think the extra year that Bassett has will come into play. Over 13,000 people are expected on Saturday and that can be a bit much for a freshman goalie playing in only his second ever playoff game.

I did like Hopkins' passing on Saturday. Their ability to cut without the ball and get open was very impressive. The Blue Jays played very unselfish in the second half and often times made the extra pass at the perfect time, setting up a Greeley blast from outside or finding a cutting Boland for a one time touch on the crease.

The Blue Jays showed poise and displayed a sense of confidence we didnt see in them last year. On the flip side, the Pioneers were relentless and never gave up.

The Pioneers cannot give the Blue Jays a three or four goal lead. Pietramala and his squad are just too good and execute their game plan too well to be spotted a lead like that. The Pioneers have to keep it close and let their big guns control the tempo on offense. Attackman Alex Demopolous has to connect with Matthews in order for Denver to win this one.

The Blue Jays dont give up many shots, so Matthews has to be much more accurate than he was on Sunday (three goals on 12 shots).

I believe the Pioneers can pull the upset but in the long run I feel this is Hopkins' game to lose. Their intangibles (close defense, long stick midfield, face off and goalie) will lead them to victory on Saturday in Hempstead.

My final say is Hopkins heads home to Baltimore with a 9-7 victory.

This is why Kyle Wharton is the man...