I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a card-carrying member of the "Rob Pannell for Emperor of Earth (Non-Robot Candidate) Party." Cornell's offensive hub -- and teen heartthrob -- is one of the best attackmen the college game has seen in the last decade, and his place among the Red's all-time great offensive players -- Mike French, Eamon McEneaney, Tim Goldstein, etc. -- is only surpassed by where he'll end up in the NCAA's pantheon of offensive players. His play and his drive -- from a commitment to Quinnipiac, to a year at Deerfield, through Cornell's resurgence to the ranks of the national elite over the last half-decade or so, to a flat tire that cost him and the Big Red a shot at a national championship in 2012 -- creates the foundation for one of the best stories in college lacrosse. It's all of that, in totem, that makes Pannell's push to become Division I's all-time leading point-generator one of the few individual efforts in 2013 that holds similar standing with team-oriented storylines. Pannell's fingerprint on NCAA lacrosse is that prominent, even if it is his team -- currently situated at number two in the country and receiving first-place votes in both polls -- that is quietly positioning itself as one of college lacrosse's most explosive forces as everything wildly spins sideways toward May.
Unfortunately, as things stand currently, Pannell's chase for 353 career points -- a record owned by Matt Danowski -- is in jeopardy. At the start of Cornell's 2013 campaign, Pannell needed to generate 101 points over the course of the Red's season to tie Danowski's mark. Counting two Ivy League Tournament games, that meant that Pannell would have needed to average 6.3 points-per-game; on the basis of two Ivy League Tournament games and one NCAA Tournament game, Pannell would have needed to average 5.9 points-per-game to match the former Duke attackman's mark. It was a tough task ahead of Cornell's offensive engine -- only 20 players since 1971 have averaged at least 6.54 points per game (none since Steve Marohl's 1992 campaign, however) and only six players since 1971 have put up at least 101 points in a season -- and Pannell has fallen a bit behind the pace he needed to be at to sit at the top of the NCAA record book: Through 10 games this year, Pannell has generated 54 points (5.4 per game). That's incredibly impressive, but it's lagging a bit from the volume that the attackman needs to produce to grab the record.
There is good news and bad news that stems from this. To wit:
- With Cornell having the look of a national title contender, Pannell is probably going to have a few more games at his disposal to generate points. Assuming Cornell reaches the Ivy League Tournament championship and plays two games in the NCAA Tournament, Pannell would need to average 5.88 points-per-game to get to 353 career points. If Cornell reaches the Ivy League Tournament final and makes the NCAA Tournament semifinals, Pannell would need to average 5.22 points-per-game to hit the jackpot. If the Red did all of that and also earned an invitation to Memorial Monday, Pannell's points-per-game requirement drops to 4.7, about a point lower than what the attackman is already generating on a game-by-game basis at this juncture in the season. These marks aren't easy to attain (they're really hard, actually) but they're also not totally impossible and wrapped in dynamite.
- Here's the problem with all of that stuff in the first bullet point, though: Cornell's closing stretch is going to be a nasty animal with respect to defenses faced. Over the Red's next four regular season games, Cornell will face the ninth-, 15th-, 23rd-, and 26th-ranked teams in adjusted defensive efficiency (Syracuse, Brown, Harvard, and Princeton, respectively). These are teams with the capability to give Pannell and the Big Red all kinds of problems, and given the fact that Pannell is generating points at a rate that is below the required volume against an already-played schedule ranked just 46th in opposing defenses faced, Pannell's journey toward 353 career points could slow (especially considering that the Red's competition in the Ivy League and NCAA Tournaments isn't going to substantially drop off from what they're seeing through the month of April). Or, given the fact that Pannell seems to shine the brightest in the most difficult situations, it could be the impetus for the attackman to accelerate his point-producing pace. I don't know. The future is impossible to figure out (which is why I write and blog and don't spend my days making buckets of money gambling on things that I already know the outcome to).
In the end this chase may just be window dressing to Pannell's and his team's ultimate goal -- a national championship, the first for Cornell since 1977 -- but it's still the thrill of potentially watching individual history being made that keeps Pannell's trek squarely within the national consciousness.