Some brief notes on the top half of the bracket.BRYANT-SYRACUSE
- Kevin Massa, Bryant's power plant that provides energy to the entire Bulldogs production, is going to give Syracuse's Chris Daddio and Cal Paduda fits all night. Bryant's best opportunity for knocking off the tournament's top seed is to dominate possession and hammer the brick that is the Orange's defense. It's not just that Massa is going to provide lots of opportunities for the Bulldogs to score, though, that creates a problem; rather, it's that he's providing those opportunities to a capable core of offensive weapons -- Colin Dunster, Shane Morrell, Peter McMahon, Alex Zomerfeld, and Dan Sipperly -- that can get the job done if given enough volume.
- Syracuse has the defense to withstand Bryant's potential for possession generation, but the Bulldogs may not have a defensive core necessary to stop the Orange's myriad of offensive weapons. At attack, Kevin Rice provides a distribution threat, Derek Maltz inside is one of the best finishers in the game, and Dylan Donahue has established himself as a fine complement to Syracuse's primary options. At midfield, JoJo Marasco is a legitimate Tewaaraton candidate, Henry Schoonmaker has started to figure things out this season, Luke Cometti and Scott Loy pack punch, and Matt Walters is a man-up machine. If the Orange remain offensively efficient, the possession margin deficit it potentially faces may not impact Syracuse's overall opportunity for success.
- The Bulldogs are more balanced than they're given credit for, but the strength of the team lies on the defensive end of the field. The Elis' field defense is among the strongest units in the country, featuring Michael McCormack, Michael Quinn, Peter Johnson and a host of others that are capable of shutting down elite offenses. (When Eric Natale is on his game as he was in the Ivy League Tournament, the defense becomes even more staunch.) It's not just that the Bulldogs' defense is a crushing Panzer tank that makes Yale tough to beat; it's the combination of Yale's defensive acumen and opponents often playing at a possession disadvantage against the Elis due to Dylan Levings' work at the dot. Penn State's offense -- a top 20 type of offense but not a thousand points of fight -- is going to have its work cut out for them against Yale's pain chamber.
- The Blonde Satan (Austin Kaut) is one of the best goaltenders in the country, backstopping a defensive team that is top 10 quality. In a potential defensive battle against Yale -- not unlike the Bulldogs-Pennsylvania game in the semifinals of the Ivy League Tournament -- the Nittany Lions have the ultimate "X Factor": A goalie that eats souls and does so at a rate that few keepers match. The volume of saves that Kaut makes to end defensive opportunities is among the nation's elite, and the fact that the field defense in front of him plays in a disciplined and structured way further creates problems for opponents that are both multi- and one-dimensional. You don't need an elite keeper to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, but an elite netminder that can dominate a game is often the difference in games that are functional instances of trench warfare.
- There are few defenses that have the capability of giving North Carolina's Death Squad of Death fits, but Lehigh has a unit that may be up to the challenge: With Matt Poillon in the crease and cats like Mike Noone and Ty Souders cracking skulls, the Mountain Hawks are one of a handful of teams that the Tar Heels likely did not want to see in the first round. Where Lehigh is super sneaky, though, is that the team's offense is finding its groove behind David DiMaria, Dante Fantoni, Dan Taylor, Patrick Corbett, and Brian Hess. Lehigh is a stylistic nightmare for a fluid team like North Carolina, and there's enough balance in the Mountain Hawks' DNA where they could grab one in an important spot.
- For the Tar Heels it all starts with the offense: There arguably isn't an attack as good as what Carolina has in Marcus Holman, Joey Sankey, and Jimmy Bitter; the rest of the offense builds from this unit and is allowed to thrive. Carolina isn't winning with offense as much as it had a season ago (the Tar Heels' defense has come a long way in just a year), but it's the offense that will drive Carolina's fortunes against Lehigh: The Mountain Hawks are best when they lead with their defense; if the Tar Heels are able to open the floodgates against Lehigh and build a little bit of a cushion, Carolina may have enough defense to limit what DiMaria and Associates, Ltd. is able to accomplish.
This, basically (very violent):