Now that college basketball has concluded its 18-month season, it’s time to pull you into the wormhole that is college lacrosse. Here’s everything you need to get caught up on what you’ve missed while watching people sweat in an arena.
WHO HAS BEEN CRUSHING SKULLS?
Five teams have seemingly separated themselves from the rest of the nation at the moment: Notre Dame, Syracuse, Maryland, North Carolina, and Denver occupy the top five positions in the most recent media and coaches polls, those five teams a combined 43-6 on the season. This quintet is positioned as well as any team to make a rush toward Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia for Championship Weekend this May, but they've been doing their business in unique ways:
- Notre Dame (7-1): The Irish are riding a four-game winning streak and are the only team this season to beat Syracuse. Notre Dame is as balanced as the team has ever been, with an offense anchored by Matt Kavanagh and Sergio Perkovic and a defense featuring capable assets like Matt Landis and Shane Doss. The only setback that Notre Dame has suffered this season is an overtime defeat at the hands of Denver in early March. The Irish are vicious animals that actually shut Ohio State out -- 9-0! -- a few weeks ago.
- Syracuse (8-1): The Orange's offense has been a show this season, scoring in double digits in each of its nine outings while averaging over 15 goals per game. With an ability to actually win some draws this season -- for realsies! -- Syracuse has shored up its third area of play. The Orange opened 2015 with seven consecutive victories and are in the mix to win their 12th NCAA championship.
- Maryland (9-1): The Terps were expected to take a bit of a step back in 2015 but have instead taken a flamethrower to college lacrosse. Maryland has yielded a total of 48 goals so far this season -- the next closest team (Albany) has given up 63 tallies to its opponents -- and hasn't allowed its opponents to score at least 10 goals since Yale freaked out and put 10 on the board against the Terps in the bitter cold of New Haven on February 21st. The Terrapins are the only team this season to beat North Carolina.
- North Carolina (11-1): The Tar Heels are an offensive juggernaut once again but have the kind of defensive balance necessary for Carolina to advance to Championship Weekend for the first time since 1993. The Heels will face Syracuse and Notre Dame in the next two weeks and much of Carolina's ceiling will be defined based on how the team performs in those two games. The Tar Heels, though, have already bagged kills against Denver, Duke, and Virginia so far this season.
- Denver (8-2): While the Pioneers are the only team to beat Notre Dame this season, Denver is almost the forgotten entity in the nation's top five. Maryland transfer Connor Cannizzaro has paid immediate dividends for the Pios and the continued presence of Wes Berg -- the cat had 10 points against Villanova at the half this past weekend -- makes Denver's offense one of the scariest in the nation to contend with. Unlike previous seasons, the Pioneers shouldn't have too many issues with their RPI ranking and RPI strength of schedule ranking when it comes time to bracket the NCAA Tournament field.
WHAT ABOUT THAT JOHNS HOPKINS THING?
The Jays are 4-6 with three games remaining on their regular season schedule before the start of the Big Ten Tournament. (Also -- the Big Ten is a thing now and Johns Hopkins is part of it as an affiliate member. You've missed stuff, man.) That Johns Hopkins thing has spit a piston and is trying to limp into the pits for a tune up. Other teams that participated in the 2014 NCAA Tournament that are in danger of missing out on the show this season:
- Air Force (6-5): The Falcons aren't going to have enough to make the field as an independent this spring. (Also -- Air Force is an independent this year after the ECAC exploded in the offseason.)
- Bryant (3-7): The Bulldogs can lean on the Northeast Conference Tournament to find a spot in The Big Barbeque, but (1) Hobart and St. Joseph's will make Bryant's progression to a May adventure difficult, and (2) the Bulldogs are just 1-2 in conference play at this point and need to make up some ground with remaining regular season conference dates against Sacred Heart, Robert Morris, and Mount St. Mary's.
- Siena (4-6): A solid argument can be made that the Saints are the third best team in the MAAC this season, trailing Marist and Detroit. Siena owns losses to Robert Morris (the win over the Saints is the only victory for the Colonials this season), Monmouth, and Canisius. Siena may not make the MAAC Tournament this season, never mind the NCAA Tournament.
- Pennsylvania (4-6) // Drexel (5-6) // Loyola (6-5) // Harvard (5-5) // Richmond (7-4): All have soft to non-existent at-large profiles and are probably looking for their league's automatic qualifier to dance in May.
WHO SHOULD BE DOING ARM CURLS IN ANTICIPATION OF HOISTING THE TEWAARATON AWARD
Albany's Lyle Thompson is leading the nation in points per game (6.80) and has generated 68 points this season (Lyle has more points than two teams this year). The 2014 co-winner of the award continues to do whatever he damn well pleases on the lacrosse field and plays with a confidence and style that is both attractive and impossible. The attackman is on the verge of breaking Rob Pannell's career points mark, and if he does so, will have transformed into Zuul right before our eyes.
HOW ARE THE NEW GUYS MAKING OUT?
Division I lacrosse features 69 teams this season, an increase of two schools from 2014. The two new teams -- NJIT and Massachusetts-Lowell -- are a combined 1-18 with NJIT currently stuck in a winless season. These are learning experiences -- I guess that having your hand placed on an anvil and repeatedly hammered is a kind of learning experience -- but both teams have presented themselves well despite their ugly records. Interestingly, the River Hawks' lone victory this season came at the expense of the Highlanders, a 9-7 victory in Newark.
I WANT ANSWERS ABOUT [INSERT CONFERENCE HERE] AND I WANT THEM NOW!
Ten leagues are getting an automatic bid to the 18-team NCAA Tournament field this spring. Most of those 10 leagues feature great races: The Patriot League is a total and complete nightmare with results that make no sense and a continued dedication to never permitting reasonable things to happen; the top of the America East between Stony Brook and Albany is looking fun; the Colonial is just beginning its pursuit of total anarchy; the Ivy League is a leveraged dynamic of "Aw, hell!"; the middle of the MAAC is its traditional cacophony of indecipherable nonsense; the Northeast Conference has a solid race for the last two spots in the Northeast Conference Tournament; three teams could legitimately win the ACC; the Southern Conference features a league leader -- Mercer -- that has earned all of its victories this season against Southern Conference opponents; and the Big East has some heat between Marquette, Georgetown, St. John's, and Villanova for the right to deal with Denver in the Big East Tournament.
Here's a brief look at the favorites and primary contenders in each league:
|ACC||Syracuse, Notre Dame, North Carolina||Virginia, Duke|
|America East||Albany||Stony Brook|
|Big East||Denver||Marquette, Georgetown|
|Big Ten||Maryland||Johns Hopkins, Ohio State|
|Colonial||Towson, Fairfield||Hofstra, Massachusetts|
|Ivy||Cornell, Brown||Yale, Princeton|
|Northeast||St. Joseph's, Hobart||Bryant|
*: Favorites are determined by taking the highest ranked league member relative to LaxPower's ratings and including any team within five ranking positions of that team.
^: Contenders are determined by taking the lowest rated league member treated as a favorite and including any team with a LaxPower ranking within 15 ranking positions of that team. There are probably more contenders in each league that aren't listed -- especially considering the role of tiebreakers -- but I needed to cut the cord somewhere.
WHAT HAS BEEN SURPRISING?
- Marquette -- a third-year program and Wisconsin's only Division I team -- started the season with seven straight wins and still holds a position in the national polls. The team is 2-2 over its last four games and some of the shine has come off of the team's early wins, but the Eagles are still dangerous.
- Georgetown is 7-4 and could finish with a .500 or better record for the first time since 2012.
- Duke has struggled a bit through its first 11 games, sitting at 7-4 with only two wins against teams currently ranked in the top 20 of the RPI (Harvard and Loyola). The Devils are in the midst of a three-game losing streak, falling to Syracuse, North Carolina, and Notre Dame. Duke and Virginia will play an ACC Tournament play-in game this coming weekend. Duke has won the last two national championships but needs to find a groove as the days slip off the calendar if the team hopes to do some serious damage in May.
- Stony Brook is 9-2 and just dropped Princeton on Long Island. The Seawolves were 13-19 between 2013 and 2014 and have one of the hottest offenses in the nation.
- Holy Cross owns three of LaxPower's top five biggest upsets of the season, wins against Army, Loyola, and Fairfield. The Crusaders made an appearance in the national polls earlier in the year, but are now 5-6 overall and 2-4 in the Patriot League, on the verge of missing the Patriot League Tournament if Holy Cross can't handle Colgate and/or Boston University down the stretch.
- Wagner is 4-5 and I think my head just exploded while writing that.
DID THINGS HAPPEN?
Yes, things happened. More things will happen, though. You've come to the light at the best part of the year.