Philadelphia - Wasn’t the world a better place when Philadelphia was populated by nothing but tortured fan-bases and cheesesteak elitists? Just look at these animals.
Now the Eagles win a ring, the Flyers are rolling, Villanova is actually good, Sixers are humming, and Penn lacrosse is beating the number one team in the nation. The Quakers trailed Duke 7-3 in this game, but went on a 7-2 run from there to win the game 10-9. Duke has been nothing short of dominant in previous contests this year, putting up 18 goals, 18 goals, 19 goals, 15 goals in their first four games. Only Denver hit double digits against the Blue Devils. But what many considered to be their biggest problem entering the season finally managed to do them serious harm: they got beat soundly at the faceoff X.
While Denver managed to dominate the X as well, wing play and more efficient offense bailed Duke out. Chris Santangelo won 15 of the 22 draws and was key to the strong Penn second half. While the rest of the Ivies have struggled out of the gate or looked less than dominant (ahem YALE ahem), Penn really only had a hard time with Maryland, and followed that up with this win over Duke on a short break. The Quakers have no shortage of playmakers with guys like Mathias and McGeary, and even LSM Connor Keating can be a threat (he had two assists against Duke). Reed Junkin played extremely well in net. Penn has the second best RPI in Division 1, and rank 4th in adjusted offense. Circle March 22nd on the calendar, that’s the date Penn heads up to New Haven to take on Yale, and may reveal a lot about the Ivy League pecking order.
Will Sands, Attack, Bucknell - Bucknell took their shot at Colgate this weekend and pulled off the upset win. The Raiders were a trendy top 20 pick coming into this one. Colgate was coming off a quality win against Cornell, while Bucknell had lost to Richmond and played close games with Marist and Bryant. But if you get the chance, you need to go watch Will Sands. Sands was the key (you’ll hear this a lot) to the win over previously unbeaten Colgate. The entire Bucknell offense truly does not even get off the ground until Sands has the ball. He had seven points in this game, and he now has 27 on the season. Here’s the complete list of players in Division 1 with more points than Will Sands: Justin Guterding. That’s it. Sands has more assists than the rest of the team combined. There are two Bucknell players with double digit goals and no assists, essentially because they share the field with Sands. Bucknell probably isn’t winning the Patriot League, and so they probably are not making the NCAA tourney, but fire up a stream of Bucknell at least once this year to check out the most under the radar player in Division 1.
Ryan Conrad, Midfield, UVA - I have a theory about Ryan Conrad. It is wild speculation with no proof whatsoever. UVA went into a lab somewhere in Charlottesville, did some wild experiments, and made a fully functioning clone of Chris LaPierre. Seems crazy right? But has anyone seen LaPierre and Conrad in the same place at the same time? Didn’t think so. Conrad impacts the game all over the place. He had TEN ground balls against Princeton, more than FOGO Justin Schwenk, bringing his season total up to 22. He never leaves the field. Check out this clip from Joe Keegan:
Ryan Conrad is a complete lacrosse player: dodger, shooter, one-man clear, face-off wings, on-ball defense, and he plays help defense like an NFL safety. pic.twitter.com/pr3dh5GRBc— Joe Keegan (@joekeegs) February 25, 2018
That’s a shorty sliding and just planting a dodger and creating transition. Like Joe says, Conrad does absolutely everything for this team. Wing play, clearing game, top SSDM, and a legit offensive option on a team with plenty of firepower. Zach Currier-esque, and that’s lofty praise. On a team like Virginia with so many scoring options on offense, it’s unlikely that Conrad finishes the season with any kind of sexy eye popping point total. But he’s probably the most important player on this team. If college lacrosse had a Gruden Grinder, Ryan Conrad would win it every week.
Goalie Assists - Syracuse and Army played a hell of a game this weekend. The first half looked like a continuation of the Albany debacle for the Orange. Army’s John Ragno won 7 of 9 draws, and Syracuse only managed one goal in the first half, trailing 6-1 at the break. From there it all changed. Cuse outscored Army 10-4 in the second half, and there were some gems in there. Look at Bomberry tie the game at 9.
Here’s how it got tied up. #SCtop10 pic.twitter.com/pDZf650PIl— Syracuse Lacrosse (@CuseMLAX) February 24, 2018
Good lord the cajones on that kid. Of course Ryan Powell in the booth loves it, but he loved all things Syracuse all day while downplaying every positive play made by Army. I digress. That’s not even the play of the game. In the third overtime, as both teams had already traded good looks and gotten strong saves from their goalies, Dom Madonna distinguished himself with an amazing play to end the game.
Full field pass with a goalie assist in triple overtime? Sure, why not!! pic.twitter.com/Q0SRrpWdNn— Syracuse Lacrosse (@CuseMLAX) February 24, 2018
That is a dime. Madonna gets himself a point with that beauty. Josh Allen is about to go number one in the NFL Draft and he can’t throw a pass with that much accuracy.
Big East Lacrosse- It’s not just Denver in there folks (you don’t have to look, Denver really is in the Big East). In fact, Denver is currently LAST in the Big East at 1-1. Ahead of them? Unbeaten Georgetown (wins over Towson, Robert Morris, High Point), Unbeaten Villanova (Wins over Yale, Penn State, Hofstra), Unbeaten Marquette (beat Jacksonville and Detroit Mercy), 3-1 Providence, and 2-1 St. Johns. It’s feasible that the Big East could have four teams in the top 20, and all six will at least get consideration. Those Villanova wins are no joke. Yale is a legitimate top 10 team, Penn State top 20 (for now anyway). They played Hofstra this week in what could easily be thought of as a trap game. The Wildcats traveled to Hempstead, off that big win against Yale in Dallas, ripe for a letdown. They beat Hofstra 7-2. Only two goals allowed! Out of conference Nova will play quality opponents Maryland, Penn, and Brown; Villanova is the surprise team out of the gate this year for sure. They’ve earned their spot in the top 10. I may not be ready to call the Big East a two bid league yet, but I’m warming up.
Playmakers missing time - Two high end programs got back major keys to their defensive scheme this week: John Sexton returned to Notre Dame, and Maryland got back Bryce Young. Young, a senior, was back for the game against Penn, and wouldn’t you know it, Simon Mathias couldn’t get much going. High Point hung 14 on this Maryland team just a week before. Sexton’s first game back, and the young Irish defense shut out Richmond for the first half. Defense is primarily about a team concept. Clear communication, awareness, and understanding of situations are paramount. Having a commanding voice at the center of a strong defense can make a huge difference, and you can tell when it’s missing, especially on a very young defense like Notre Dame’s. Sexton and Young returned, and these defenses were improved immediately by their presence. Yes, they’re outstanding individual players, some of the best at their respective position in the sport, but their impact on team defense is even larger than their impact on an individual matchup.
Injured playmakers playing - I went to check out Yale take on Michigan on Saturday. I have to say, Michigan was in this game for quite some time. Five ties, several lead changes, it really was a back and forth affair. A major turning point ended up being freshman attackman Alex Buckanavage, the leading scorer for Michigan coming in, getting hurt in the third quarter. Buckanavage went back into the game on a heavily taped right ankle, and couldn’t run. Not exaggerating, not hyperbole, he could not run. He planted himself on the crease and stood there on offense, while making a barely passable effort to limp on rides and in other phases. I’m not knocking him or his heart. I’ve seen him play enough to know what he’s capable of and how hard he plays. I’m just saying he was physically unable to impact the game in a meaningful way in any phase. A ground ball bounced within feet of him, and he couldn’t take a step to pick it up, so a Yale defender took it the other way and a transition goal followed. Far be it from me to second guess a coaching staff, and Coach Conry knows his personnel better than I do. But Michigan basically played 5v6 for the entire fourth quarter, and this was a winnable game until they did.
Nittany Lions - Yikes, guys. It may not be time to drop them from the top 20, but they’re on life support. At 2-2 with wins over Stony Brook and Hobart, it’s hard to justify anything other than a downward arrow next to Penn State. Grant Ament (on the USILA preseason Player of the Year watch list and Guterding wasn’t but whatever I’ve totally let that go) still has yet to play a minute. Gerard Arceri, another guy on that watch list, came into this week 14th in the country in face off winning percentage. They’re offense is definitely efficient (5th in the nation in adjusted offense), but their defense is very much not (53rd in the nation in adjusted defense). Their RPI also checks in at 50, not exactly a good omen. The Big 10 portion of the schedule hasn’t even hit yet, and the Nittany Lions have to get through Penn and Cornell before they get there. This is a team that had three players on that Player of the Year list, and are now 2-2, without a quality win, and flirting with landing in the “also considered” category of polls. For some pollsters, they are already there. A season that started with very lofty hopes is slipping away early.
Boston University - I was on the hype train for this team coming into the year. I watched a scrimmage or two, liked the recruiting class a lot, and thought their returning talent was capable. While many out there said this team was a year away, I thought they could stay on a level they were at last year. Well, they’re looking pretty year away-ish. Losing to Navy is not good. Navy has been struggling to find itself on offense, never managing more than seven goals in their first three games. The Midshipmen only beat UMBC because they held the opponent to just five goals. Navy still doesn’t have a guy to lead them on offense, as Casey Rees has disappeared and Grayson Torrain just hasn’t been a dominant playmaker. Don’t get me wrong, the Navy defense is solid, currently 14th in adjusted defense. This is a game BU should win if they fancy themselves contenders in the conference, but they got a combined three goals and no assists from Chris Gray, John Maclean, and James Burr. That’s going to add up to a loss every time it happens. BU has guys who are versatile and can play a lot of spots, but when they have days like they did against Navy, where the big guns they’ve leaned on until now all go cold, things get ugly. BU is ranked 33rd in adjust offense, 26th in adjusted defense, and 33rd overall. That’s not bad, it’s just, blah.
The Patriot League has now shown that it has plenty more depth than just Loyola and Army. I thought BU would be maybe just one step behind those two, but I think they’re more back in the pack with Colgate, Bucknell, Lehigh, and even Navy (all of whom are currently rated ahead of BU). It doesn’t make them bad necessarily, just makes them...a year away. Sorry, Marisa.
The USILA Player of the Year Watchlist - Let’s be clear about something: most of us are horrible prognosticators and these preseason lists exist entirely to stir discussion and debate rather than genuinely give you an idea of who the top players in Division 1 will be. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, this list is already looking pretty funky. Here’s who’s on it again:
First DI Player of the Year Watch List TY All American Coach Committee for contributing to this process Updates 3/12 4/16 Finalists 5/7 DII tomorrow DIII Friday @UAlbanyMLax @YaleLacrosse @TerpsMLax @OhioState_MLAX @PennStateMLAX @DU_MLAX @LoyolaMLAX @NDlacrosse pic.twitter.com/vSe0l5Ydir— USILA (@USILA_Lax) January 24, 2018
So Connor Fields obviously looks legit, and that’s an easy one. Reeves is a week behind since he plays for an Ivy, but frankly against Michigan there were a number of moments where he looked just plain passive. Last year if Reeves was within twelve yards with hands free, it was time to let a shot go. Yesterday, that situation ended with him passing, or backing away to redodge, and this was without a real slide or double coming. I expected him to take control of the offense much more than he did. Connor Kelly currently doesn’t lead his own team in points, although I wouldn’t expect that to be the case all year. Kelly will have plenty of big games and moments to distinguish himself, but he really hasn’t had any yet. Notre Dame, Albany, Villanova, UNC are the next four opponents for the Terps, that’s where Kelly can separate himself. Tre Leclaire has twelve points and Ohio State is 11th in adjusted offense, but their wins are Cleveland State, BU, Hofstra, and Jacksonville in OT. Leclaire has played well, but that’s not exactly murderer’s row. We’ve covered the three Penn State players. Pat Spencer is doing his part, as he leads a relatively young Loyola offense in points and is the key to everything they do. Baptiste is the best faceoff man in the history of college lacrosse, and you can bet he’ll win a ton of draws this year, but if that doesn’t always translate to wins, it’ll be hard to give him awards like the Tewaaraton (see last year). Sexton only just came back from injury, and as much as I love Ben Randall, are we sure he’s the best close defenseman in the country? And if we aren’t sure, why is he the only one on this list? The omission of Guterding is an easy one, but where is Will Sands? Or anyone on the Notre Dame offense (Costabile off to an awesome start)? Or Ethan Walker? Or even Daniel Bucaro? Again, this is only to make the point that preseason lists like this one are, as Quint Kessenich says, rat poison.