Patriot League Hunger Games - As I was watching the waning seconds of the Army/Lehigh game up at West Point, I got a tweet from fellow College Crosser Ryan McDonnell that said, “ahh the Patriot League is eating itself up again.” This is, of course, dead on. The nine teams in the Patriot League are, to this point, so evenly matched that just about every league game could be a pick em. Loyola is the class of the league and at the top, and Holy Cross or Lafayette are probably the teams that finishes at the bottom, but the rest of the conference is one 6-team pack that are all probably going to get Top 20 votes this year. This conference is The Hunger Games.
Eight teams were dropped into the season, and they will proceed to absolutely beat the heck out of each other for three months. Is it the best or most talented conference in lacrosse? Definitely not. Plenty of outstanding players, but not quite the punch of the Big Ten or ACC. But it is going to be hyper competitive. Lehigh is now 5-1 and 3-0 in conference following the Army upset, and at the top of the standings. Behind them in order are Navy, Loyola, Bucknell, Army, Colgate, BU, and then Lafayette and Holy Cross. But you can already tell this year is going to end with mind twisting transitive win arguments like “Lehigh beat Army who beat Navy who beat...” and after you say five teams, words just fail because you’re back where you started. The thing is, since they’ll likely beat each other up so much, it’s going to be interesting to see how many tournament bids come out of the Patriot League. Looking forward to more mayhem next week when Navy will beat Loyola or something like that.
Johnny Surdick - Now that we’ve covered just how brutal the Patriot League is and how the league will likely eat itself alive thanks to the wealth of quality teams, let me tell you about the player you need to go watch in the PL that gets lost in the shuffle. Pat Spencer and Will Sands are special offensive players that make their offenses go and are talked about as the toast of the conference. But man, if you ain’t seen Johnny Surdick play one on one defense yet this, year, go catch an Army game. Look at this:
2:26 3rd | Surdick— Army WP M.Lacrosse (@ArmyWP_MLax) March 10, 2018
Sets up Army's go-ahead goal by Glancy! #GoArmy #RCC pic.twitter.com/cefg8i0WjS
Surdick runs that ground ball for a transition goal that gave Army the lead by the way. It was one of Surdick’s five caused turnovers on the day, and of those five, three resulted in an attackman going to pick up his stick off the turf. When this Army team needs a spark, it’s Surdick that they look to. Surdick was a preseason second team All-American and is the leader of this highly touted defensive unit. He’ll come up to play wings on faceoffs, and he’ll draw the opposing best player every week and to this point in the year, make their day miserable. If we are calling Patriot League the Hunger Games, Surdick is that beast from District 1 that everyone else is actually a little afraid of.
Jon Mazza/Towson - At the start of the season, we saw Towson get drubbed by Hopkins and thought the Tigers were in for a long year. The let down was obvious, as they graduated nearly 90% of their points from a team that had no shortage of firepower last year, and really only Jon Mazza remained. Towson managed just six goals in the opener against Hopkins, and in settled situations was disorganized and lacked a go to guy or any kind of rhythm. Since then, Mazza has begun to emerge as that guy and taken the reins, and the Towson offense is showing some signs of life. The Tigers went to Ohio State and came away with a win this weekend, as their defense (which has been much improved of late) held the Buckeyes to six goals. Shane Brennan had 16 saves for the Tigers and played out of his mind. The game went to OT, and Mazza did this:
.@Towson_MLAX PULLS THE UPSET! Mazza bulldozes his way in to score the OT game-winner to beat @OhioState_MLAX 7-6. Brennan with 16 saves. pic.twitter.com/ra54lheuQQ— US Lacrosse Magazine (@USLacrosseMag) March 10, 2018
That’s a guy putting his team on his back. What an effort to get that win. Mazza is up to 20 points on the year. Only two other players for Towson are in double digit points and that needs to change, but the Tigers are certainly starting to move in the right direction. As Delaware has suffered some bad losses and come back to Earth, the Colonial is suddenly anyone’s conference again.
18-7 memes - Hopkins faithful have been hearing it since last year. Remember when unranked Princeton beat Hopkins 18-7? It’s the lacrosse version of “the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead.” It just would not go away for some reason. Well, Hopkins passed on the 18-7 drubbing to someone else who can hear it for a year: Syracuse. There really is something to this matchup as a rivalry, given how many championships are held by both teams and their lengthy history. This was a smackdown in so many phases. Poor Dom Madonna made 10 saves but allowed 17 goals, many of them coming on the doorstep where there was little he could do. Hopkins took 46 shots to just 25 for Cuse, and also had 16 more ground balls and won faceoffs 18 to 10. Syracuse had been on a nice roll after coming back to win against Army and then beating Virginia, but this one is going to be sobering. And that 18-7 scoreline is going to haunt them. Hopkins has passed the meme on to someone new, enjoy it Cuse.
Backhanded Goals - It was a great week for some highlight reel goals all over D1. With that matchups we had to watch, it was no surprise to see some world class play. Shout out to The Crease Dive for clipping so many of these, here are some of the best for your enjoyment.
Hofstra took down UNC for the 3rd straight year. Brendan Kavanagh poured a little more salt in the wound with this backhand finish to put the dagger in the Tar Heels pic.twitter.com/Ndc2dqlI02— The Crease Dive (@thecreasedive) March 11, 2018
Happy for the kid today ...really happy with the Jays thumping Cuse. pic.twitter.com/XgtJO3c8VH— Jay Fox (@jayfoxlax) March 11, 2018
Alright alright, gettin better, that was really nice.
In a game that featured kids like Connor Fields, Connor Kelly, Tehoka Nanticoke, Jared Bernhardt... it was Jakob Patterson with the filthiest finish in #1 Albany vs #2 Maryland yesterday. pic.twitter.com/dsxFowVSrq— The Crease Dive (@thecreasedive) March 11, 2018
Bonus points for essentially no looking it and pinging the far post.
Long pole backhand crease dive goal alert @UMassMLacrosse Shane Rinkus @Stinky_rinky10 with an epic score in UMass 17-3 win over NJIT (via UMass Lacrosse) pic.twitter.com/EZOCpefNGy— Lax Sports Network (@LaxSportsNet) March 10, 2018
Ok, we have a winner. Ignore the score line and the fact that this came near the end of a blowout win. Shane Rinkus comes the backhand, with the pole goal, with the diving effort. This is the kind of goal I would create in a lab. Inject this goal into my veins. It should be noted that in most cases, these aren’t purely shot backhanded for swags. There is an element of deception to them that gives goalies trouble, and it serves as a way for an offensive player to free their hands and create some separation where there really isn’t any. But mostly swag.
Faceoff Hot Takes - On Saturday, Trevor Baptiste added another record to his resume. He and John Travisano of Notre Dame had the longest battle for a clamp on a faceoff....ever. Here it is in all it’s glory:
Longest faceoff ever or longest faceoff ever? Trevor Baptise and John Travisano battle it out for 45 seconds before Baptiste finally wins the clamp pic.twitter.com/2LFbLIxQLh— The Crease Dive (@thecreasedive) March 10, 2018
This, along with the dominance of guys like Baptiste, spawned an onslaught of hot takes. Get rid of faceoffs! This is boring! There’s too much specialization and these guys are overcoached! This is, of course, moronic. In a sport where the stick you use and the part of the field you are legally allowed to play on is dictated by the position you play, we are really saying faceoffs makes the game too specialized? A guy like Baptiste creates a major advantage the same way Mariano Rivera did for the Yankees. He removes opportunities from the opponent by limiting their time on offense. Rivera shortened a game to eight innings. When he came in, it was likely a foregone conclusion. Nobody is calling for the end of relief pitchers for being too specialized. In Baptiste’s case, or any faceoff stud at that, he also increases your time on offense. Team USA face-off specialist Greg Gurenlian had the best retort for the would be face off killers out here.
“Towson Goalie had 17 saves in that game. One player shouldn’t have so much impact on the score. We should get rid of goalies.”— Greg Gurenlian (@GregBeast32) March 10, 2018
Beast is dead on. The argument that one overspecialized player impacts the game so much being a bad thing is silly. Some players with a box background only use one hand, better get rid of them too, they’re too specialized. As more advanced metrics enter the lacrosse world and we understand the value of possession and efficiency at a higher level, we’ll better understand the value of guys like Baptiste in a better way then “he wins draws.” That’s something we should be thrilled about, not looking to eliminate.
Just about the entire Top 20 - The lacrosse landscape is a tumultuous one. We always talk about how quickly the game is expanding, #growthegame and all that. It’s really been spectacular to see so many division one programs capable of beating each other. Unless your a pollster. Eleven out of the current Top 20 lost over the weekend. And it’s not just the up and coming programs either. Perennial powerhouses like Syracuse, Loyola, UNC, Maryland, Denver, and Ohio State went down. UVA has barely escaped Manhattan and Stony Brook in their last two games. In some cases it was at the hands of other thoroughbreds, but a look at the poll from week to week will tell you just about how hard it is to reasonably predict outcomes this year. The top 40 teams are all just too good and well matched. This week you’ll see Lehigh break into the top 20, Robert Morris climb a few spots, UVM potentially crack the top 10, and teams like Hofstra start to get some buzz while Delaware, Marquette, and even Ohio State likely drop out. I haven’t been yet, but I’m going to start keeping a tally of the number of unique teams to appear in the top 20 this year and see where we are at by year’s end.
UVA - The Hoo’s got the worst imaginable news in the last week: Ryan Conrad’s non-contact injury in the Syracuse game is season ending. Conrad was the do it all guy for the team. He was a beast on wings, played both ends as a midfielder, and was highly involved in the offense. According to Lacrosse Reference, Conrad accounts for 6.2% of UVA plays through the Stony Brook game. That used to be as high as 9.8%, a very high number for a midfielder, and it INCLUDES TWO GAMES HE DIDN’T EVEN PLAY IN. He’s still 7th on the team! Obviously, the loss of Conrad is enormous. The impact is felt immediately, as UVA has barely snuck by the likes of Manhattan and Stony Brook in their last two games, both contests that should have been fairly easy wins. With Notre Dame up next on Saturday at Arlotta, UVA will need to gather itself and find the guy(s) who can step in to replace Conrad as a leader and on field presence. The challenge is that this is still a very young team, and this kind of adversity could prove be difficult to overcome.
Delaware - The Blue Hens were the toast of the town. Delaware was sitting at 3-0, then dropped a one goal heartbreaker to Villanova. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, and most people took it as another sign that Delaware is for real this year. But oh how the mighty Joe Flacco’s have fallen. And now, Delaware has lost back to back games to Mercer and Binghamton. Mercer is now 2-5, and the win was Binghampton’s first of the year. Delaware is at 3-3 after a hot start in which they looked ready to run away with the CAA. Analytics Lacrosse ranks Delaware at 45th, with an adjusted defense rank of 59th, and this was a team that was cracking the Top 20 only a week ago. Not Elite.