Cornell - The Big Red, I would suggest, have put quite a scare into the rest of the tournament field after last Sunday. Cornell took down Yale in convincing fashion in the Ivy League title game, 14-8, and it probably could have been a wider margin than that. Cornell had one weakness weakness in the semifinal against Brown (shut off Jeff Teat and Cornell offense sputters). Yale, for some reason, chose not to exploit it. Honorable, but foolish, as Teat had a goal and five assists. Anyway, Cornell looked outstanding. They were able to consistently break what has been a very effective Yale ride, they limited Ben Reeves to just one second half goal and no assists after a four goal first half outburst, they were better in almost every phase. Their two man game to give Teat just a bit of daylight, which is all he needs, left the Yale defense scrambling to cover all afternoon. When they closed off looks inside, Teat found step down shooters. When they extended, Teat was able to feed the crease. On top of that, Christian Knight had 16 saves, and had set the record for saves in the Ivy League tournament by halftime of the title game. Cornell is as confident as anyone in lacrosse right now.
Hopkins - Hopkins is putting things together this year, and playing well at the right time. Beating Ohio State by one goal isn’t much; the same could be said for Michigan. But playing Maryland to triple OT and a winnable game, and then taking it Maryland in the Big Ten title game and winning by 3 goals, makes Hopkins quite a scary squad right now. Brock Turnbaugh is getting hot at the right time, and while lacrosse isn’t like hockey where a hot goalie can take a team all the way to a title, it still matters enough to win you a game you might not otherwise win. Cole Williams has turned into an offensive force this year as a dynamic dodger capable of consistently drawing slides and forcing defenses to rotate. It’ll be interesting to see how Hopkins uses a guy like Joel Tinney who does so much on offense and frequently stays on to play defense as a middie. As the weather gets hotter and teams depth gets tested, Coach Petro will need to choose when to lean on his top midfielder and when to pick a side of the field that is more important and use him there.
Our robot overlords - As the conference tournaments unfolded, prognosticators everywhere tried to get in their predictions before the Sunday night selection show. Who’s in, who’s out, who’s hosting games, all that. And of course, plenty of the “analytics/models say this” vs “zip it, nerd. I watched games and I say that” talk. There were some bid stealers out there in teams like Yale, Denver, and pretty much the whole ACC. Bucknell, Rutgers, and Ohio State were the teams everyone was talking about as that last squad in from the bubble. And who got it right? The nerds! Patrick McEwen, aka LaxFilmRoom, probably the snarkiest and most argumentative lacrosse-centric twitter account out there, has offered regular updates as to how he expected the bracket would come out. Put aside his self-congratulating for a few minutes, and he really does do a good job of explaining the process and the flaws in it (like the RPI). Data is a good thing. Resistance to knowing more and being able to understand more about how data and statistics can shape the game is silly, just ask the baseball teams who laughed at Billy Beane or basketball teams who think long two’s will beat the Warriors.
NCAA Pools - OK, it’s not as good as basketball. There aren’t 68 teams to make a bracket with, it’s not round the clock coverage on four channels on tv, and I bet if you hand out blank brackets looking for a ten dollar buy-in at your office/school, you don’t get one entry. HAVING SAID THAT. Picking a college lacrosse bracket this year should be exceptionally fun. There are some great first round matchups (sup Loyola/UVA), and there has been enough parity in this season that makes for plenty of teams that seem like genuine threats to take home the crown. Get some buddies together, some who love lacrosse, maybe some who don’t know as much about it. Use this year’s parity and potentially exciting first round the make some new lacrosse fans out there. Don’t collect money though because gambling is illegal and I would never suggest to you that betting on sports is ok also tune in later this week where I look back at my picks against the spread from this season but once again do not gamble.
Yale - Can’t stay hot forever. I think there was a part of me that was not at all surprised Yale lost to Cornell, even despite of how well they’d been playing lately. I realized it on the first possession of the Ivy League game, frankly, when I saw that Yale opted not to shut off Jeff Teat. Princeton faceguarded Teat for the entire game, and won. Brown faceguarded him the entire game in the semifinals and if they hadn’t shot 4 for 42, they WOULD have won as they only allowed 7 goals. Yale? Nah, we good, we got Chris Fake, we killin’ people with the ride, we crush faceoffs, Ben Reeves is a beast. Well, about that. Some of those things were still true. Reeves was a beast with four first half goals, but Cornell adjusted and held him to a goal and no helpers in second half. Chris Fake and co. struggled with Teat and the two man game all day. Conor Mackie was OK, but had a rough second half at the X. Cornell was 19-22 clearing with perfect first, second, and fourth quarters. And once Reeves went quiet, the rest of the offense disappeared. Matt Gaudet, who had seven goals against Penn, managed two shots and no points. The middies, that seemed so deep, couldn’t beat anyone. Yale got two goals all day from guys not named Reeves, and one of them was from their stud SSDM Tyler Warner. Yale needs to get their mojo back in a hurry or they’ll be looking at yet another early exit from the big dance. And Safe gets to rank them 14th or something.
The Eye Test - We covered this above a bit with our salute to computers and/or nerds. But let’s now take a look at the team that did wind up getting in: Villanova. What about Villanova suggests that they belong in the tournament? They lost in the Big East semifinals to Georgetown, their second loss to Georgetown in the last month. They got ANNIHILATED by Denver. They barely got by a miserable Fairfield team. Their two best wins, by far, are Yale and Penn State, and those wins happened on February 3rd and and 17th, and Yale had been playing in season for about 10 minutes when they took on the Wildcats. NOTHING about the eye test says this team gets in. They’re playing mediocre lacrosse lately, they had been ranked highly early in the year and just but slowly dropping each week. But they had a solid RPI I guess? Villanova getting in is, as much as anything, evidence that the Eye Test isn’t a consideration anymore, and recent performance isn’t either. Because Bucknell/Rutgers/Ohio State all LOOKED way better. Also DENVER LET GEORGETOWN WIN BECAUSE THEY DELIBERATELY THROW THE BIG EAST TOURNAMENT EVERY YEAR TO WEAKEN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT FIELD.
Detroit Mercy’s soul - Time for some MAACTION. Detroit Mercy headed to overtime in the conference final against Canisius. It has been a solid season for DM in a conference that has some quality teams and talent. Opening faceoff, DM wins it, and then this happens.
Wild ending to @MAACSports championship. Detroit wins faceoff to start OT, but turns it over and Mathieu Boissonneault scores on the empty net to punch @GriffsMLax to @NCAALAX tourney with 10-9 win. pic.twitter.com/PWmYjSn46j— US Lacrosse Magazine (@USLacrosseMag) May 5, 2018
That is soul crushing. I don’t want to make these kids feel worse than they do already, but I’m going to forge ahead and do it anyway. That’s a goal that just plain haunts you. How in the world do you reconcile that as anything other than “we screwed up HUGE”? A shot literally ripping your goalie’s stick in half and going in would be easier to swallow than that. Silver lining, the Titans had six guys with 20 or more points this year, and only two are seniors. Their top three scorers are all underclassmen. They’ll be back.
Interim Tags - I’m going back to the Ivy League one more time here. Cornell’s head coach is Peter Milliman. He’s been part of the program for years. He was named Interim Head Coach in 2017. He said he heard all offseason from people who said that his team just wasn’t that good. What does he do? He goes 12-4 this year to date, including being 9-1 in their last 10. He beat Yale while the Bulldogs were playing their best lacrosse of the season and sitting atop national polls. He sends out an offense every week that is about as prolific as it gets, checking in at about 40% efficiency, and at times they’ll sub off some of their top players, as far as I can tell, for fun, and run a beautiful looking offensive possession anyway. Just ONE of their top TWELVE scorers is a senior. At present, nobody wants any part of Jeff Teat and this offense, or their stud backstop Christian Knight. And yet, Peter Milliman is still the INTERIM Head Coach. Give this man the damn job, Cornell.