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The Way Too Early Top 20

The season is still five months away, but that’s not stopping us from looking ahead at the pecking order for 2021!

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The college lacrosse season, assuming it does go forward as planned this spring, is likely at five-to-six months away. There isn’t a normal fall ball to any real degree whatsoever, and some teams have rosters that have been drastically downsized. Long story short, there’s a lot of confusion. But that isn’t going to stop us from wildly and perhaps recklessly prognosticating!

We’re hardly the first out there to do something like this, nor will we be the last, but it’s always a fun exercise to do a way too early ranking and peek ahead at the season and have some fodder for discussion and debating during the down period of the offseason. So without further ado, here is your College Crosse Way Too Early Top 20.

20. Rutgers

Key returns/additions: A Adam Charalmbides (15/7/22 in 6 games); A Kieran Mullins (10/10/20 in 6 games); M Connor Kirst (17/7/4/9 GBs in 7 games at Villanova); D Garrett Bullet (11 GBs/6 CTs in 6 games)

Key losses: None

The Scarlet Knights got off to a strong start 2020 with convincing wins over Quinnipiac and St. John’s before losing four straight before cancellation; losing big to Army, but close ones to Loyola and Stony Brook and getting outgunned by Michael Sowers’ Princeton. Outside of that Army game they were a very strong offensive team with the dynamic duo of Charalmbides and Mullins and an emergent David Sprock; but their face-off play doomed them. They won only 33% of their draws and simply couldn’t keep up in many of their losses. Goaltending was solid with Stephen Russo saving 50%. Finding first a consistent FOGO - they had six different draw takers last year - will be the first task, but then improving the second one. They’ll also need someone else to emerge at close defense alongside long time solid contributor Garrett Bullet.

But the big difference maker will likely be Connor Kirst. Kirst was a First Team All-American in our shortened season All-America team and is in the eyes of some (this writer included) the best midfielder in America. He gives the Scarlet Knights a big 3rd offensive weapon and makes them that much more difficult to guard next year; plus a very well rounded 1st midfield with Sprock and Ryan Gallagher.

19. Lehigh

Key returns/additions: A Tommy Schelling (22/11/33 in 6 games); A Christian Mule’ (16/5/21 in 6 games); D Teddy Leggett (26 GB/5 CTs in 6 games); D Anthony Tangredi (14 GBs/16 CTs in 6 games); FO Conor Gaffney (65% win percentage)

Key losses: A Andrew Petit (17/9/26 in 6 games); Ryan Klose (8/7/15 in 6 games)

Lehigh is likely one of the teams who felt most hard done by with the season being cancelled. The Mountain Hawks appeared to maybe have their best team since 2013, their last NCAA Tournament appearance, as they were off to a 5-1 start, with blowout wins over Navy and Holy Cross in Patriot League play. When things re-group in 2021 it won’t be the same team, but much of the talent does return. Andrew Petit, a long time standout has moved on and his status as a match-up mismatch means more pressure will be applied on Tommy Schelling and the remainder of the offense to take another step, but they look more than ready with Schelling having a monster start and Christian Mule entering his second year after 16 goals in 6 games as a freshman. Throw in the return of Conor Gaffney as a dominant FOGO and two nightmare poles on the ground and with their sticks in Teddy Leggett and Anthony Tangredi, and you have a balanced team that will be in contention for the Patriot League crown.

18. Penn

Key returns/additions: M Sam Handley (3/2/5 in 1 game, First Team All-American in 2018); A Sean Lulley (14/16/30 in 5 games); A Dylan Gergar (19/4/23 in 6 games); A Adam Goldner (11/5/16 in 5 games); LSM BJ Farrare (17 GBs/6 CTs in 5 games)

Key losses: FO Kyle Gallagher (66% win percentage); D Kyle Thornton (5 GBs/3 CTs in 5 games); D Mark Evanchick (4 GBs/3 CTs in 5 games)

The best entertainment product in the sport. You could make an argument that this is too low of a ranking for a team that was one goal from the Final Four in the last completed season and still has some of the stalwarts of that team on the field in 2021. The entire attack unit of Sean Lulley, Dylan Gergar, and Adam Goldner returns; a perfectly balanced unit of an all-around X attackmen in Lulley, a great shooter in Gergar, and maybe the sports best creaseman in Goldner, who scored 56 goals in 2019. Whirling dervish LSM BJ Farrare also returns on the defensive end. But this was a team that struggled on the defensive end in the shortened season and now loses their top two close defenseman in Kyle Thornton via transfer and Mark Evanchick to graduation. Patrick Burkinshaw wasn’t able to find his form through five games after transferring from UVA.

But the big loss is Kyle Gallagher, who helped transform the Penn team after transferring into the program in 2019. He became one of the dominant face-off men in the country and it was his expertise at the draw that allowed Penn to go from a slow paced, stagnant offensive team to the fire breathing unit it’s been the last two years. However even with that they were often a meh half court offense team, largely relying on early offense off Gallagher face-offs to pour in goals and build up big advantages against teams. With no Gallagher, that 6-on-6 offense will have to improve if they’re to still be elite on that end.

17. Army

Key returns/additions: A Brendan Nichtern (19/26/45 in 8 games); M Bobby Abshire (7/7/14 in 8 games); M Jacob Morin (12/0/12 in 8 games); D Marcus Hudgins (26 GBs/20 CTs in 8 games)

Key losses: A Sean O’Brien (16/4/20 in 8 games); A Miles Silva (22/1/23 in 8 games); D Tom Rigney (23 GBs/5 CTs in 8 games); D Bennett Taylor (18 GBs/11 CTs in 8 games)

The Black Knights started the season with a +43 goal differential in their first three games and surging into the Top 10 and 5 of the national polls. Then they laid a massive egg against Marist losing by 8, struggled on offense in a 9-7 loss to Syracuse, and were back in the mid-teens of the rankings. But before the season ended they were still 6-2 and 2-0 in Patriot League play and generally tabbed as the league favorite. Now they have to settle with a potentially much more competitive conference next season, and without the ability to retain any seniors like other (non-Navy) teams will be able too. That means no Miles Silva and Sean O’Brien on attack, two tremendous off ball finishers. And they also lose two real strong horses on the back end in Tom Rigney and Bennett Taylor. That’s four starters gone, and not replaced through the transfer portal.

However Nichtern still is around as the most elite offensive player Army has had since Jeremy Boltus, nearly a generation ago. He’s the best player in the conference. Marcus Hudgins was an All-American for us in the shortened season; he may be the best defender in the conference. And Wyatt Schupler was saving 68 (!!) percent through 8 games. That will definitely come down; but he may be the best goalie in the conference. They may not be the national force they looked like at the start of last year, but Army still has a shot at another Patriot League title in 2021.

16. Richmond

Key returns/additions: A Ryan Lanchbury (14/16/30 in 7 games); Richie Connell (19/3/22 in 7 games); A Mitch Savoca (13/6/19 in 7 games); D Ray Baran (25 GBs/12 CTs in 7 games); G Jack Rusbuldt (56% save percentage)

Key losses: None

Everyone’s favorite underdog is back for another go around in 2021 and so is essentially the entirety of the team. The entire starting offense, two starting defenseman, and Rusbuldt in goal. The Spiders again nearly played spoiler last year; falling in OT to Maryland and Duke in games they probably should have won. They were 4-1 against the remainder of their schedule and looked like the favorite in the SoCon, as they seem too every year.

Dan Chemotti has built one of the most consistent mid-majors in college lacrosse and with an experienced, talented roster back in the fold for 2021; Richmond should be poised to once again possibly pull off an upset of a top ranked team and win the SoCon en route to a third consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament.

15. UMass

Key returns/additions: A Chris Connolly (9/13/22 in 7 games); M Kevin Tobin (10/11/21 in 7 games); M Jeff Trainor (14/6/20 in 7 games); FO Zach Hochman (59% win percentage)

Key losses: None

When we first saw the Minutemen in 2020, they were blown off the field in brutal fashion by Army 17-4. When we last saw them, they had won five of their last six games, including a typical grind-it-out UMass effort over Ohio State 9-7 and a more-dominant-than-it-looked win over Yale 13-10. Greg Cannella’s group had it pointed in the right direction towards a 2nd NCAA Tournament appearance in three years.

They should still be lined up for that in 2021. Essentially the entire group is back, with Chris Connolly leading an unchanged offensive group alongside fantastic all-around midfielder Jeff Trainor. Throw in a really impressive 2nd-year freshmen FOGO in Zach Hochman and typical strong defensive play and you have an all around team that will be a tough out for anyone who plays them in 2021 and the favorite in the CAA.

14. Johns Hopkins

Key returns/additions: A Joey Epstein (5/5/10 in 5 games; All-American in 2019); A Cole Williams (11/6/17 in 6 games); A Owen Murphy (8/5/13 in 6 games); G Josh Kirson (60% save percentage for Ohio State); LSM Jared Fernandez (14 GBs/4 CTs in 5 games for Syracuse)

Key losses: D Owen Colwell (12 GBs/4 CTs in 6 games)

This may be the most controversial selection in the Top 20. There will be those who will ask how a team that was 2-4 and nearly 1-5 before the season got shut down could be ranked 14th to start the next year. There will be those who may think a Top 20 rank is justified but more like 20th than 14th. And there is the matter of replacing a coach of 20 years during a pandemic.

But there’s still a lot to like here. This was a pretty darn good offense in 2019 when Joey Epstein was healthy (which he never was in 2020) and the talent on the field in 2021 will match that and maybe exceed it. Owen Murphy showed real promise as another option at attack in the shortened season and Garrett Degnon provided some much needed outside shooting. Who knows how incoming freshmen will fare in 2021, but Brendan Grimes figures to have as good a chance as any of making an immediate impact. And when we think of Hopkins biggest troubles the last few years, we think goaltending. That’s rectified. Josh Kirson was as good as any goalie in America in 2020 and is the best goalie Hopkins has had since Pierce Bassett graduated. Jared Fernandez is an upgrade at LSM. The ingredients are here for a bubble tournament team, and that’s enough to start 14th.

13. Notre Dame

Key returns/additions: G Liam Entenmann (51% save percentage); FO Kyle Gallagher (65% win percentage at Penn); D Kyle Thornton (5 GBs/3 CTs in 5 games at Penn); A Sean Leahey (9/13/22 in 6 games at Providence); A Will Yorke (25/6/31 in 6 games at Bucknell)

Key losses: M Bryan Costabile (10/5/15 in 5 games; All-American in 2019)

Arguably no one mined the transfer portal and won more than the Irish; who added one of the best FOGO’s in the country in Kyle Gallagher to give them ample offensive possessions for what should be a much improved offense with one of the best goalscorers in the country in Will Yorke added alongside strong passing attackmen Sean Leahey from providence. Throw in a sophomore Pat Kavanagh and the Irish offense looks much more potent than it did a year ago and in the past few years. Kyle Thornton will help on defense.

There’s still the question though of how much it’ll bridge the gap to the top of the ACC. Syracuse returns the bulk of a Top 5 team; Duke mined the portal just as much and won big; UVA and UNC are still uber talented. With Bryan Costabile on board the Irish may have packed a similar punch, but there will be questions on the midfield and depth to be able to be at the tippy top of the ACC and the country

12. Ohio State

Key returns/additions: A Tre Leclaire (26/8/34 in 7 games); A Jack Myers (12/17/29 in 7 games); A Jackson Reid (17/11/28 in 7 games); SSDM Ryan Terefenko (2/4/6/23 GBs in 7 games); D Eric Wenz (20 GBs/12 CTs in 7 games at Hofstra)

Key losses: G Josh Kirson (60% save percentage); D Joey Salisbury (14 GBs/1 CT in 7 games)

The Buckeyes have felt like a team spinning their wheels for the last few years; trying and failing to recapture the magic of that brilliant 2017 team that made it all the way to Memorial Day. Perhaps 2021 can be that year. Tre Leclaire was back to the level that made him one of the best freshmen in America that year before the season got cut short; and the Buckeyes bring back their entire offense, which was quite explosive when Nick Myers let the handbrake off; plus one of the best short stick middies in the country in Ryan Terefenko.

Here’s where the issues could arise though. Josh Kirson is gone after being a rock for the Bucks in goal. Alec Van De Bovenkamp is in from Furman; but were his struggles after a great freshman year more down to a poor team around him or his own play? It’s an open question. The defense is also being remade. Two starting close D exit, but Eric Wenz is in from Hofstra after a stellar senior year. What will the chemistry and communication be like with no fall ball and a shortened spring prep? Then, as mentioned above, the handbrake on the offense. When the Buckeyes are given free reign to play, they are as good as any offense in the country. But there just appears to be some over-coaching going on in Columbus, to the detriment of that team’s ceiling. Rick Lewis is in to replace Dylan Sheridan as the OC, and again - how will that transition go with so much in flux?

11. Loyola

Key returns/additions: A Aidan Olmstead (11/11/22 in 6 games); A Kevin Lindley (19/1/20 in 6 games); FO Bailey Savio (69% in faceoff percentage); G Sam Shafer (57% save percentage); LSM Ryan McNulty (23 GBs/11 CTs in 6 games)

Key losses: None

The Greyhounds return with the same squad as a year ago, the first in the post-Pat Spencer era. And the best way to sum up that squad would probably be...fine. They had a solid win over Rutgers and comfortably beat the poor teams on their schedule in Hopkins, Towson, and Lafayette. They also didn’t look particularly good against Virginia or Duke. All in all, fine. Add in the complete return of maybe the best defense in D1 last year - LSM Ryan McNulty, the best in America; Cam Wyers at close D; and Sam Shafer in goal - and the Greyhounds could project as a sleeper contender.

However this is leaning more and more towards an offensive game and there’s questions about this offense in a post-Pat Spencer world. Olmstead and Lindley will be 4th year players next year. How much better can they improve? They were both good a year ago; but Olmstead didn’t feel like he had become the elite All-American guy you’ll need if you’re to win a title. There is optimism about second year freshmen Adam Poitras and Joey Kamish who showed some flashes this past spring; but the jury is still out on the long term upside of an offense that was 49th in offensive efficiency a year ago.

10. Georgetown

Key returns/additions: A Jake Carraway (23/10/33 in 6 games); A Dylan Watson (23/2/25 in 6 games); D Gibson Smith (24 GBs/7 CTs in 6 games); G Owen McElroy (63% save percentage); A Nicky Petkevich (9/9/18 in 6 games at Colgate)

Key losses: A Robert Clark (9/15/24 in 6 games)

Here’s a fun fact: Who was the #1 team in the country in Lacrosse Reference’s Adjusted Efficiency last year? Syracuse? Cornell? Penn State with 2 losses maybe? No. It was the Georgetown Hoyas. People will chime in with their schedule and it is a fair point. The Hoyas never played anyone all that good in 2020. But that gives you an idea of how well Georgetown was playing; and sometimes how well you’re playing is just as important as who you’re playing.

I personally think this may be too low of a spot for them. The entire offense is back save for Robert Clark and his spot is filled by Nicky Petkevich from Colgate who was averaging three points a game before the season came to a close. On the defensive side Gibson Smith very well may be the best defender in America and possibly has been for the last two years. Owen McElroy is elite in net as well, and the Hoyas were a terrific face-off team. There were no weaknesses with them. Would we have learned more when they played Denver and Loyola? Of course. But if you’re looking for a spoiler or dark horse Memorial Day Weekend team in 2020, this may be your bet.

9. Cornell

Key returns/additions: A Jeff Teat (12/14/26 in 5 games); A John Piatelli (20/3/23 in 5 games); M Jonathan Donville (13/7/20 in 5 games); FO Angelo Petrakis (62% faceoff percentage)

Key losses: M Cooper Telesco (9/5/14 in 5 games); M Connor Fletcher (6/5/11 in 5 games); D Brandon Salvatore (16 GBs/7 CTs in 5 games); SSDM Sam Duggan (19 GBs/5 CTs in 5 games); HC Peter Milliman

It’s fair to argue that no team was more burned by the cancellation of the season than the Big Red. After a topsy-turvy decade that saw four different head coaches; Final Four runs; and losing seasons, the Big Red looked like they were on the precipice of a team that may break their 43 year wait for a national championship.

Now it’s time to retool again, if not outright rebuild. Big Red alum Connor Buczek takes over as head coach as Pete Milliman leaves for Johns Hopkins, and he’s got maybe the toughest job of any coach this season as he embarks on his maiden year as (interim) head coach; trying to handle how COVID has affected preparation for the season and trying to continue on the success Milliman had in his 3 years in Ithaca.

It’ll certainly help to have Teat back, who looked more like the player who was the best in the nation in 2018. With the entire attack back, Cornell should once again be an explosive offensive unit. However the questions will come on the defensive side; where a team that gave up 13 goals per game loses its two best defensive players in Brandon Salvatore and Sam Duggan. The Big Red have the talent to be in the Top 10 again, but the losses and coaching change may limit their ceiling.

8. Penn State

Key returns/additions: A Mac O’Keefe (28/7/35 in 7 games); TJ Malone (16/7/23 in 7 games); FO Gerard Arceri (55% win percentage); G Colby Kneese (51% save percentage)

Key losses: A Grant Ament (13/32/45 in 7 games)

The Nittany Lions only have one loss from last year’s team - and really the 2019 team that was the best in the country for the balance of the season before falling short vs Yale in the Final Four, but that’s the loss of all losses. It’s hard to really know not just what Penn State’s offense is without Grant Ament, but what Penn State is as a program without Ament. He completely changed the course of the program. Before Ament arrived, they were college lacrosse’s great sleeping giant. In the last three seasons Ament played for them, they were #1 in the country at some point in every one. He defined them. Now he’s gone.

But the cupboard is hardly empty; in fact it’s pretty close to full. Everyone on offense aside from Ament is back; with the extremely talented TJ Malone likely to fill in at Ament’s spot as the X attackmen, Mac O’Keefe back to try and polish his pedigree as the best goalscorer of his generation, and other extremely talented guys such as Dylan Foulds, Jack Kelly, and Jack Traynor. The defense is back, as is Arceri and Kneese. There’s so much talent here it’s hard to envision a team that doesn’t contend for the Big Ten and a Final Four.

But the last season Ament wasn’t around, they weren’t a tournament team. That question will be looming over the Nits in 2021.

7. Denver

Key returns/additions: M Jack Hannah (17/9/26 in 6 games); A Ethan Walker (15/10/25 in 6 games); FO Alec Stathakis (62% win percentage); A Jackson Morrill (7/8/15 in 4 games at Yale); M Lucas Cotler (5/3/8 in 4 games at Yale)

Key losses: None

Before the additions of Morrill and Cotler, Denver looked like the same team they had been for the previous three seasons going into 2021. They failed to win the Big East as they had done three years previously in 2018, missed the NCAA Tournament outright in 2019, and struggled to keep up with Duke and North Carolina to begin 2020. The offense lacked the firepower that they possessed so often under Bill Tierney but had been lacking for the previous 2-3 years. And the defense was struggling as well, with a team save percentage of 45% and 5 different goalies making saves at some point.

Then they added Morrill and Cotler. All of a sudden the Pios have an elite offensive weapon, the kind they’ve been missing since Connor Cannizzaro broke out and put them over the top in 2015. Cotler is a nice piece to go alongside Hannah, a First Team All-American for us last year. Walker can go back to his more comfortable role of offball shooter. Now they’ve got what looks like an elite Tierney offense again, and Alec Stathakis should provide plenty of possessions.

There’s still questions on the defensive side though. Three different players started multiple games in goal in 2020 and there’s no Matt Neufeldt or Dylan Gaines to rely on as a cover guy. Those questions prevent them from being ranked any higher here; but if they can get them answered, Denver could be back where we always expect Tierney teams to be.

6. Yale

Key returns/additions: FO TD Ierlan (76% win percentage); A Matt Brandau (10/6/16 in 4 games); D Chris Fake (4 GB/1 CT in 4 games)

Key losses: A Jackson Morrill (7/8/15 in 4 games); M Lucas Cotler (5/3/8 in 4 games at); A Matt Gaudet (18/2/20 in 4 games)

This can basically be boiled down to one name: TD Ierlan. Without Ierlan, Yale isn’t a Top 10 team. They may not be a Top 15 team. But some good digging and circumventing from Andy Shay and his staff has found the greatest face-off man in the history of the sport back for one more run with the Elis and thus drastically changed their outlook. When you have him, all issues seem less pressing. No Morrill, Cotler, and Gaudet? They’ll have a heckuva lot of possessions to put the ball in the cage anyway. Goalie question marks? Whoever it is won’t need to make as many saves with the offense having the ball as much as they will. The face-off position in and of itself may be overstated in terms of value, but Ierlan isn’t it. He’s the Kwisatz Haderach of the position and maybe the sport.

There’s still high end talent to go along with him as well. Matt Brandau had started to inch past Jackson Morrill as the team’s primary dodger and attackmen and now has the offense at his feet. Chris Fake was back to being the guy who emerged as one of the best cover defenders in the country in 2018. And this has generally always been a team deep with talent. You trust Shay to mine it

Yale probably has the lowest ceiling of any team in the Top 10; it’s hard to see them breaking into the Top 5 the way a Denver, Penn State, or Georgetown could. But they also have the highest floor; it’s hard to seeing them fall too far either.

5. Virginia

Key returns/additions: A Matt Moore (19/15/34 in 6 games); M Payton Cormier (12/7/19 in 6 games); A Ian Laviano (11/3/14 in 6 games); D Jared Conners (28 GBs/7 CTs in 6 games); A Charlie Bertrand (18/5/23 in 6 games at Merrimack); M Dox Aitken (9/1/10 in 6 games)

Key losses: A Michael Kraus (14/12/26 in 6 games)

The talent here is obvious and it is impressive. Matt Moore isn’t underrated, but perhaps understated in terms of the production he generates. Payton Cormier is a complete match-up nightmare in every possible way from the midfield. Jared Conners is one of the best LSM’s in America, and Charlie Bertrand will round out a really balanced attack unit with Moore and Laviano. Oh and a two-time First Team All-American in Dox Aitken

There are still some questions here though. One, can Aitken get back to his best? He was shooting 21% when the season was cancelled and lacked the explosive dodging we’re used too. In addition, this was an offense that at times felt like it underachieved it’s potential in the 6-on-6. They were 44th in the country in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency and now they lose Kraus; who will not their best player or biggest match-up problem, was a steadying, consistent force for them that always seemed to make sure everything ran smoothly. Also; as we talked about during the season, this was a team that performed out of it’s skull in one-goal games in 2019; they lost their first one to Brown in their last game. It’s hard to maintain that for a 2nd straight year.

So there are questions that maybe preclude a higher ranking, but the talent and balance at both ends means the Cavs can certainly make a run at two consecutive national championships in 2021.

4. North Carolina

Key returns/additions: A Chris Gray (27/21/48 in 7 games); A Nicky Solomon (13/16/29 in 7 games); FO Zac Tucci (58% win percentage); M Tanner Cook (20/7/27 in 7 games) M Connor McCarthy (13/1/14 in 5 games at Princeton)

Key losses: None

The Heels will light up the scoreboard with the best of them in 2020. Chris Gray is a First Team All-American who dropped a preposterous near 7 points per game last year. Nicky Solomon broke out to join him in one of the nation’s most potent 1-2’s. Tanner Cook emerged from the midfield and will be joined by Princeton transfer Connor McCarthy, one of the best outside shooters the country has to offer. With multiple dodging and scoring threats at both attack and midfield, opponents aren’t going to be able to keep UNC from dropping big numbers in 2021. Joe Breschi also loves to play lots of guys and with a stacked recruiting class coming in, the Heels look like they’re recapturing the maelstrom of talent that they would throw at times for years there in the mid-aughts. They were 7-0 with a +8 average goal differential per game before the season was cut short.

Questions do remain about the defense. There wasn’t an obvious elite #1 defender on the team, and Caton Johnson was sub-50% save percentage. The dominant offense matched with Zac Tucci’s strong play at the X ensures it’ll take a lot of goals to beat UNC next year, but they gave up 50 goals in their last four games. That’ll be the thing to iron out if they’re to make a run at Memorial Day.

3. Maryland

Key returns/additions: A Logan Wisnauskas (24/12/36 in 6 games); M Anthony DeMaio (10/11/21); M Bubba Fairman (5/6/11 in 6 games); A Eric Holden (20/8/28 in 5 games at Hobart); M Griffin Brown (21/5/26 in 6 games at Colgate)

Key losses: Potentially Jared Bernhardt (20/9/29 in 6 games)

Jared Bernhardt’s status for 2021 still appears up in the air, but even without him Maryland boasts an offense as loaded as anyone’s in the country. The Terps are slated to have 2 of the Top 10 players in the country in goals per game from a year ago (Wisnauskas, Holden); 3 of the Top 20 with Griffin Brown in addition; and 2 of the Top 10 in points in Wisnauskas and Holden. Add in Anthony DeMaio who had 21 points in 6 games and was an All-American, and Bubba Fairman, who’s been an All-American, and you have an offense that is simply uncoverable. With Wisnauskas, Holden, Brown, DeMaio, and Fairman, one of those guys will be drawing a short stick and is capable of winning any of those match-ups. Throw in guys like Kyle Long, Daniel Maltz, and Jack Brennan who all had solid seasons and you have a deep offense as well.

There will be defensive questions as the Terps sagged in the 30’s in defensive efficiency; but Logan McNaney and Chris Brandau return after both having solid starts, as does the entire starting defense with added experience. Justin Shockey won 62% of his face-offs and returns as well. The only potential loss Maryland from last year’s team is Bernhardt. Without him, they’re Top 3. With him, they could rise further.

2. Syracuse

Key returns/additions: A Chase Scanlan (18/5/23 in 5 games); M Jamie Trimboli (17/3/20 in 5 games); M Brendan Curry (14/3/17 in 5 games); G Drake Porter (saved 57 percent)

Key losses: D Nick Mellen (All-American in 2019)

In the eyes of their fans, the Orange were unofficial national champions for 2020; and in 2021 they bring back the bulk of their squad to make a big time run at the official crown. Perhaps the best first midfield in the country from a year ago in Trimboli, Curry, and Dordevic all return; as does Chase Scanlan who helped take that offense to another level. If Owen Hiltz is able to contribute from Day 1 that would add just another threat to what is a deep and versatile Syracuse offense. David Lipka transferred out but Lucas Quinn and Jacob Buttermore both provide goals from the 2nd Midfield. Drake Porter is another All-American candidate who returns, and his stellar play in goal makes the Orange potentially as well-rounded as anyone in the country.

There are some questions on the defensive end with Nick Mellen not returning. He was injured for the remaining four games of their season but was their best cover man and with him out they’ll need someone else to step up and fill in that role. Some transfers such as Nick Hapney and Mitch Wykoff were added to provide depth at close D but it remains to be seen if either can step into that role.

Nonetheless, the Orange looked like one of, if not the best team in the country when the season came to a close and they have a deep, well balanced team to continue that ascent back to the top of the sport.

1. Duke

Key additions/returns: A Michael Sowers (16/31/47 in 5 games at Princeton); A Dyson Williams (26/4/30 in 8 games); D JT Giles-Harris (21 GBs/13 CTs in 8 games); G Mike Adler (59% save percentage at St. Joseph’s); A Philip Robertson (13/0/13 in 5 games at Princeton)

Key losses: None

This could simply be summed up with Michael Sowers, Michael Sowers, Michael Sowers. The Blue Devils added the best player in the sport and one of the greatest of all time. That alone instantly puts you in the conversation for this spot.

But it’s more than that. Duke needed an X attackmen. They got the best one in the sport. They needed a goalie. They got a First Team All-American in our eyes in Mike Adler. They return a former All-American in JT Giles-Harris on defense. The Blue Devils will roll out an offense next year that likely features Sowers, Robertson, and Williams in attack; who combined for 90 points a year ago. And then one with Owen Caputo, Nakeie Montgomery, and Brennan O’Neill at midfield. That’s 34 points from a year ago and one of the greatest recruits in the history of the sport. I haven’t even mentioned JP Basile, who had 19 points, or Cameron Badour, who had 15 points. If Joe Robertson returns, he likely features in a potentially unprecedented second attack unit alongside Basile and other options they have there...because they added his brother! He was Duke’s leading scorer in 2019! They don’t have room for a guy who scored 42 goals for them in the last completed season of D1 men’s lacrosse.

There are All-Americans all across the field here, there is depth and elite depth at that all over the field. There are, on paper, no real weaknesses in this team. The only thing that can stop this team from being one of the best in the country, if not the best is can all of this talent coalesce and come together with all this uncertainty and craziness? It’s a fair question. But an unanswerable one for now; and thus Duke is at the top of the queue to win their fourth national title in 2021.