It was a rollercoaster ride of a regular season, and many are expecting the unpredictability to continue in the postseason. One Hall of Fame coach believes there are as many 10-11 teams that can win it all, primarily because this field has the “softest” top four seeds in recent memory. This is all you need to know: three of the top four seeds have regular season losses to unranked programs Hobart, Hofstra and Fairfield. Ohio State, the No. 3 seed in the upcoming tournament, was only the No. 3 seed in its own conference tournament. With all that in mind, here is a breakdown of the first round.
Lehigh at No. 5 North Carolina Saturday, noon: The Tar Heels might be the top ranked team in all the polls, but the selection committee did not do North Carolina any favors by sending the Patriot League champion Mountain Hawks to Chapel Hill. Both teams have dynamic attack units with Marcus Holman leading the Heels and David DiMaria quarterbacking the Hawks, but this will be a street fight. UNC has won nine in a row, Lehigh has won seven straight, and the team that is tougher physically and mentally will keep its winning streak alive. Lehigh’s Matt Poillon has been the best goalie in the country over the last month of the season, and he may need to stand on his head for there to be an upset on Tobacco Road. This will be a tremendous clash to set the tone for the entire weekend.
Yale at No. 8 Penn State Saturday, 2:30 p.m.: Yale is coming off its second-straight Ivy League tournament championship and will need big games from faceoff specialist Dylan Levings and attackman Brandon Mangan to advance in the tournament for the first time since 1992. Levings was the MVP of the Ivy tournament after winning 19 of 23 in the title game against Princeton. Penn State was playing as well as any team in the country before stubbing its toe in the CAA final against Towson. Jeff Tambroni’s club is led on offense by a versatile attack unit of Shane Sturgis, Jack Forster, and TJ Sanders. On defense, the Nittany Lions have Austin Kaut, one of the best goalies in the country.
Detroit at No. 2 Notre Dame Saturday, 5 p.m.: When Notre Dame beat Ohio State on March 20 to improve to 5-1 with five wins over top 10 teams, I wrote that the Irish could spend the rest of the season on Mars and still make the tournament. The good news for the Domers is that I was right as those five wins were all over teams that are now seeded in the tournament. The bad news is that it appears the offense has indeed left the planet. Notre Dame could muster only seven goals in its last two games against Syracuse, and while Detroit comes in with a losing record, the Titans’ aggressive defense might not be a remedy for an offense looking for confidence.
Albany at No. 4 Denver Saturday, 7:30 p.m.: Cue up the David Thompson and Doctor J highlight reel, because this should be lacrosse’s version of an ABA All-Star Game. Albany led the nation in scoring during the regular season, putting up just more than 16 goals a game. With the Thompson trio leading the way, the Great Danes often score in creative fashion. Denver’s offense isn’t too shabby, either, scoring at a 12.3 goals per game clip. Both teams’ goalies have had big time performances during the year, and the one that is up to the task of facing the opponent’s barrage will emerge victorious. Chase Carraro’s ability to create instant offense off the faceoff for the Pioneers could be the X factor.
Cornell at No. 6 Maryland Sunday, 1 p.m.: This is the matchup most lacrosse aficionados are considering the most interesting of the weekend. On April 8 Maryland was the No. 1 team in the country and Cornell was No. 2, and now the two are meeting in the first round. Rob Pannell did not return to Ithaca for a fifth season to lose in the first round, so he will have a big game. Can the Big Red D stop a Maryland attack that appears to have come to life? The Terps put up 18 against Colgate last week. AJ Fiore has 36 career wins in the cage at Cornel, but Maryland’s Niko Amato has a reputation for playing big in crucial games.
Towson at No. 3 Ohio State Sunday, 3 p.m.: Towson has gone from opening the season with a loss to High Point, to bursting the bubble by winning the CAA tournament. The Tigers are playing with a sense of belief. Maybe the biggest surprise of the bracket is the respect the committee gave the Buckeyes, but OSU is playing well in every phase of the game. Logan Schuss sets the tone on the attack, and the first midfield group is a potent one with Jesse King and Dominique Alexander.
Loyola at No. 7 Duke Sunday, 5 p.m.: The Greyhounds are the defending champions, and the Blue Devils have advanced to championship weekend six straight years. Duke won the regular season game in March, 9-8, but these teams are completely different now. The battle on the faceoff wing between Scott Ratliff for Loyola and Luke Duprey for Duke is worth the price of your cable bill alone. Much like Cornell vs. Maryland, this is a game many would have expected to be played in Philadelphia, not on campus.
Bryant at No. 1 Syracuse Sunday, 7 p.m.: There have been times this season when Syracuse has appeared dominant, and the Orange certainly looked good in their last three games. The defense has improved from the beginning of the season, and Dominic Lamolinara has become more than solid in the cage while the offense has established a rhythm by balancing the attack and sharing the ball. That being said, this is not an easy first round draw. Bryant head coach Mike Pressler has plenty of NCAA tournament experience from his days at Duke, and he is bringing the Orange’s kryptonite with him in Kevin Massa, who was led the country by winning 71 percent of his faceoffs in the regular season.