We found out this much after eight first-round games: there will be a new NCAA lacrosse champion in 2013, after Loyola (Md.) fell to Duke in a double-overtime instant classic: there are still some blue-blood programs alive, but a first-time champion could still be crowned. We could also have the first champion from west of the Delaware Water Gap for the first time in history, with Notre Dame, Denver and Ohio State still alive. Here is a look ahead at the four games this weekend with a trip to Philadelphia on the line.
Cornell vs. No. 3 Ohio State: If this were a quarterfinal game a month ago, Cornell would have been wearing the white jerseys as the seeded team. If our friends in the desert had any interest in lacrosse, the Big Red would still be favored in this matchup, especially after Rob Pannell’s four-goal, three-assist performance in the first-round road win at Maryland. Pannell appeared to be hitting stride against the Terps, so the Buckeyes’ attempt to slow him down will be a major key. The Buckeyes have a dynamic offense as well. Led by Logan Schuss, they have scored double figures in all seven games of their current winning streak, averaging 14.5 a game in the last four. As much attention as people want to pay to Pannell, the key to this game will be Ohio State’s ability to handle Cornell’s pressure defense and not turn it over to give Pannell extra possessions.
Yale vs. No. 1 Syracuse Saturday, 3 p.m.: The Bulldogs will have a puncher’s chance to pull off the upset if Dylan Levings has a dominant day at faceoffs. Kevin Massa won 22 of 23 faceoffs for Bryant, which allowed the NEC champs to hang around with the Orange in the first round, but Syracuse was able to prevail. What makes Yale a tougher challenge could be its ability to score with a potent attack group spearheaded by Brandon Mangan. Mangan’s 61 points are the most ever by a Yale junior, but he and his teammates have not faced a defense as athletic, balanced and buttoned up as the way Syracuse’s.
Yale is athletic on defense as well, so it could be tough sledding for Tewaaraton award finalist Jo Jo Marasco and friends. Stop me if you have heard this before, but these two teams have combined to play 13 one-goal games, so it should go down to the wire.
No. 5 North Carolina vs. No. 4 Denver Sunday, noon: The Heels and Pioneers have plenty of history to draw from, as Denver won a fan-pleasing first-round matchup, 16-14, a year ago in Chapel Hill. The teams are different this year, but the keys remain the same: winning faceoffs and defensive stability. Denver’s Chase Carraro won 22 of 30 faceoffs last year, and his individual matchup with R.G. Keenan will go a long way in determining which team advances to Philly.
While the spotlight is deservedly given to the UNC attack led by Tewaaraton award finalist Marcus Holman, Carolina’s disciplined defense has fans thinking the school could win its first title since 1991. Freshman Kieran Burke has emerged as a first-rate stopper but Denver’s Wesley Berg, coming off an eight-goal performance against Albany, can change all that in a hurry on Sunday.
No. 7 Duke vs. No. 2 Notre Dame Sunday, 2:30 p.m.: The Irish might as well already be in the ACC as far as this rivalry is concerned, as the seniors on both teams prepare for their seventh meeting with each other. The good news for the Golden Domers is that they have won four of the six games. The bad news is that the two losses came in the 2011 quarterfinal game and, of course, in the 2010 title game, which ended with C.J. Costabile scoring off the faceoff in overtime. Both teams had to squeak out wins in the first round. The Irish rallied to avoid being upset by Detroit, while the Blue Devils ended Loyola’s reign as national champion in double overtime.
Notre Dame can finally slay the dragon from Durham in the postseason if it can turn defensive stops into offensive positions. If Duke is able to create unsettled opportunities in the riding game, the home-field advantage won’t play much of a role for Notre Dame.