Defined by defense

With 3 teams allowing fewer than 8 goals per game, this weekend could be marked by low-scoring affairs

NCAA men's final four Analysis

May 20, 2008|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN REPORTER

The four teams left in the NCAA Division I men's lacrosse tournament have gotten defensive.

Top seed Duke (18-1), third seed Syracuse (14-2) and fifth seed Johns Hopkins (10-5) rank in the top 20 in the country in average goals allowed -- with all three teams surrendering fewer than eight goals per game.

Second seed Virginia (14-3) is allowing 9.5 goals a game, but the Cavaliers gave up just one goal in the second half in Saturday's 8-7 win in overtime against seventh seed Maryland.

Opponents are averaging fewer than 34 shots against the final four, with Syracuse permitting just 27.6 shots.

Five of the past eight national champions have surrendered single-digit goals in the tournament final, and ESPN analyst and former Army coach Jack Emmer said he wouldn't be surprised if that trend continued after this weekend.

"I think teams that have been on top of late have been more outstanding defensive teams," Emmer said. "That would include the Hopkins and Princetons of the world from the last decade. But Virginia has always emphasized offense first. Syracuse has done that, too, but this year, they've got a better balance. They've put more of their eggs in the defensive basket, I think, even though they've got that offensive firepower. ... So I wouldn't go so far as to say that this is the year of the offense."

Here are some more observations about the quarterfinals and the final four:

Key figure to watch

Of the four goalkeepers expected to start this weekend, only Duke senior Dan Loftus has considerable tournament experience.

Virginia senior Bud Petit was a backup until usurping freshman Adam Ghitelman as the starter against North Carolina on April 5. Johns Hopkins sophomore Michael Gvozden (Severna Park) and Syracuse freshman John Galloway are close to wrapping up their first seasons as full-time starters.

This could put even more pressure on the Cavaliers, Blue Jays and Orange.

Spreading it around

Three of the four teams have strong similarities in the sources of their scoring.

Duke relies heavily on its starting attack of seniors Matt Danowski and Zack Greer and sophomore Max Quinzani - a trio that has combined for 54.9 percent of the Blue Devils' goals (162 of 295) and 54.0 percent of their points (252 of 467).

Virginia's history is built on imposing attacks, and this season is no different with senior Ben Rubeor (Loyola) and juniors Garrett Billings and Danny Glading recording 45.2 percent of the Cavaliers' goals (99 of 219) and 47.1 percent of their points (171 of 363).

Similarly, Syracuse's attack of senior Mike Leveille and juniors Greg Niewieroski and Kenny Nims has scored 43.6 percent of the Orange's goals (96 of 220) and 46.2 percent of the team's points (154 of 333).

On the flip side, the midfield of seniors Paul Rabil and Stephen Peyser and sophomore Michael Kimmel has paced Johns Hopkins. Rabil, Peyser and Kimmel have scored 38.3 percent of the Blue Jays' goals (61 of 159) and registered 40.8 percent of their points (95 of 233).

Looking to next year

The final four may look like a replay of previous years, but up-and-coming programs are threatening to break up the exclusive club.

Sixth seed Notre Dame had a 9-8 lead with 10:03 left in the fourth quarter before falling to Syracuse. Ohio State made its first appearance in a tournament quarterfinal, and Patriot League champion Colgate and Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference titlist Canisius qualified for the tournament for the first time.

"I think these teams -- with the exception of Duke -- really had to struggle to get here," Emmer said. "There's a very fine line now, and I think we're going to see more teams get to the final four. It looks the same on paper, but Virginia beats UMBC in the first round by a goal and wins by a goal in the second round. It hasn't been an easy road for them. Syracuse was taken to the end by Notre Dame."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

SCHEDULE

Friday

Division I women

Final Four

At Towson Northwestern (19-1) vs. Syracuse (18-2) 5 Penn (16-1) vs. Duke (13-7) 8:30

Saturday

Division I men

Final Four

At Foxborough, Mass. Virginia (14-3) vs. Syracuse (14-2) 12 Johns Hopkins (10-5) vs. Duke (18-1) 3

Sunday

Division II men

Championship

At Foxborough, Mass. N.Y.I.T. (12-1) vs. Le Moyne (15-1) 4:30

Division III men

Championship

At Foxborough, Mass. Salisbury (21-0) vs. SUNY Cortland (18-1) 1:30

Monday

Division I men

Championship

At Foxborough, Mass. Semifinal winners 1

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