No one on the Duke men's lacrosse team is using the P-words - "playoffs" and "panic."
Crowned by several analysts as the top-ranked team in preseason polls, the Blue Devils squeaked past Bucknell in overtime before falling to Notre Dame in their first two games of the season.
But No. 6 Duke (2-1), which meets No. 7 Maryland (2-0) in the first game of the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic at M&T Bank Stadium today, isn't sounding the alarm.
"It's not like we're down on ourselves or anything," junior defenseman Michael Manley said. "We go out every day and work hard, look at the film and look at what we did wrong, and then go out and fix that. We don't overreact. It's still early in the season."
Added coach John Danowski: "We lost one game. ... We lost to a really good team that was undefeated last year and has a lot of players back."
But fans and analysts have seen this scenario before: a Duke team brimming with talent and experience falling short of the NCAA title. The program has reached the final four in each of the past three season but lost in the semifinals twice (2008 and 2009) and the finals once (2007).
That inability to break through has been on the minds of the players, senior attackman Ned Crotty acknowledged.
"It's something we're all thinking of, and something we really don't want to repeat," he said. "People have criticized us for not winning the big game, and they're right. Last year was probably the only time people expected us not to be there. It's definitely something that everybody has thought about. But it's by no means a lock that we're going to get there. ... If we're fortunate to get that far, I think it's something we would definitely want to correct."
Jockeying with reigning national champion Syracuse for top billing this preseason, Duke returned seven starters, including its entire attack of Crotty (a Division I-best 78 points and 55 assists last year), senior Max Quinzani (46, 11) and junior Zach Howell (29, 19).
That trio leads the offense in scoring again. But unlike in previous seasons, the defense has struggled. Fifth-year senior defenseman Dan Theodoridis is starting for the first time, freshmen David Lawson and Jake Tripucka are two of the top four short-stick defensive midfielders, and freshman Dan Wigrizer is acclimating to his role as starting goalkeeper.
Duke slipped past No. 17 Bucknell, 12-11, in overtime in the teams' season opener Feb. 13, but the Blue Devils' troubles became apparent a week later when then-No. 8 Notre Dame scored the first two goals and never trailed en route to an 11-7 upset in Durham, N.C.
Duke rebounded with a 16-11 thumping of Pennsylvania last Saturday, but Crotty said the team has struggled at times.
"People have high expectations, and I think some guys on the team are trying to live up to those expectations as opposed to just playing the game," Crotty said. "We have not played up to our potential yet. Like the articles have said, we have all this talent, all this experience, all this leadership, and we really haven't put it together yet. Against UPenn, we had flashes here and there of how good we can be, and that's how we ended the game. We ended the fourth quarter really strong and pulling away. Hopefully, we can keep that ball rolling and take that momentum into this weekend against Maryland."
Danowski and the players emphasized that there are still 13 games left - and maybe 14 if the team reaches the finals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament - which gives them plenty of time to fix any problems.
"Every team I've ever coached is a work in progress, and I don't think this is any different from any other one that I've seen," Danowski said. "There are just some things that you're not going to do and you're not ready to do at this time of the year individually or as a group, and you have to learn how to do that. Film is the best teacher, and experience is the best teacher. Every day, you hope to improve and get better."
Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic
Today@M&T Bank Stadium
•No. 6 Duke
vs. No. 7 Maryland, 11 a.m.
•No. 8 Princeton
vs. No. 5 Johns Hopkins, 1:30 p.m.
•No. 4 Notre Dame
vs. No. 10 Loyola, 4 p.m.