This era of lacrosse is defined by over-coaching and micromanagement. It'll be refreshing to witness a game in which both coaches are willing to step aside and let their players run free.
"I will tell our players to enjoy this moment," Virginia coach Dom Starsia said.
"This is one of those games that you don't obsess about the result.
"Whether we win, or they win," Starsia said, "it won't impact our long-range goals."
What to watch for
Virginia at Syracuse (ESPNU, Today, 6 p.m.)
"There is nothing like going to the [Carrier] Dome," said Starsia during our ESPNU production call. "It's special for our kids and the program to play in this game."
Syracuse goalie John Galloway echoed Starsia's sentiment, "I watched the 1997 game between Syracuse and Virginia as a fan. It was 22-21. We respect the way they play the game."
Virginia has won the past three regular-season games in the series, each time by a goal. But the Orange won an overtime nail-biter in the 2008 NCAA semifinal on their way to the title. "We have a chip on our shoulder," said Galloway. "We have a lot riding on this game."
The game features Virginia standouts Steele Stanwick, Chris Bocklet, and twins Shamel and Rhamel Bratton. Syracuse counters with a loaded senior class, seven athletes who were drafted by Major League Lacrosse in January. The Orange headliners are John Lade, Joel White, Jovan Miller, Stephen Keough, Jeremy Thompson, Josh Amidon, and Galloway.
Virginia must take quality shots against Galloway. "We have to put the ball on the cage, and work for the best available shot, not the first available shot," said Starsia.
The inexperienced Cavaliers defense will be tested by sophomore JoJo Marasco, an explosive dodger who is unpredictable and creative. "We have to be able to match-up with Marasco," said Starsia. "He's their best penetrator and catalyst."
This Syracuse team, unlike most in the schools history, is renowned for defense. "We have to funnel Shamel and Rhamel Bratton to weak angle shots and never lose sight of Steele Stanwick [Loyola] and Chris Bocklet," said Syracuse coach John Desko.
The difference may be the 16,000 fans in the Dome for Friday happy hour. It's a building with ear-piercing acoustics and poor sight lines, where opposing goalies are routinely lit up like a Christmas tree.
Princeton at Johns Hopkins (ESPNU, Saturday 1 p.m.)
Preparing for Princeton's "pairs" offense is a unique challenge. The Tigers use an offensive system that includes heavy doses of the pick and roll. "How do we defend the ball carrier and how do we defend off-ball are two dilemmas," said Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala. "They vacate the crease and occupy defensemen away from the ball, which makes supporting difficult."
Princeton has injuries on attack, as standouts Jack and Chris McBride are questionable. Princeton puts a premium on defense, relying on shredders Chad Wiedmaier, Long Ellis, John Cunningham and Jonathan Meyers to protect lefty goalie Tyler Fiorito (McDonogh). "We have to find ways to score outside of half-field offense," said Pietramala. "We will push transition, and have to be opportunistic with the extra man."
This game smells like a low-scoring defensive battle.
Ivy's look to make a big bang
Penn is the most improved team in the country after a 5-8 campaign in 2010. The Quakers followed their 7-3 win over Duke with a Tuesday triumph against Bucknell, solidifying their Top 20 status.
"Our biggest improvement has been on the defensive end," said second-year coach Mike Murphy. "Brett Hughes limited Zach Howell [Duke] and Charlie Streep [Bucknell] to a combined one point. But it's really been a team effort with contributions from long-pole Will Koshansky [LSM], defender Maxx Meyer and goalie Brian Feeney."
Al Cohart and Corey Winkoff have been Penn's top two weapons on offense. Penn hasn't been lighting up the scoreboard and it's going have to scratch and claw if they're going to beat Ivy heavyweights Cornell and Princeton.
Harvard at Hofstra
The Pride took down Princeton last Saturday behind four extra-man goals and a sustained 60-minute effort. "We won the little games within the big game," said Hofstra coach Seth Tierney. It was a very meaningful win considering the Pride's low out-of-conference strength of schedule.
Hofstra will try to limit attackman Dean Gibbons, who seems to be involved in every Crimson goal. "Harvard beat Princeton and UMass last year, so they have our attention," said Tierney. "We can not afford to take a step backward." Hofstra rode the roller-coaster last spring, beating Hopkins and dropping games to non-NCAA qualifiers UMass, Drexel and Penn State. Let's see how they handle success.
Brown at UMass
UMass is off to a sharp start, posting home wins over Army and Ohio State. The Minutemen have a little bit of everything in a year in which most of the Top 20 teams have obvious strengths but a glaring weakness.