Quint Kessenich: Virginia-Cornell highlights weekend

March 10, 2011|By Quint Kessenich, Special to The Baltimore Sun

This weekend features crucial games across the landscape of college lacrosse, including a triple-header in Baltimore. March means we are separating the contenders from the pretenders.

Virginia vs. Cornell (Saturday, 1:30, p.m., ESPNU)

I asked Virginia coach Dom Starsia what a defensive focal point will be. "How we manage the Rob Pannell matchup," he said, referring to the junior attackman who averages 6.0 points per game and will be covered by Matt Lovejoy. "Do we slide or not slide? Do we press out adjacent or drop into the inside passing lanes, inviting the 14-yard step-down shots." Pannell had six assists on Wednesday in a win over Canisius.

Virginia's Player of the Year candidate Shamel Bratton has been on fire, scoring 11 goals in his past two outings. Starsia sees his star maturing. "He is watching more film, and putting the ball on cage," Starsia said.

Shamel and his talented twin Rhamel, have scored a combined 129 career goals for the Cavaliers. Oddly, they have only assisted each other three times. They are a thrill to watch.

Rookie Cornell coach Ben Deluca is battling injuries to three starters (Steve Mock, Max Feely, David Lau), and isn't preparing to have them in uniform. So the margin for error appears slim for Cornell. Goalie A.J. Fiore must snap out of his early season slump (.467 save percentage). But never count out the Big Red out.

UMBC vs. Johns Hopkins (Saturday, 4 p.m., espn3.com)

If this game plays to script, Hopkins will fend of a feisty UMBC team and prevail late, capitalizing on a UMBC defense that surrenders 11.67 goals per game and only makes 43 percent of the saves.

But what will it mean? The Blue Jays have proven they can beat everybody except the elite teams such as Syracuse, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and Princeton. Hopkins has lost nine of their past 10 games to top 10 opposition. Dating back to 2006, Hopkins is 16-21 against the top 10.

Ground balls have been the major theme for the past two years. The data is staggering. In their past 11 wins, the Jays have a plus-6.2 advantage in ground ball margin, but a whopping minus-9.9 differential in losses. Team speed, toughness and smarts have been lacking against the big boys.

Syracuse vs. Georgetown (Saturday, 11 a.m., ESPNU)

The Orange are ripe after an emotional win over Virginia in the Carrier Dome. Syracuse senior Stephen Keough (105 career goals) sported a Mohawk haircut Friday for that game. I spoke with him on Tuesday on the ESPNU podcast, and he's going to shave it bald prior to the Georgetown contest. The Hoyas forgot to cover the Canadian sniper last year in a five-goal outbreak. "My man slid to the ball carrier, and I was wide open," he said. Keough is automatic from in close, relying on slick stick fakes and pinpoint placement. His senior class is 48-6 and sports two NCAA title rings.

The Hoyas are the poster child for bad defense in 2011, allowing 57 goals in four games. "Dan Hostetler and Bobby Boyle have a class on Tuesday, and they miss practice. We are looking into solutions. It impacts our preparation," said coach Dave Urick.

Georgetown must be respected because they have firepower. "We're going to do what we do best, but you roll the dice against Syracuse in a track meet." This Big East battle may break the scoreboard.

North Carolina at Princeton (Tonight, 7, p.m., ESPNU)

This is a pivotal game involving top 10 teams. Carolina beat Penn on Tuesday and Princeton has momentum after holding Hopkins to three goals. "Great goalie play is critical," said UNC coach Joe Breschi."We have to get ground balls in our defensive end and limit their second chance opportunities. On offense, we have to be able to handle their on-ball pressure and attack their hedge slides."

The faceoff battle is the X factor. Princeton sends out sophomore Jeff Froccaro, while the Heels counter with R.G. Keenan, a freshman who has put up gaudy numbers.

How do the baby Tar Heel midfielders handle life on the road, and can they find ways to score on Tigers goalie Tyler Fiorito?

Loyola at Duke (Friday, 7 p.m.)

The Greyhounds own wins over unranked Towson, Navy and Bellarmine by a combined five goals and have struggled to find the net. They prefer a pedestrian pace. Duke must score in transition, from Dan Wigrizer saves and faceoff wins by CJ Costabile. But a year ago, the Greyhounds' John Schiavone won 13 of 17 faceoffs. Loyola's defense has been superb in settled situations, allowing only 5.3 goals.

Ohio State at Albany(Saturday, noon)

This match-up features two middle of the road teams. The winner takes a huge step forward, and the loser joins the group of wannabees ranked between No. 15 and No. 30. Albany upset previously undefeated UMass on Tuesday behind 17 saves from Edmund Cathers. The Great Danes are fun to watch because they don't hold back and they push the tempo. The Buckeyes have beaten UNC and Penn State but don't score at a rapid pace.

Maryland at Towson (Saturday, noon, Ch. 2, espn3.com)

How will Maryland attack Towson's zone defense? It's a Tigers unit performing miracles in front of goalie Travis Love, who leads the nation in save percentage (.667). ESPNU analyst Mark Dixon said, "Maryland has to spread them out, move shooters Grant Catalino and Travis Reed around." Dixon will be covering the game and has seen Towson twice. "Terps must feature lots of motion and cuts, and skip the ball from wing to wing. They have to get the ball inside."

Eventually they will crack the code. Utilizing a zone defense in lacrosse is slow death. As a changeup, I love it. Syracuse in 2004 and Virginia in 2003 mixed it in perfectly with their base man-to-man scheme. But no team has won an NCAA title in the modern area while playing exclusively zone defense.

Quint Kessenich covers lacrosse for the ESPN networks and will be at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday for the triple-header.

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