Quint Kessenich: 10 pertinent questions

March 24, 2011|By Quint Kessenich, Special to The Baltimore Sun

There are just 67 days until the national championship game on Memorial Day. In real life, that's a blink of an eye. But for teams with an eye on the prize, 67 days can seem like an eternity.

2011 has been an unpredictable season. There are only two undefeated teams in Division I lacrosse. In 67 days, we will have answers to 10 pending questions.

1. Can Virginia's defense play well enough to win a national title?

The Cavs' offense is the nation's top-rated unit, averaging 14.3 goals per game behind Steele Stanwick, Chris Bocklet, Shamel Bratton and Colin Briggs. But Coach Dom Starsia knows his back line must improve. "We have to tighten some things up," said Starsia. "On defense, we are getting by, as opposed to getting better."

2. Does Syracuse have any penetrators on offense?

Syracuse has struggled in half-field scenarios, especially against zone defenses. The Orange continue to look for ways to draw double teams with an offensive lineup short on penetrators and explosive dodgers. Jojo Marasco wasn't on the field during crucial possessions against Hopkins last week, and their extra-man unit has not been snappy.

3. Is Notre Dame's offense capable of standing toe-to-toe with the nation's best?

If the Irish score nine goals they can beat everybody not named Syracuse or Virginia. My gut tells me they'll need to score double digits to beat the big boys, and that won't be easy for a team ranked No. 31 in scoring offense and getting little input from headliners Zach Brenneman (injury) and David Earl. Since 1971, only six of the 40 NCAA winners have scored less than 10 goals in the title game.

4. Is North Carolina tough enough to make a run into deep May?

Heels coach Joe Breschi shuffled the deck on Tuesday night in a win against Dartmouth by starting two new defenders and Steve Rastivo between the pipes. Rastivo is an upgrade, and the Heels have a slick attack with Billy Bitter, Nicky Galasso and Marcus Holman. The major concern is ground balls. UNC is minus-13.5 in ground ball margin in two defeats. That stat reflects a lack of toughness and hustle.

5. Can Maryland generate goals from the midfield?

It's essential that midfielders Drew Snider, Jake Bernhardt and John Haus become productive. The Terps will benefit from the return of multiple-tasker Dan Burns.

6. Is the loss of first line midfielders Steve Serling and Drew Coholan insurmountable for Hofstra?

My hunch says it isn't. Kevin Ford, Brad Loizeaux and Ian Braddish must step up. An additional midfield injury would be devastating. Hofstra was a first-round loser in 2010 and appears stronger defensively and in the goal in 2011. The CAA is a league that defies prognostication.

7. Stony Brook had elevated preseason expectations. Can they bounce back from losses to Virginia, Towson and Cornell?

Any chance for an at-large bid is long gone. The Seawolves remain the lukewarm favorite to grab the America East automatic qualifier, but would enter the NCAA tournament unseeded, on the road and without a signature win. Midfielder Kevin Crowley makes them a potential bracket buster in May.

8. After a sluggish start, Duke is in the midst of a run. How far can they take it?

The Blue Devils tangle with Syracuse on April 3 in the Meadowlands. That'll be a litmus test, in a game well worth the ticket price. Duke lost to Notre Dame and Penn early, but made subtle lineup changes, and has caught fire beating Maryland, Loyola and North Carolina. Freshmen Jordan Wolf, Christian Walsh and Chris Hipps have made an immediate impact.

9. Cornell's Rob Pannell is the nation's premiere player, averaging a staggering 5.7 points per game. The question is, do the Big Red have the complimentary players to earn a trip to Baltimore on Memorial Day weekend?

Cornell ran with Virginia for three quarters — which was promising — before tiring and self-destructing. They've responded by topping Yale and Stony Brook and are the Ivy League favorites with Princeton banged up and sputtering. David Lau, Steve Mock, Roy Lang, Jack Dudley, Mike O'Neil, and Mitch McMichael determine their future.

10. At 7-1, is Villanova legit?

I spoke with Wildcats coach Michael Corrado on my ESPNU podcast (ESPNU.com) this week and he said this Saturday night's game at home against Syracuse is the biggest in program history. Villanova enjoys close shaves, having won four games by slim margins (Lehigh, Drexel, Penn and Princeton). Kevin Cunningham and Jack Rice are a formidable duo, and midfield defender Brian Karalunas is a disruptive force. He plays like the Tasmanian Devil. I get the feeling that the Big East will garner three NCAA bids (Syracuse, Notre Dame and Villanova) this spring.

Quint Kessenich covers lacrosse for the ESPN networks and writes a column each Friday during lacrosse season for The Baltimore Sun.

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