Eight teams, one shot to get to championship weekend

May 19, 2011|By Quint Kessenich, Special to The Baltimore Sun

The quarterfinals are the payoff round. Four games over two days. Eight teams with their eyes on one destination. The memory of a lifetime awaits the winners in Baltimore next weekend. It's the dream of every youth player in America to play in college on championship weekend in front of 60,000 fans. That's why winning the quarterfinals so important. It makes your season. Nobody remembers quarterfinal losers.

Let's take a closer look at NCAA Division I quarterfinals:

Virginia (7) vs. Cornell (2) — Saturday, noon, ESPN2

The hook: This game features the Big Red's Rob Pannell and the Cavaliers' Steele Stanwick, two of the premier attackmen in college. Virginia coach Dom Starsia is tied atop the all-time Division I wins list with Jack Emmer at 326.

Background: This is quarterfinal role reversal for the Cavaliers, who historically have been the higher seed in this round. Virginia has been through the wringer the past 12 months, and their come-from-behind victory over Bucknell would not have been possible without the sacrifices that the captains welcomed this year. Playing without Shamel and Rhamel Bratton has tightened team chemistry, and the Wahoos still have high school All-Americans everywhere you look.

Cornell is on an 11-game winning streak since losing to the Cavaliers on March 12 and is trying to earn its fourth trip to championship weekend in the past five years. First-year coach Ben DeLuca has continued to foster the worker bee mentality. Cornell has remained accountable only to itself, applying equal parts passion, intelligence and discipline.

What could make the difference: Cavs goalie Adam Ghitelman has been the glue on the defensive end, seamlessly switching his teammates in and out of multiple defenses, including a zone, which was born out of necessity when defender Matt Lovejoy injured his shoulder. For Virginia to win, it must shoot a high percentage, win the faceoff and goaltending stats, and apply its team speed and athleticism to ground-ball dominance. If Cornell wins the hustle stats, it could be a long afternoon for the Cavs.

My gut says: The Big Red will try to fleece the Cavs' 38th-rated scoring defense, which isn't built to stop a player like Pannell.

Denver vs. Johns Hopkins — Saturday, 2:30 p.m., ESPN2

The hook: Pioneers coach Bill Tierney and Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala of Johns Hopkins are icons who have combined for 51 playoff wins.

Background: Tierney has quickly built Denver into a national contender. The Pioneers can light up the scoreboard with their unconventional offense; they have a talented faceoff man in Chase Carrero and a freshman goalie, Jamie Faus, who has become a game-changer.

The Blue Jays ride a nine-game winning streak into Saturday's showdown. The blueprint for success is simple: Hopkins Matt Dolente controls faceoffs at an alarming rate, goalie Pierce Bassett outplays his foe, and the Jays' offensive armada spreads the wealth using power dodges and crisp passing.

What could make the difference: Denver's attackman Mark Matthews is averaging 4.1 points per game. The Canadian lefty is a combination of John Grant Jr. and Zack Greer, and is the best offensive player Hopkins has faced this year.

My gut: Something has to give in the faceoff category. I'll be surprised if both don't have success on offense.

Syracuse vs. Maryland — Sunday, noon, ESPNU

The hook: The Orange and the Terps have sensational senior classes. One group will clean out its lockers for the final time, while the other will take a step closer to the gold trophy.

Background: The Orange's seniors have won more games than any class in school history, including two NCAA titles in 2008 and 2009. Scoring goals doesn't always come easy for the Orange, but its defense is ruthless with John Lade, Brian Megill, Joel White and goalie John Galloway.

The quarterfinal round is Maryland's kryptonite. The Terps' seniors have only been spectators at championship weekend, struggling to meet unrealistic expectations. They have been inconsistent in 2011, beating Virginia and Duke while dropping winnable games to Hopkins and Colgate. Maryland first-year coach John Tillman is modest, enjoying the role of the underdog this week.

What could make the difference: Maryland has the potential to win faceoffs and dominate time of possession. If draw man Curtis Holmes gets hot and goalie Niko Amato makes a dozen saves, Syracuse will be vulnerable. But the Orange thrive in this environment; the school has won an astounding 25 straight quarterfinal games and is 15-1 after close shaves with Georgetown, Hopkins and Villanova.

My gut: Both teams play rock-solid defense, and neither is afraid of long possessions. It'll be difficult to say goodbye to one of these senior classes. This game projects to be a tight, low-scoring affair.

Duke vs. Notre Dame — Sunday, 2:30 p.m., ESPNU

The hook: This is a rematch of the 2010 NCAA final, a 6-5 overtime win by the Blue Devils.

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