Q&A with ESPN's Mark Dixon

Former Johns Hopkins midfielder offered his perspective on, among other topics, three teams that could challenge Notre Dame for the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament

April 29, 2013|By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun

ESPN analyst Mark Dixon, who provided color commentary for No. 7 Loyola’s 8-4 victory over No. 13 Johns Hopkins on Saturday, will handle play-by-play duties for the championship final of the America East tournament at Stony Brook this Saturday and then add analysis for the title game of the Ivy League tournament the next day. The former Blue Jays midfielder, who can be followed on Twitter @Dixonlacrosse, discussed No. 3 Notre Dame’s candidacy for the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, three teams that could challenge the Fighting Irish for that honor, and No. 16 Lehigh’s potency in the tournament.

I thought Notre Dame was a lock for the top seed in the NCAA tournament. How much does Saturday’s 10-4 loss to No. 11 Syracuse hurt the Fighting Irish’s bid for that honor?

I don’t think it hurts them monumentally. I have not seen the new RPIs. I think the new RPIs will come out today, and I think Notre Dame is still going to be in the top four. So I don’t think the loss to Syracuse is crippling. Now if they lose in the semifinals of the Big East tournament, that might be tough. That might knock them out of the top four. But again, they’re playing Syracuse who is in the NCAA tournament. I think Notre Dame is in the NCAA tournament as well. But I think the body of work that the Irish has put together is pretty impressive. So right now, if the tournament were to start today, I think they’re a top four seed. If they lose in the semifinals, we’ll see what that does. If they beat Syracuse, obviously that’s going to help them a lot. But then if they lose in the championship to either Georgetown or Villanova, they will have lost to a team that is going to be at best .500. So that could hurt them. So I think the loss to Syracuse isn’t crippling in terms of seeding for the NCAA tournament, but I think the Big East tournament potentially could be.

Which team should be the No. 1 seed in your opinion?

I think [No. 2] North Carolina could be the No. 1 seed depending on who does what this coming weekend. The Tar Heels are the [Atlantic Coast Conference] champions and No. 1 now in all of the polls. They were No. 1 in the [United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association] coaches poll last week, and now they’re No. 1 in the Inside Lacrosse media poll. Look, rankings don’t mean a thing. It’s all of those other criteria, but with the way Carolina has played and the wins they have now against [No. 1] Duke, [No. 4] Maryland – although they did lose to Notre Dame and they did lose to UMass – North Carolina could be the No. 1 seed. You also could be looking at Syracuse being the No. 1 seed. Let’s say [No. 5] Cornell and Notre Dame stumble and Syracuse wins the Big East [tournament], Syracuse could be the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. And then you have Cornell, and they can be No. 1. Their RPI last week was five. So I think it’s so tough because so much can happen. Who thought Siena was going to beat [No. 10] Albany last week? Who thought Virginia was going to beat Maryland in the ACC [tournament]? There are just so many upsets this late in the season that I think it’s just difficult to gauge.

One team that has already punched its ticket to the NCAA tournament is No. 16 Lehigh, which captured the Patriot League tournament and the automatic qualifier. How dangerous are the Mountain Hawks since the return of sophomore goalkeeper Matt Poillon on March 9 from an unspecified injury?

I think they’re a very dangerous team for two reasons. One, the defense has played incredibly well – this weekend in particular against two teams that have very, very good scorers. When you look at Colgate, they have [senior attackman and 2012 Tewaaraton Award winner] Peter Baum and [sophomore attackman] Ryan Walsh and when you look at [No. 18 Bucknell], they’ve got [sophomore midfielder] David Dickson and [freshman midfielder Thomas] Flibotte and some other guys that can really put the ball in the back of the net. They held them to seven goals for Colgate and five for Bucknell. So that’s impressive. That defense of [junior defenseman] Ty Souders, [senior defenseman] Baxter Lanius, [senior defenseman] Mike Noone and Matt Poillon in the goal is just terrific. The second thing that I think makes them that much more dangerous is they’ve got a year under their belt of being to the NCAAs. So they know what it means. They know what Selection Sunday is going to look like, and they know what the media is going to look like, and they know what practice is going to look like. So they’ve got that under their belts, and I think those two factors make Lehigh an incredibly dangerous team going into the NCAAs.

There are a few conference tournaments too close to call. Some are saying that the semifinal of Notre Dame and Syracuse is going to produce the winner of the Big East tournament. Fair assessment?

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