Duke is the team to beat in men's NCAA lacrosse tournament
In the race to the Final Four in Foxborough, Mass. there is Duke and then there are the 15 schools chasing the Blue Devils.
Senior attack Zack Greer set the NCAA national career record for goals scored (197) last Sunday. Fifth-year attackman Matt Danowski is on the verge of setting the all-time points mark. Both are among the five finalists for the Teewaraton Award, and the one-loss Dukies have won eight straight. So how comfortable are they with the bull's eye?
"I think there are 16 teams with bull's eyes this weekend," second year coach John Danowski says.
A year removed from its 12-11, title-game loss to Johns Hopkins and free of any off-field distractions, the Dukies are a favorite to reach their third Final Four in the last four years and take home their first national title. "I think what goes underrated a bit with all the numbers is their defense," says Army coach Joe Alberici, who faced six of 16 tournament teams including Duke. "They're the most balanced team out there."
Looking to break the equilibrium is a field of challengers -- which does not include Georgetown, the lone team to defeat Duke in the regular season -- that would love to topple the Blue Devils. "This might be a year where offense, not defense wins the title," says LehIgh coach and former Duke assistant Kevin Cassese, who faced five NCAA teams during the regular season.
Joining Duke in the top tier are the usual suspects. Second-seeded Virginia is looking for redemption following last season's first-round exit. Defending champion Johns Hopkins -- which returns much of its roster from last year -- struggled through a five-game, mid-season losing streak only to find its stride in winning its last five contests. Back among the establishment is Syracuse, and the Orange will play for their eighth championship. All are viable title contenders, but their place at the starting line is behind Duke.
Cornell (11-3) vs. Ohio State (10-5)
Last year the Big Red were three seconds from forcing overtime against Duke in the national semifinal when Greer scored the game-winning goal. Back in the tournament with first-year starter senior Jake Myers in the cage -- the Ivy representative will rely on sophomore Ryan Hurley (3.14 goals per game) and senior defender John Glynn (1.64 assists per game) for offense. If Myers is not up to the challenge, though, the Buckeyes could roll to an upset with the nation's fourth best offense (13.27 goals a game).
Johns Hopkins (8-5) vs. Hofstra (10-5)
The defending national champions have enjoyed highs (five straight wins) and lows (five straight losses) this season. Those ups and downs came throughout a schedule that included matches against nine tournament teams in 13 games. Whether they can win four straight games to end the season is the question, but they should ease by a young Hofstra squad at home.
Syracuse (12-2) vs. Canisius (10-5)
Back in the mix after a lean three-year stretch, Syracuse is powered by Teewaraton Award finalist Steve Leveille, who has at least one point in each of his last 53 games. Seeking an eighth title in program history, the Orange should be rude hosts to the Golden Griffins, who are making their first NCAA appearance.
Notre Dame (13-2) vs. Colgate (11-5)
The Irish are playing their best down the stretch and are coming off back-to-back weekend wins over Ohio State. With a 3-2 record against the tourney field, the Irish, who are on a six-game winning streak face a tough test against the Patriot League champs -- winners of seven straight. While Colgate junior Brandon Corp (54 points) is the leader of the Raiders attack, senior attack Matt Lalli (45 points) and senior midfielder Chris Eck (80 ground balls) are stars in their own right.
North Carolina (8-5) vs. Navy (9-5)
Don't tell the Tar Heels that this is the opening round. For the last six games -- both in the regular season and continuing into the ACC tournament -- UNC has faced tournament competition, going 2-4. Now facing elimination, the powder blues are looking to repeat last year's first-round win over the Midshipmen. Despite losing their last three games, Navy could be a handful for the Heels.
Duke (16-1) vs. Loyola (7-6)
Though Greer and Danowski deservedly garner the headlines -- Duke would not have won eight straight without the play of senior long stickman Nick O'Hara and face-off fiend sophomore Terrence Molinari. Goalkeeper Dan Loftus has been a key cog in the Blue Devils machine, as well, and Max Quinzani -- a Duxbury, Mass. native -- is looking to win a title back home.
Maryland (9-5) vs. Denver (10-6)
The Terps (3-4 against the field) are on upset alert. Though the Pioneers ventured east for games against UMBC and Towson in April and returned west with two losses they picked up much-needed experience. The Canadian connection of Ontario native Jamie Lincoln (51 points) and British Columbia's Cliff Smith (38 points) should pair up to be a tough challenge for the Terps.
Virginia (12-3) vs. UMBC (12-3)
With two of their three losses having come against Duke, the Cavs want another shot at the Blue Devils. Both tested (eight games against tourney teams) and tough (three overtime wins over tourney teams), the ACC's No. 2 team will be out to advance to the quarterfinals after losing to Delaware in last year's first round. Teewaraton finalist Ben Rubeor (45 points) is the X factor on offense. The Cavs should not look ahead, though. After starting the season 1-3, the Retrievers have won 11 straight.