December 21, 2010

Analysis: Top 10 Snubs in Lacrosse Magazine's Division I Rankings

by Matt DaSilva | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

Penn State did not make LM's preseason top 20, but Matt Mackrides and company "can be scary," said one rival coach.

© Mark Selders

Lacrosse Magazine released its 2011 preseason college rankings Monday. Even after consulting coaches and compiling the top 20 for NCAA Division I men's lacrosse the last few years, the exercise remains something of a crapshoot at the sport's highest level.

Take the 2010 rankings, for example. Sure, we were spot on with Duke at No. 1, followed by Syracuse, Virginia and North Carolina. All of those teams were the nation's top- or second-ranked team at some point in the season.

But Johns Hopkins at No. 5? Yikes. Who would have known Chris Boland would wind up in Dave Pietramala's doghouse and then shelved with a season-ending ACL injury? Or that the Blue Jays would turn to a host of freshmen, including in goal, to barely qualify for the NCAA tournament? Hopkins finished 7-8 after getting pasted by Duke in the first round, its first losing record since 1971.

We didn't buy into Notre Dame's 15-1 campaign in 2009, either. The Irish were ranked No. 10, behind three teams (No. 8 Maryland, No. 7 Princeton and No. 6 Cornell) it beat en route to the national championship game. Doh!

The real fun starts in the 10-15 range. After the top 10, we had Harvard, UMBC, Navy, Georgetown and Brown -- all busts. Harvard and Brown teased us with some big Ivy League upsets, but ultimately underwhelmed.

At 16-20, we showed some gumption and it paid off. Loyola looked OK at No. 16, and no one's blaming us for slotting UMass at No. 17. Stony Brook, we thought, was a flier at No. 18. Turns out we sold the Seawolves short. We thought Bill Tierney would lead No. 19 Denver to a drastic turnaround, and he did. Bucknell had the talent at No. 20, but had hard luck in close games.

Hindsight is 20-20. Let's look ahead to 2011. Who's overrated, underrated and missing entirely in the Division I top 20?

OVERRATED

Princeton
Granted, these rankings were compiled before Mike Chanenchuk withdrew from the university for the spring semester. The No. 6-ranked Tigers will certainly miss the Ivy League Rookie of the Year's explosiveness from the midfield. But even before that, one rival coach raised a valid point undercutting Princeton's box lacrosse-style offense it has adopted under second-year coach Chris Bates. "They're doing a lot of the things that Stony Brook does," he said, "but they're doing it without Canadians." Translation: it's easier to defend the Tigers' two-man games, picks, slips and rolls because American players don't execute them as well.

Georgetown
The Hoyas have been overrated the last three years. They haven't made the NCAA tournament since 2007. Somehow, coaches and media remain optimistic about them, even after they lost their feeder (Craig Dowd) and top two midfielders (Scott Kocis and Andrew Brancaccio). I'm a big Barney Ehrmann fan. He's the best long stick middie this side of Syracuse. But still, Georgetown at No. 15? Everyone is confounded by the Hoyas' recent struggles. One rival Big East coach we asked to comment on Georgetown simply replied, "Who knows?"

Stony Brook
Look, I'm just as pumped as everyone else to see some new blood in the top five. I'm equally as enthused about Kevin Crowley's surge to the top as LM's Division I Preseason Player of the Year. The college ranks haven't had a middie this good since Paul Rabil graduated. But I would more realistically rank the Seawolves in the 7-10 range. They are as questionable on defense as they are loaded on offense. They are unproven in goal and will sorely miss long stick midfielder Steven Waldeck. The glass-half-full part of me, however, sees a Stony Brook team that's a lot like Delaware's final four team of 2007. Great faceoff man (Delaware '07: Alex Smith; Stony Brook '11: Adam Rand), proven Canadian talent at both midfield (Delaware '07: Jordan Hall; Stony Brook '11: Kevin Crowley) and attack (Delaware '07: Curtis Dickson; Stony Brook '11: Jordan McBride) and uncertainty elsewhere. As Delaware proved then, if your offense keeps putting up points after your faceoff man keeps getting it possessions, anything is possible.

UNDERRATED

Notre Dame
How much of the Irish's Cinderella run through the 2010 NCAA tournament can be attributed to Scott Rodgers? The answer to that question will go a long way to determining if Notre Dame can sustain its success without him in 2011. Sophomore John Kemp will step in the cage and, after hearing this nod of approval from the big fella himself and considering how good they are at midfield, I'm inclined to think we underrated the Irish at No. 7.

Johns Hopkins
Pierce Bassett broke out in a big way with 20 saves against Loyola to get Hopkins into the NCAA tournament. Even though he got lit up by Duke, he's considered a rising star at the goalkeeper position. The Blue Jays also freed themselves of two malcontents when brothers Tom and Matt Palasek were granted their release to transfer in the offseason. (Matt went to UMass; Tom is rumored to be headed to Syracuse.) Hopkins should benefit from all the experience its young players received during a trying 2010 season. It's the perfect setup for coach Dave Pietramala, who loves to claim no one is giving his team a chance. With the Jays ranked No. 12, he'll get just that opportunity.

Army
The Black Knights' first-round upset of Syracuse has been unfairly cast aside as an anomaly. But Army's undefeated run through the Patriot League, the deepest any-given-Saturday conference in Division I, speaks to a more systematic improvement. Tom Palesky is one of the nation's top goalies and a game-changer. Big man Garret Thul is the cheese to Jeremy Boltus' macaroni on attack, the two boasting the ability to light up any given opponent on command. And then there's that whole military academy thing. Army's not about to let its guard down. No slouch at No. 11, but the Knights could easily be top 10.

TOP 10 SNUBS

If these rankings ran strictly as a poll, these are the teams you would likely see in the "others receiving votes" field. But these teams aren't just footnotes. They are legitimate contenders.

1. Bryant
The Bulldogs lurk in the shadows no longer. Bryant has officially reclassified and will contend for the new Northeast Conference championship. This is a team that beat Army and lost by just one goal to North Carolina and Stony Brook en route to a 12-5 season. There's continuity in leadership, starting with Mike Pressler at the top and continuing with two-time captain Anthony Ianello on the field, a two-year starter in goal in Jameson Love and a rising star in midfielder Evan Roberts.

2. Bucknell
The Bison are very strong defensively, and faceoff man Jake Clarke (.617) is arguably the best in the nation. They were 1-5 in one-goal games in 2010. If Bucknell fares better in such affairs, and finds a way to account for the loss of Austin Winter, it could easily be a top-15 team.

3. Robert Morris
Another team looking to take advantage of new Northeast Conference rivalries, RMU has no qualms scoring. The Colonials averaged over 15 goals a game with an up-and-down offense featuring Canadians Trevor Moore, Corbyn Tao-Brambleby and Kyle Matisz. Of the 230 goals RMU scored, 224 were accounted for by players who return this year. Who knows? Maybe the Colonials have learned how to play defense.

4. Penn State
Can Jeff Tambroni effect the kind of immediate turnaround that Tierney did at Denver and Joe Breschi did at North Carolina? In all three cases, team culture was front and center. Said one rival coach: "There's never been a question about the level of talent. They have pretty much the whole attack back, but who knows how good [Rob] Forster will be after blowing out both of his knees. The X factor is Tambo. If they have a goalie, they can be scary. They're a dark horse."

5. Navy
One rival coach ranked the Mids as high as 15th. "They're very well coached and always find a way of competing at a high level," he said. Junior goalie RJ Wickham had a .593 save percentage last year and backstops a traditionally staunch defense.

6. Harvard
Chris Wojcik is the Crimson's third head coach in five years, the kind of tumult that will keep pundits from putting it in the top 20. But there's still that two-headed monster, Jeff Cohen and Dean Gibbons, on attack, waiting to pounce if given a chance to let it fly.

7. Fairfield
As LM scribe Patrick Stevens wrote in June, "Goalie Joseph Marra is gone, but pretty much the rest of the Stags’ lineup is back. Fairfield should take a step closer to reaching the NCAA tournament in coach Andrew Copelan’s third season."

8. Brown
The Bears have lost out on some high-profile recruits in recent years, often to Ivy League rivals, but continue to be in a position to win. Andrew Feinberg's healthy return from a foot injury that sidelined him in the fall is crucial.

9. UMBC
"They lost a lot, but you can never count them out – he's such a good coach," a rival coach said of Don Zimmerman. "That left-handed attackman (Rob Grimm - 16g, 11a) is a really good player."

10. Towson
Finally, some job security for CAA Coach of the Year Tony Seaman, who signed a three-year deal after coaching the last two seasons with his job in reported jeopardy. The Tigers are solid in goal with Travis Love.


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