Way Too Early Rankings for 2014: MD1 Nos. 16-20
by Patrick Stevens | LaxMagazine.com
|The Towson offense should be
better next season with Tom DeNapoli (above), Greg Cuccinello and
Andrew Hodgson returning.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com
It's never too early, right? Patrick Stevens begins his look
ahead to the 2014 season with a Way Too Early Division I men's Top
20, starting with Nos. 20-16. Check back to LaxMagazine.com on
Thursday for Nos. 15-10.
No. 20 Towson (10-8 in 2013)
Last seen: Discovering its CAA tournament magic didn’t work in the Horseshoe. Towson’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 2007 came to a quick and abrupt conclusion with a 16-6 opening round loss at Ohio State.
Senior starts lost: 24 of 180 (13.3 percent)
Scoring departing: 15 of 245 points (6.1 percent)
The skinny: Shawn Nadelen turned in one of the season’s best coaching performances, taking a team left for dead after a 2-4 start (which included losses to High Point and Marist) and squeezing a postseason bid out of it. The on-field star was goalie Andrew Wascavage, who shined even when Towson sputtered early and wound up with a 59.2 save percentage.
That’s a lot of production to replace between the pipes, and it figures to be one of Towson’s major tasks next season. But the Tigers were also outscored on the season and won only 36.5 percent of their faceoffs. Tom DeNapoli is a fine finisher, and the combination of Greg Cuccinello and Andrew Hodgson are a solid starting point in the midfield. The offense should be better.
Faceoffs and goalie play will be Towson’s looming questions next year. Solve one, and another NCAA bid is possible. Solve two, and the Tigers might take another leap in Nadelen’s third season.
No. 19 Lehigh (12-5)
Last seen: Losing in the first round for the second consecutive year, this time on the road against North Carolina
Senior starts lost: 88 of 170 (51.8 percent)
Scoring departing: 186 of 304 (61.2 percent)
The skinny: The Mountain Hawks backed up their breakout 2012 season with another postseason appearance, relying again on a stout defense (with goalie Matt Poillon stopping nearly 60 percent of the shots on cage he faced) and excellent shot selection on offense.
It’s a wonderful formula, but there figures to be a step back after substantial attrition. David DiMaria and Dante Fantoni graduate, and goals will be harder to come by without them around, though Dan Taylor (29 goals, 21 assists) is a good place to start on offense. Nonetheless, reaching 10 victories again will be a challenge.
Yet it all starts with the defense at Lehigh. The system works, and Poillon will be joined next year by two returning starters on close defense. The Mountain Hawks might look like a candidate for severe regression based on their losses, but bank on them remaining near the top of the Patriot League.
No. 18 Drexel (11-4)
Last seen: Getting bounced from the CAA semifinals by Towson, a team the Dragons had scored 12 goals against in a span of 15 minutes just a week and a half earlier.
Senior starts lost: 43 of 150 (28.7 percent)
Scoring departing: 88 of 300 points (29.3 percent)
The skinny: The Dragons are arguably the best Division I program never to make an NCAA tournament appearance, mustering no postseason bids despite four 10-win seasons in the last seven years. And they might find themselves in a similar situation next year.
Drexel brings back four of its top five scorers, including Ben McIntosh (38 goals), from a bunch that averaged more than 12 goals a game. Yes, there’s two starters lost to graduation from that offense (most notably Robert Church and his 57 points), but scoring shouldn’t be a problem for the Dragons.
At the end of the day, Drexel simply needs a breakthrough victory or two, something that seems to elude it on an annual basis. Over the last four years, the Dragons have not lost a game to a team that was outside the top 25 of the RPI on Selection Sunday. In that same stretch, Drexel is 0-9 against top-10 RPI teams and 2-12 against top-15 teams.
Unsurprisingly, Drexel finds itself between 15th and 25th more often than not, and that’s a pretty safe range to expect the Dragons to land in next year as well.
No. 17 St. John's (9-4)
Last seen: Winning back-to-back games to cap a season that did not include a trip to the Big East tournament despite a late March upset of Notre Dame in South Bend.
Senior starts lost: 25 of 130 (19.2 percent)
Scoring departing: 29 of 258 points (11.2 percent)
|The promising Zach Herreweyers
(above) and Nikko Pontrello return for Loyola with attackman Justin
Ward, who should orchestrate the Greyhounds' offense.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com
The skinny: If the last two years are any indication, the Red Storm is coming. From 4-10 to 8-7 to 9-4 since 2011, St. John’s is heading in the right direction. Another year of Kieran McArdle (36 goals, 49 assists) — not to mention seven of the Red Storm’s top eight scorers — is only going to help the pursuit of the program’s first NCAA tournament bid.
Jason Miller has built St. John’s to play very much like Massachusetts, the program he arrived from after the 2006 season. Ruggedness isn’t a question here. To some extent, defense is, though allowing 11 goals a game was partially a function of the pace the Red Storm prefer.
A bigger issue is going to be strength of schedule, which effectively kept St. John’s outside the NCAA conversation this May. The loss of Notre Dame and Syracuse from the Big East hurts a program that already needed to bolster the quality of its nonconference slate. The Red Storm took the important step of playing like a top-20 team the last few years; soon it must schedule like one, too.
No. 16 Loyola (11-5)
Last seen: Nearly knocking out eventual national champion Duke in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Instead, the Greyhounds’ title defense and the careers of a deep senior class came to an end in mid-May.
Senior starts lost: 73 of 160 (45.6 percent)
Scoring departing: 153 of 303 points (50.5 percent)
The skinny: Loyola relied heavily on juniors during its national title run in 2010. Now, the graduation bill comes due.
No more Mike Sawyer on attack. No more Davis Butts, Chris Layne and Sean O’Sullivan in the midfield. No more Reid Acton on defense.
But where the Greyhounds’ losses will be felt the most are in the defensive midfield. What separated Charley Toomey’s team from others the last two years was a rope unit featuring Scott Ratliff at pole and Josh Hawkins on faceoff wings. Together, the pair had 25 goals this spring.
Loyola heads to the Patriot League, where it should be near the top of the table along with Bucknell and Lehigh. The Greyhounds aren’t lacking for talent, with attackman Justin Ward back to orchestrate an offense with the promising Zach Herreweyers and Nikko Pontrello ready to take steps forward. The efficient Joe Fletcher will be back as the headliner on defense.
But take away Ratliff and Hawkins, and Loyola loses some of its margin for error — maybe more than it would like. The Greyhounds will be good, but they’re not going to be nearly the same as they were.