March 3, 2014

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McAnaney: My Top 20 and the Era of Parity

by Eamon McAnaney | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Looking complete after back-to-back wins over Syracuse and Duke, Maryland is No. 1 as we begin March. (John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com)

Editor's Note: Lacrosse Magazine welcomes ESPN lacrosse announcer Eamon McAnaney to its stable of contributors. Look for more from McAnaney, a sports broadcasting veteran and former Notre Dame lacrosse captain, throughout the college season here at LaxMagazine.com. For a list of upcoming ESPN and other lacrosse broadcasts, visit LaxMagazine.com/TV.

Even though we've turned the calendar to March, there are still some significant swings in the various college men's lacrosse rankings, as we overreact to individual games and work off inaccurate preseason predictions. Things should settle down by St. Patrick's Day after several meetings between ranked teams make the national picture a little bit clearer.

One thing is for sure though: The era of parity and everybody skating on thin ice in one-goal games is alive and well in 2014.

Here's my top 20 (all times Eastern unless noted otherwise):

No. 1 Maryland (4-0)

It's a case of same time, different year for the Terps, as they again appear to be the most complete team in the country through the first month of the season. It was the same story in 2013, with February wins over Loyola and Duke. This season, Maryland took down Syracuse and Duke. Mike Chanenchuk (five goals) and Niko Amato (17 saves) reminded everybody why they are legit first-team All-American candidates with their performances in the 10-6 win Saturday over previously top-ranked Duke. Is the emergence of freshman Matt Rambo what the Terps need to make the attack potent enough for a run back to championship weekend?

Up next: at Stony Brook, Saturday, 1 p.m.

No. 2 Virginia (5-0)

James Pannell took a huge step toward escaping big brother Rob's shadow by lighting up Syracuse with a career-high seven goals and leading the Cavs to a 17-12 win over Syracuse under the lights at Klockner Stadium. Mark Cockerton also had a seven-point night, as he reached 100 career goals with four against the Orange. Mick Parks won 24 of 31 faceoffs, but it was not a one man show. You would have to have some serious thoroughbreds in the stable to combat the wing play of Chris LaPierre and Joe Lisicky.

Up next: at Cornell,  Saturday, noon

No. 3 Loyola (4-1)

Putting a one-loss Greyhound club above undefeated Johns Hopkins might raise some eyebrows, but Loyola is 0.1 seconds away from being undefeated and has more impressive victories than the Blue Jays. It has been a different hero in all four wins for Loyola. On Saturday, Kevin Ryan scored a career-high five goals in the Greyhounds' 14-7 victory over Lehigh. I asked Charley Toomey how his team made sure the crushing defeat to Virginia did not linger, and he told me the exact opposite happened. "We came in to lift the next day and it was the most energy we had in the weight room all year," Toomey said. "That game showed us we belong and that we can be dangerous."

Up next: vs. Duke, Sunday, 6 p.m.

No. 4 Johns Hopkins (4-0)

The new-look Blue Jays offense spearheaded by their attack was on display in their 15-9 win over Princeton. Ryan Brown had a career day with five goals and three assists. Through four games, the starting attack unit of Wells Stanwick, Brandon Benn and Brown has accounted for 51 of Johns Hopkins' 86 points.

Up next: at Mount St. Mary's, Tuesday 4 p.m.

No. 5 Duke (4-1)

The defending champs were knocked off the top spot by Maryland, thanks in large part to the Terps' 7-0 run that started late in the second quarter and ended early in the fourth quarter. Afterward, Duke coach John Danowski told reporters the calendar said March 1, and that no team was more aware of how much lacrosse is left to be played than Duke. Last year, Maryland rolled Duke in Koskinen Stadium 16-7, and the Blue Devils responded by rattling off nine straight wins on their way to their second NCAA title. There is no such thing as a panic button in Durham.

Up next: at Loyola, Sunday, 6 p.m.

No. 6 Penn State (3-1)

The Nittany Lions took care of soon-to-be Big Ten rival Ohio State 11-8 in Columbus. Shane Sturgis continued to move into the Tewaarton Award picture with four goals a week after scoring five at Notre Dame in the win over the Irish. Sturgis has five or more points in each of Penn State's four contests and leads the country with six points per game.

Up next: at Denver, Monday, March 10, 7 p.m. (Mountain)

No. 7 Notre Dame (2-1)

Is there such a thing as a season-saving victory on March 1? I think that's exactly what happened for Notre Dame on Saturday, as the Irish were able to erase a five-goal deficit and beat North Carolina 11-10 in Chapel Hill. Matt Kavanagh is the engine. He had three goals and two assists, while the freshman out of Michigan, Sergio Perkoic, is a secret no more. Kevin Corrigan told me the key to the turnaround in the second half was execution in the man-up and getting 10 saves from goalie Shane Doss, who came on in relief of Conor Kelly.

Up next: vs. Denver, Saturday, 1 p.m. (Pacific) (in Costa Mesa, Calif.)

No. 8 North Carolina (3-1)

Saturday's game against Notre Dame was all too familiar for the Tar Heels, as they grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory for the second straight season against the Irish. North Carolina was its own worst enemy late, as it handed the ball right back to the Irish on four failed clears. Joe Breschi's club was able to bounce back from last year's loss to Notre Dame to win the ACC tournament and advance to the NCAA quarterfinals, and I expect them to be right in the mix nationally again this year.

Up next: vs. Princeton, Friday, 5:30 p.m.

No. 9 Syracuse (2-2)

On our conference call before the Syracuse/Virginia game, Orange coach John Desko admitted that even though it sounded like whining, he really felt the team's limited practice time on a full field had been a major factor in its "out of whack" team defense and poor clearing game. Then in prime time on the road, Syracuse looked, well, out of whack on defense and poor in the clearing game. Faceoffs will be an issue all year long, but the Orange will be much more dangerous in April than it was in February.

Up next: vs. St. John's, Saturday, 4 p.m. (in Kennesaw, Ga.)

No. 10 UMass (4-0)

Greg Cannella's defense was in serious lockdown mode, as the Minutemen blow-torched Brown 15-2. It was the first time since 2001 that UMass held an opponent to just a deuce. Zach Oliveri did his share in goal with 10 saves, while Nick Mariano continued his impressive freshman campaign with five oals and his first career assist.

Up next: vs. Albany, Saturday, 1 p.m.

No. 11 Yale (2-0)

The Bulldogs stayed on the cusp of the top 10 by holding off Bryant 9-8 for a tough road win. Conrad Oberbeck and Colin Flaherty each had hat tricks.

Up next: at Fairfield, Saturday, 3 p.m.

No. 12 Penn (2-1)

The Quakers bounced back from a slow start to pull off a huge 12-10 win over Denver at Franklin Field. Penn trailed 5-1 after the first quarter, but dominated the second and fourth quarters to send the Pioneers back west with the loss. Nick Doktor had two goals and two assists, and now coach Mike Murphy becomes a huge Denver fan in the hope that this win has big-time value on Selection Sunday.

Up next: at Villanova, Saturday, 5 p.m.

Penn's win over Denver vaulted the Quakers up the rankings, another sign of the parity in the game. (Andy Lewis)

No. 13 Denver (2-2)

The Pios were rocking and rolling out of the chute, building a 5-1 lead at Penn. But then the tables turned, as Denver gave up five goals in the second quarter and four in the fourth. Colorado native Jack Bobzien continues to make an immediate impact after transferring from Hartford with three goals in the loss. Depth and mental toughness will be tested big time in the next two games, as Bill Tierney's club travels to California to face Notre Dame on Saturday, and then it's right back on the field for a rare Monday game at home against a well-rested Penn State squad.

Up next: vs. Notre Dame (in Costa Mesa, Calif.)

No. 14 Princeton (2-1)

The Tigers suffered the biggest drop in my poll after getting dropped by Johns Hopkins 15-9. The offense is incredibly slick and deep, but Tommy Schreiber and crew become mere pedestrian if you can't make saves or win faceoffs.

Up next: vs. North Carolina, Friday, 5:30 p.m.

No. 15 Cornell (3-0)

Who felt that huge sigh relief blow its way out of Ithaca at around 4 p.m. Saturday when Matt Donovan scored in overtime and the Big Red avoided a monumental upset loss to Michigan? The game winner was Donovan's fifth goal of the game.

Up next: vs. Canisius, Tuesday, 4 p.m.

No. 16 Lehigh (4-1)

Kevin Cassese might have been wondering who exactly sent that Patriot League invitation letter to Loyola at some point Saturday, as his Mountaineers were doubled up by the Greyhounds 14-7, ending Lehigh's 13-game league winning streak. Matt Poillon made 11 saves, but Jack Runkel was even better with 13.

Up next: at Bucknell, Saturday, noon

No. 17 Drexel (2-2)

The Dragons are one of those programs that are so hard to evaluate, because they are in a battle every time out, no matter the reputation of the opponent. Drexel opened 1-2 in thee straight one-goal games before pulling away from Robert Morris 18-12. Coach Brian Voelker better have the Maalox ready as he gets set for another street fight with St. John's on Tuesday.gle

Up next: vs. St. John's, Tuesday, 4 p.m.

No. 18 Albany (1-2)

Those who jumped off the bandwagon of the Magical Mystery Tour after two straight one-goal losses to open the season will be sorry in May. Miles Thompson piled up eight goals, as the Great Danes broke into the win column with a 14-8 victory over Harvard. A minefield-loaded non-conference schedule continues with a road trip to Amherst.

Up next: at UMass, Saturday, 1 p.m.

No. 19 Ohio State (1-3)

The Buckeyes are off to a slow start, but all three losses are to top-10 teams and by a total of five goals. Jesse King had four goals in the home loss to Penn State and now has 13 on the season.

Up next: at Hofstra Saturday 1 PM

No. 20 Army (3-1)

Trust me when I tell you the hardest part about doing a poll is picking the 20th, and the Black Knights of the Hudson get my vote this week. Army is a one-goal loss to UMass away from being undefeated, and John Glesener's hat trick led the way in an 8-6 win over a Lafayette club that previously knocked off Colgate.

Up next: vs. Rutgers, Tuesday, 7 p.m.


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