Coyne's Picks: Noke, Bullets Meet Again
If Cortland is going to advance to the quarterfinals, it will have to slow down the prolific Stevens offense that leads the country in points per game. The Red Dragons will lean on Justin Schneidman (above) and the rest of the back line to accomplish that feat. Jac Coyne thinks they'll be successful.
© Darl Zehr
The NCAA Division III men's lacrosse tournament's round of 16 is Saturday, with eight intriguing matchups on the docket. Here's my take on each.
Union (13-4) at Tufts (15-2), 1 p.m.
Dutchmen coach Paul Wehrum had conflicting emotions when he looked into the stands at Nazareth on Wednesday and saw members of the Tufts coaching staff sitting in their baby blue windbreakers. On one level, it was flattering that they took their next opponent seriously. However, it also means there's very little complacency in the defending champs.
"That's a seven-hour drive one-way, so Tufts is doing their homework and leaving no stone unturned," Wehrum said. Union has seen plenty of film on the Jumbos and as a member of the All-American committee, Wehrum is intimately familiar with many of the Tufts players. He was also in the audience watching Jumbo coach Mike Daly give his presentation at the coaches convention in the offseason.
"I know a lot about them and I have great respect watching Coach Daly speak," he said. "We're glad to be in it, but we're not in it for the experience. We're there to win."
After manhandling Nazareth on Wednesday, you can bet Union has the Tufts coaching staff's attention. Where the Jumbos will have an advantage over Naz is on the defensive end of the ball. Some of the openings the Dutchmen found against the Flyers won't be evident in Medford. That will ratchet up the pressure on the Union defense – something this first-time tourney team will have trouble sustaining.
I'm currently 0-1 going against the Dutchmen, and I like this game to be competitive, but I'll stick with the Elephants in round two, 12-8.
Stevens (16-2) at Cortland (15-2), 6 p.m.
The prolific Stevens offense, which averages over 17 goals per game this season, has caught the eye of Cortland head coach Steve Beville.
"Well, they're leading the nation in goals per game, so that's pretty damn obvious right there," Beville said. "If you are looking at their numbers, they have two midfielders who each have basically 80 points, and that's pretty amazing."
It's impressive, no doubt, but as I think of teams that can give these Red Dragons trouble, it's not one with a high-powered offense. Cortland has the horses and performance record to lead me to believe the Stevens offense vs. the Dragon defense will be a push. The game will be determined by how well Beville's offensive corps does against the Ducks backline.
"I think [the Ducks] are pretty solid on defense with some big athletic kids," Beville said. "We're just going in with our normal game plan of being diverse. The one thing that has helped us this year is we've been very balanced on offense. It's been a little tougher to defend us this year, because we don't depend on one guy. We distribute the ball and have some real good balance from wherever we're attacking from. It has served us well."
I think it will serve the Dragons well again against Stevens. Throw in a superior faceoff unit and I've got Cortland, 11-7.
Middlebury (13-4) at Amherst (14-2), 1 p.m.
This would have been the third meeting between the two schools had Amherst not had the misfortune of drawing Bowdoin in the NESCAC quarterfinals, but the loss didn't hurt the Lord Jeffs too much. Not only do they finally get their second crack at the Panthers, but they have the luxury of staying a seed ahead of Middlebury and hosting Saturday's game.
"I think it's great that we have a home game, don't get me wrong," said Amherst head coach Jon Thompson. "But at this time of year, we're going to have to beat great teams and play great teams somewhere. It's nice that we get Middlebury here, but I can tell you right now that we're going to get a pretty big punch in the mouth from Middlebury after we beat them for the first time in 25 years, and we're ready for it."
The first meeting of the season between the two programs on April 6 was a monumental one. Not only did Amherst's 9-7 win snap Middlebury's 25-game win streak in the series dating back to 1989, but it also enforced the notion that the Lord Jeffs were legit, despite being a young team with a new coach.
Both Middlebury and Amherst are better teams than they were even just last month, but the Panthers' progression has been steeper. Moving rookie Griff McGoldrick to attack in the latter half of the season has paid dividends and given Dave Campbell a stable of scoring threats. The Panthers defense will always cause problems, and Campbell says Ryan Deane has been the team MVP so far this season.
Jeff Keating scored three goals and dished out five assists in Roanoke's 25-5 victory over Colorado College on Wednesday, but he'll be hard-pressed to match that feat against a stingy Gettysburg defense. Still, Jac Coyne sees the Maroon advancing.
© Pete Emerson
"They do quite a bit different," Thompson said. "Their schemes are different and their personnel are in different positions from what we understand and what we've seen. They are just a more polished group than we saw a month ago."
The Lord Jeffs are an excellent team, and they are going to be frightening next year, but I think experience is the key here. I said the same thing for Wednesday's game against Keene State and Amherst proved me wrong. The Lord Jeffs certainly could do it again. I don't think they will. Midd kids, 11-10 (OT) on an Andrew Conner strike.
Endicott (16-4) at Salisbury (17-1), 7:30 p.m.
Part of Jim Berkman's speech pattern is when he's serious about something, he finishes his sentences with a quiet laugh. It's almost his version of an exclamation point. I heard one after he spoke about the Endicott team he'll face Saturday.
"They've got a nice goalie, and I think they're solid on defense," he said. "They are a real nice team. I know why they have won 16 games now."
The Salisbury coach raved about the Endicott defensive unit, especially goalie Mike Klein, who made six saves in the first quarter against Springfield in the first round. "The goalie was the difference in the game yesterday," he said. "They jumped on them 3-0, but it easily could have been 4-3, Springfield. The goalie played out of his mind."
The Gulls from Beverly, Mass., will give the Sea Gulls from the Eastern Shore a test, but things are starting to line up for Salisbury. Sam Bradman's ankle is almost back to 100 percent and Dean Rossi is getting closer to top form, as well.
"I like the way we're playing right now," Berkman said. "We're starting to score. Our attack is coming of age. The last three games we've put up 15, 16 and 17 against pretty quality opponents. If we score that many goals with our defense, I like our chances."
Denison (11-3) at RIT (17-0), 1 p.m.
RIT head coach Jake Coon is not one for melodrama. I brought up the injury bug – something that has sidelined nearly every single one of his captains at some point, wiped out his top three faceoff men and decimated his promising freshman class – and how it was almost miraculous that his team remained undefeated. He gave me the verbal equivalent of a shrug.
Coon isn't getting caught up in excuse-making, and it's certainly easy to do when you're 17-0 and just beat a rival in the conference championship game by 14 goals. Meanwhile, over in Ohio, Denison managed to squeeze past blood rival Ohio Wesleyan on Wednesday with a goal in the waning minutes.
Is RIT 14 goals better than Naz? Is the Big Red one goal better than the Bishops?
These are questions of semantics, and neither of the hypothetical answers gives me a lot of confidence in Denison. I like the Big Red's defense a lot better now after a gutsy performance against OWU, but my confidence in the diversity of its offense wanes. Even putting Denison aside, the Tigers playing at home with a week of rest is enough. RIT, 14-6.
Wittenberg (14-1) at Dickinson (16-1), 1 p.m.
I sometimes worry about teams that earn the bye in the first round of the NCAA tournament, especially the ones that are idle for two weeks like Dickinson will be when it finally returns to action Saturday after winning the conference title against Gettysburg on May 1. The edge that was sharpened over the course of the season and further honed by an AQ victory seems to dull with a couple weeks off.
That may not be the case with the Red Devils.
"We haven't gotten anybody off the injured list, but we were tired and beat up," said Dickinson head coach Dave Webster. "The Centennial Conference is a grind. We needed that break. It was the start of exams, and it has come at the right time so we could focus on our studies. We could just get fresh legs and minds."
Despite the rejuvenation over the past two weeks, and the confidence that comes with it, Webster and the Red Devils aren't willing to look past Wittenberg for even a second. I told Webster that I didn't think the Tigers were the sexiest team around, but all they did was win. His thoughts?
"We have a little more respect for them than that," said Webster, with me feeling about two inches tall on the other end of the line. "They are a veteran group and five of their top six offensive players are seniors. There's a lot to be said for that kind of confidence and experience that comes with veteran leaders. That's why they find ways to win, and that makes them very dangerous in the tournament. They have four years invested in that team and into each other, and that's a really powerful tool."
It's a good point, and it's one that makes me think this game will be closer than I originally anticipated. I'm sticking with the Devils I know, however. Dickinson, 12-7.
Gettysburg (12-6) at Roanoke (15-2), 2 p.m.
This matchup usually has the weight of quarterfinal clash, but for the second straight year it's occurring in the second round. Still, it doesn't lack any of the subplots that we've come to expect from these teams. In particular, this contest will be in a long list of storylines featuring the stingy Bullet defense against the manic Maroon offense. Which team has the advantage?
Similar to the Stevens-Cortland game, you have look to the other side of the field to figure out which team will be victorious. In this case, it's the Gettysburg offense versus the Roanoke defense. Anyone who has followed the Bullets this year knows where this is going.
The Roanoke defense doesn't jump off the page at you. The Maroons could be, arguably, the fourth-best defense in their own conference. But they are at least on par with Scranton (albeit a different style) and have a faceoff man who is just as good, if not better, than the Royals in the form of the incomparable Justin Tuma. To my point, Gettysburg managed eight goals against Scranton on Wednesday.
Hank Janczyk is a spooky coach to pick against. At least for me anyway. I've actually learned my lesson and go with the Bullets whenever I can, but this matchup can't work for them, no matter the tactics. At home, the Maroons make the final score a little wider than would reflect the competitive nature of this game. 'Noke, 11-6.
Cabrini (13-5) at Stevenson (17-2), 1 p.m.
Paul Cantabene may have a hard time scouting Cabrini for Saturday's game. Why? Because Cabrini coach Steve Colfer is still trying to figure out the Cavaliers.
"I have no idea what team is showing up each day," Colfer said with a chuckle. "It's called the great mystery. They are a funny bunch this year. We're a team that's on a rollercoaster, and it has showed. We've played up to some really good teams and haven't played as well as we could in other games. We'll give effort -- that's the one thing that has been the staple of our program. They are not just going to roll over regardless of what they are faced with. Do I have a really good sense of who we are? It's hard for us sometimes day to day."
With the exception of a home loss to Washington College, all of Cabrini's setbacks have come against ranked teams, so this is an experienced bunch. While Widener isn't a power, the 16 goals scored by the Cavs against the stingy Pride is a pretty impressive feat. Still, Colfer's troops are going against a team that beat them 19-9 in last year's tournament.
"They have such a dynamic offense and they have so many weapons, you almost run out paper when you do a scouting report," said Colfer. "You try not to overwhelm your guys."
That's a good description of what Stevenson does to its opponents: overwhelm. Teams can keep it close for a half or sometimes longer by being methodical (see: Cortland), but eventually the Mustangs get the chances they need. That's how this game will play out. Cabrini will only be down three or four goals at the half, but the surge will come. 'Stangs, 15-8.