30 in 30: With Fall Over, What to Expect in Spring?
|UMass' Will Manny was one of a
few players to rise to prominence from under-the-radar status in
2012. Who's in line to make the jump this spring?
© Kevin P. Tucker
Lacrosse Magazine tackled 30 days worth of fall ball questions over the last six weeks, and we hope you enjoyed our best attempts to answer them, while having some fun and providing insight and information on a variety of topics on all levels of the game.
To conclude our 30 in 30 series, the LM staff has one more question to answer: Now that fall ball is over, what do you expect to see in the spring?
Here's what we think. Tell us what you think in the comments section below or on Twitter @LacrosseMag using the hashtag #30in30.
- I expect to see… At least one player no one is talking about among the five Tewaaraton Award finalists honored in Washington, D.C., at the Museum of the American Indian. To varying degrees of surprise, Peter Baum, Will Manny and Mike Sawyer emerged from under-the-radar status last spring. I gave you a list of 20 candidates on Monday, on which purposefully no team had two nominees. Here are a few more to keep your eye on: Jake Hayes (Robert Morris), Miles Thompson (Albany), Todd Heritage (Bucknell), John Glesener (Army), Danny Eipp (Harvard). And doubling-up on teams from Monday’s list: Scott Ratliff (Loyola), Owen Blye (Maryland), Matt Kavanagh (Notre Dame), Christian Walsh (Duke), Ryan Tucker (Virginia), Eric Law (Denver), Matt Poillon (Lehigh), Rob Guida (Johns Hopkins), Ryan Walsh (Colgate), JoJo Marasco (Syracuse).
- I expect to see… Two teams no one is talking about make the NCAA tournament as at-large bids, and that counts the five darkhorse contenders we highlighted earlier this fall. Just like Loyola, Colgate and Yale last year, we’ll see teams exceed preseason expectations and make postseason noise. A few more teams who might fit the bill: Georgetown, Penn, Drexel, Army and Albany.
- I expect to see… Two from this group – Johns Hopkins, Virginia, Syracuse and Cornell – make the final four. You’ve heard the stat before: 2012 was the first since 1975 the NCAA tournament semifinals that the Blue Jays, Cavaliers and Orange did not make Memorial Day Weekend, and Cornell didn’t either. It’s a trend that won’t continue. Too much senior leadership and talent at Hopkins, too much midfield dynamism at Virginia, too much defense (among the nation’s best) at Syracuse, too much Rob Pannell and Co. at Cornell.
- I expect to see… First-year varsity program Marquette win at least four games, and not because the Golden Eagles’ schedule is a breeze. Coach Joe Amplo and his well-regarded staff have put together a challenging cross-country carousel that includes: Duke, Denver, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Georgetown and others. But after practicing everyday last year without competing, and putting on a strong showing this fall, Marquette is going to surprise some people. Meanwhile, fellow freshman program High Point (N.C.), like Michigan last year, will win one game.
- I expect to see… The new rules governing stall warnings to be enforced sparingly, especially early in the season. The increased burden placed on officials, and the potential for ensuing confusion and discontent, will make them reluctant to signal for a stall warning. Eventually, this will reach a boiling point on the sport’s biggest stage, which will make the modified-soft-shot-clock system only a stepping stone to a hard, visible shot clock by fall 2013, a full year before the next scheduled rules committee meetings.
- I expect to see… At least half of these predictions make me look foolish come June.
|Lindsey Munday's USC Trojans are
one of eight new teams debuting in Division I women's lacrosse in
© Kevin P. Tucker
Women's Division I
Moreso than a breakout for a particular team or player, I’m excited for the 26-team NCAA Division I women’s tournament field. I fully expect to drop dead sometime in late May from covering too many tourney games, and I don’t even care.
The most obvious candidates to get a boost from the field of 26 are the conference champions of the eight leagues who previously did not get automatic qualifiers – Atlantic 10, Big South, CAA, MAAC, MPSF, National Lacrosse Conference, NEC and the Patriot League. (The ACC, America East, ALC, Big East and Ivy League already had AQs.)
Even if you figure the ACC and ALC also-rans will eat up a good portion of the 13 at-large bids, small-conference teams still have a better shot at a bid. And where there are bids, there will eventually be upsets.
What if, say, the 2012 tournament had room for Cornell? The Big Red beat Loyola (an NCAA quarterfinalist) and Canisius (MAAC champs and NCAA play-in team) in the regular season. Cornell’s offense averaged more than 14 points per game, and for geographic reasons, it might have drawn an early-round matchup against Syracuse.
Suddenly those bubble teams become potential giant slayers, and we all have more great games to watch. It’s not just the tournament itself that will be affected, either. The increased chance of making the Dance will infuse conference playoffs and regular season games with excitement that wouldn’t be there otherwise. Players will play harder. Coaches will raise their game. Athletic departments will pay more attention to the sport, and by attention, I mean money. If you believe in trickle-down economics, the larger NCAA field is a very big deal.
If 26 isn’t a number that gets you excited, here’s another one that’s pretty cool: 100. For the first time ever, there will be 100 teams competing in Division I women’s lacrosse. There were 92 in 2012, and in 2013, we’ll see the debut of Southern California, Marquette, Delaware State, Coastal Carolina, Winthrop, Stetson, Campbell and Kennesaw State. That’s eight new teams in seven different states. It’s a great big world out there, laxers.
Men's Division II
The expansion of the tournament to eight teams in 2013 won’t mean a whole lot in terms of the final outcome. We’re going to see two very familiar faces in Philly, especially considering the way the two regions have been gerrymandered. The new format is going to revolutionize the Division II regular season, however.
Instead of coaches playing small ball while concocting their schedules, doing everything they can do to minimize their exposure to a season-killing loss, we’re finally going to have a scenario where the best teams are eager to play each other. Why? Because with the addition of more bids, as well as an RPI component in the selection process, means a.) one loss won’t kill you, and b.) there is now such a thing as a good loss.
The perfect example of the new mindset is the rekindling of the Adelphi-LIU-Post rivalry. A Long Island classic, the AU-Post tilt hasn’t been played since ’09, when Adelphi jumped to the Northeast-10 from the ECC because neither team could afford to take a non-conference, in-region setback. But now it’s back, and all is right again.
Furthermore, the entire 2013 D-II schedule will be filled with outstanding games, unlike years past when the non-conference slate was filled with snoozers, with a smattering of premium contests. Now, we’re going to have high-end tilts every weekend, which is good for the teams, good for the fans, and good for the division. And much more fulfilling for those who cover the sport.
It has been a long time coming, but it’s a brand new world for Division II. This season is going to open the eyes of casual fans to what the NCAA’s middle child truly has to offer. I’m betting that the 2013 regular season is going to be the best one that D-II has ever seen.
Men's Division III
High hopes and fall ball go together like peas and carrots, and this year was no different. The numerous coaches I’ve spoken with this autumn (and a little bit over the summer) are all aiming very high. Some of them should be, while others are a tad overly optimistic. Still, it’s a very rejuvenating experience.
When considering that one team has won seven of the last 10 national championships, it’s easy to disregard fall hopes. Despite sponsoring the most teams, Division III has been the most predictable – an odd juxtaposition entirely caused by Salisbury’s hegemony. Will anything change?
Yes, actually, I think it will. While still formidable, the Sea Gulls will have one of its toughest rebuilding efforts in recent memory, opening the door for a host of new teams to have reasonable aspirations to play on Memorial Day weekend.
It starts in the South region (aka, the Salisbury Invitational), where Stevenson, Cabrini, Dickinson, Lynchburg and maybe even Denison are all legitimate threats to represent Dixie. Throw in the North, which is wide open despite Cortland’s success last year, and we’re talking 10 to 12 teams with reasonable expectations of playing in late May.
One could argue that predicting anything but a championship game featuring Salisbury vs. “TBA” is as quixotic as the many second tier programs that see their fall as a harbinger of a postseason success. Perhaps it is, but if it doesn’t happen this year, it’s not going to happen any time soon.
The 2013 campaign is going to be a bridge year for the association. All of the buzz from Michigan’s transition to Division I and the national tournament move to Greenville is in the rearview mirror while the next big change isn’t likely to come until 2014. This spring is just going to be business as usual for the MCLA.
Will there be any big organizational developments in the association during the bridge year? We’ll find out midseason whether the national tournament will stay in Greenville for the ’14 season or move someplace new. In addition, the MCLA is flush with cash and has an executive board always pondering big ideas, so there could be some ‘outside the box’ concepts adopted before May rolls around.
One of the compelling parts of the MCLA is the constant change, but 2013 should be a relatively quiet year for the association.
Adelphi last year won the Northeast-10 tournament,
arguably the biggest task in Division II women's lacrosse, yet the
Panthers had to play a first-round road game against LIU-Post in
the NCAA tournament. This year the D-II tournament
Women's Division II
In 2013, Division II will begin to solve its math problem.
Last season, 16 out of 61 Division I men’s programs reached the NCAA tournament. That’s 26 percent. On the D-I women’s side it was 16 out of 92. Tougher, 17 percent, but still nothing like the monumental task of reaching the NCAA tournament in Division II.
Last season 67 Division II women’s teams competed for six NCAA spots. That’s about 9 percent. Even Major League Baseball in the pre-Wild Card era wasn’t so stingy with it postseason invitations.
This year’s switch to an eight-team tournament will remedy that, to an extent. But more players are choosing Division II and the level is growing rapidly from several directions. The talent at the top is deeper than ever and the middle teams are narrowing the talent gap. Eight could be an outdated number as soon as this May.
Going to a four-team-from-each-region model will hopefully eliminate awkward situations such as last season, when Adelphi won the Northeast-10 tournament, arguably D-II’s toughest task, yet had to play a first-round road game against eventual champ, and local rival, LIU-Post. But it could create greater frustration as more teams end up just short.
If the current model was in place last season, Stonehill would have been the North’s fourth team, with New Haven barely missing out. New Haven beat eventual champion Post during the season and ended up losing five games by a combined seven goals, all against top 10 teams. If a team, such as New Haven, has a New Haven-like 2013, staying home will sting even worse.
The NE-10 alone has five or six teams with legitimate NCAA aspirations. Add in defending LIU-Post, typically a tournament lock, and potential strong seasons from Dowling, Molloy or Queens (N.Y.) and the North could again have more contenders sitting out than dancing.
As of now the South looks clearer. Rollins, Limestone, West Chester and Lock Haven seem like four easy choices. But Bloomsburg, Mercyhurst and Indiana (Pa.) have already proved the PSAC is more than a two-team league. If geographical outliers like Florida Southern, St. Leo, Lindenwood or Regis make the leap, it’s suddenly a very crowded playoff picture.
In short: It’s going to get better, but for those left out, it’s going to feel worse.
Women's Division III
While Division II’s regular season will matter more than ever, look for another great postseason in Division III, which does the tournament right. The NCAA’s largest division sent 31 teams to the dance last season.
In the 2013 tournament expect an increased number of interesting first-round games, especially the geographically clustered ones where Midwest squads, like Adrian and Denison, and California teams, like Occidental and Redlands, face off. Also expect the team that wins to have a fighter’s chance when it comes back east for Round 2.
Beyond that, once again, any of D-III’s top 10 teams should have a chance to win it all.
Some interesting questions that will play out: Can Salisbury go undefeated in the regular season again? How do Cortland, TCNJ and Gettysburg fare after graduating franchise-changing players? Can a young Franklin & Marshall team re-emerge as a top 10 contender? Who survives the always-brutal NESCAC regular season? Do we see a Trinity vs. Salisbury rematch in the title game?
|Rob Pannell's return to Cornell
will be the talk of the early Division I men's season come
springtime, but it's not the only storyline to keep an eye
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com
- Bill Tierney will yell at a ref.
- Rob Pannell will score a few goals.
- ESPN will do a tear-jerker Casey Carroll profile.
- Johns Hopkins messageboard posters will have at least one mid-season breakdown.
- ESPN announcer Eamon McAnaney will reference “Rugby Road” to describe a Chris LaPierre end-to-end rush.
But I’m not kidding when I say it’s frighteningly premature at this point to start guessing where teams and players stand (and something I’ll gladly leave to Forman). Loyola short-stick defensive midfielder Josh Hawkins and long-stick Scott Ratliff, the two most important players in last year’s postseason, were preseason unknowns.
If there’s one certainty in Division I college lacrosse, it’s that coaches copy each other with lemming-like ferocity. If one coach starts outsourcing to Canadians, 10 others buy plane tickets to Toronto and start combing Oshawa rinks for talent. If one guy gets a commitment from a 14-year-old, the rest start recruiting Garden City (N.Y.) JV games too. If one coach draws up an offense that relies mostly on picks, slips and two-man games, you better believe others are watching John Stockton and Karl Malone YouTube videos for creative inspiration.
What I’m most interested in seeing is something no one can predict: how the rule changes will impact the game. Will the quicker tempo and shot clock benefit glory programs like Virginia and Carolina which have a whole stable full of athletes who can run by their guy? Or will it give an unfair advantage to rogue outfits like Denver and Robert Morris chock full of Canucks already acclimated to a faster pace? Or will teams having to initiate offense quickly make defensive-oriented grinders like Notre Dame and Lehigh that much tougher to score against?
I have no idea what’s in store. And I can’t wait to find out.
I had the benefit of reading all of the above responses before writing this piece, and what struck me is the “growth of the game” theme that is the most common among them.
This is along the lines of what I was planning to write anyway; about what I expect to see come spring. In a time where job retention, much less growth, is so uncertain, lacrosse just keeps growing and growing and growing, creating all sorts of things along the way. From the number of teams competing in the NCAA at all levels, to US Lacrosse members, to youth players picking up the sport for the first time, to the number of states and countries that now have a significant number of players, it’s all increasing and shows no sign of stopping.
Maybe it’s because Election Day is nearing and cable television has constantly bombarded me with political messaging over the past couple months, but lacrosse is unique in its place in America. It’s a boom market.
But with this growth comes great responsibility.
How do we manage the game, keep its roots with the past while tinkering with rules to make it more appealing to a general audience? Is it really that hard to accept an all-out shot clock?
What is the realistic timeframe for a team to win a national championship, and is it fair to thrust so much pressure on coaches and 18- to 22-year-old players to win it before they are fired or graduate? (Am I the only one who continues to remember than only one team wins its respective national championship each year?)
Why in the world are 14- and 15-year-olds committing to college lacrosse programs? Do they realize that they won’t graduate college for another seven years and, at least at the Division I men’s level, their coach probably will be gone by the time four years on campus is up, for any number of reasons? I looked back at a picture of myself as a 14-year-old recently and, good gosh, was I in no position to pick a college for myself.
It’s something that Duke men’s coach John Danowski will often ask out loud: To what end? To what end does lacrosse keep growing? It’s a deep question, and probably an unanswerable one, but important to keep in mind as lacrosse follows the path of other traditional American sports. I hope to see the lacrosse community continue to address these topics come spring and beyond.