Took care of the Saturday’s picks yesterday afternoon. Time to move along to Sunday’s four games.
No. 7 NOTRE DAME vs. MARYLAND
It’s tough to make much out of the unbeaten Fighting Irish. Yes, they’re 15-0. And yes, they have one of the country’s best goalies in Scott Rodgers.
But size up the accomplishments, and what is there? Early wins against Loyola (on a neutral field) and North Carolina (at home). But in the last 10 games, the Irish have … beaten Villanova at home?
In short, we know Notre Dame isn’t bad. But how good are they really? Maryland might be able to answer that question, but only if the Good Terps decide to make the trip to South Bend.
That’s questionable. Maryland has had some interesting moments, good and bad, this season. The Terps would be a chic final four pick with a better draw, but the Notre Dame-Syracuse combo doesn’t look promising.
Vegas says this is the biggest tossup of the weekend. It very well might be right.
Prediction: Notre Dame 9-8. The Terps have been so up-and-down, but they weren’t far from adding Virginia and Hopkins to their list of quality victories. An 11-4 Maryland team would be much more respected than the 9-6 version that goes to South Bend, and this bunch could pull an upset if they can play smart.
Trouble is, that doesn’t always happen. And while Notre Dame might be untested, it is at home and unbeaten for the year. A victory would go a long way in further validating a great season, so look for the Irish to deliver in a tight one.
No. 1 VIRGINIA vs. VILLANOVA
The Cavaliers didn’t do so well the last time a CAA team came to Klockner for the first round of the tournament (Delaware in 2007). Its experience with an AQ last year (UMBC) was nearly as harrowing.
Plus, Virginia didn’t play all that well in the final stretch of the regular season. Its an interesting No. 1 seed – seemingly as or more vulnerable in the early rounds of the tournament as just about anyone else.
That said, this Villanova bunch isn’t quite as good as the last two teams to visit Charlottesville in the first round. The Wildcats scrapped their way into their first postseason appearance with two road games, and accordingly should be considered a dangerous opponent.
But Virginia has the surplus of talent. Virginia has the potentially potent midfield. Virginia has the sparkling attack.
Prediction: Virginia 14-9. Virginia needs to push the pace, in part because it is what Dom Starsia’s team does well and in part because Villanova has not shown a proclivity to thrive in shootouts. Virginia could easily receive a scare early, but should manage to make things more comfortable in the final 20 minutes or so.
No. 4 PRINCETON vs. MASSACHUSETTS
In a wide-open tournament, which team is the most dangerous? Here’s a vote for Bill Tierney’s Tigers.
Princeton is averaging 11.6 goals, its most since 2002 – the last time it made a title game appearance. Its the first time since 2004 (the Tigers’ last final four trip) they are even scoring in double figures.
So, yes, it is the offense that makes Princeton a credible title contender. While there have been some surprisingly close results throughout the season, the Tigers might be the least likely team to torpedo their own title hopes.
Massachusetts, meanwhile, has a superb goalie in Doc Schneider. But the Minutemen nearly lost in the Garden State last weekend (to Rutgers), and probably won’t be fortunate to escape with a victory this time.
Prediction: Princeton 12-8. It looks like a game that could gradually slip away from Massachusetts. The best Tigers team in seven years will take a step closer to ending the program’s five-year final four drought.
No. 2 SYRACUSE vs. SIENA
May in the Dome is a pretty much unwinnable situation for most visitors. And that will be the case for Siena.
Now, the Saints warrant credit for building their program up in recent years, and they might be the best team to emerge from the Metro Atlantic since the league received an AQ in 2002.
Trouble is, Syracuse is vastly better, and should be able to dispatch the Siena after an initial skirmish or two.
The Metro Atlantic is 0-7 in the tournament, losing by an average of 11.7 goals. The closest game was Manhattan’s 12-7 loss to Georgetown in 2002, and that only required the Jaspers to make 24 saves while getting outshot 62-17.
Syracuse ‘09 can shoot a bit better than Georgetown ‘02. And that’s why this will get out of hand at some point.
Prediction: Orange 14-5. Siena won’t get skunked the way Canisius did a year ago. At the same time, the Saints stuck around for a while at Hopkins early in the season before getting shut out for the final three quarters. No reason to think Siena won’t put up a great showing, but there’s also no reason to think Syracuse won’t begin its title defense with a solid performance of its own.