Running down the predictions for the first weekend of the NCAA tournament …
Hofstra at Johns Hopkins (Noon, ESPN2): The Pride has a recent history of being quite the nuisance to the Blue Jays, winning three of the last six meetings. They also bring a potent attack into Homewood Field for the tournament opener.
Still, two things stand out. Hopkins has won 15 straight home games in the postseason, a streak dating back to 1992. And Hofstra, despite its gaudy 13-2 mark, lost its only two games against tournament teams. The Pride has the goods to keep things interesting for a while, but the sizzling Blue Jays should advance to the quarterfinals.
Pick: Hopkins 12-8.
Penn at Notre Dame (2:30, ESPNU): The Fighting Irish open the tournament at home for the third time in four years, and do so against a Penn team that did its best work early in the season. The Quakers beat Duke and Bucknell to open the season but split their final 12 games. They also lost defenseman Maxx Meyer to a broken leg in the penultimate game of the season.
The Irish was undefeated before dropping visits to Syracuse and North Carolina to close out the regular season. Back in South Bend, look for the balanced Irish (seven players have scored at least eight goals, but none have more than 17) to come close to matching their season averages in scoring offense (9.5) and scoring defense (6.6)
Pick: Notre Dame 10-4.
Delaware at Duke (5, ESPNU): Here’s to underrated coach Bob Shillinglaw, who has Delaware in its sixth NCAA tournament and has led the Blue Hens to their sixth 10-win season in the last eight years. His latest trip to the tournament came thanks to road victories over Hofstra and Massachusetts in the CAA tournament.
Still, this isn’t the most explosive Delaware team in recent memory, and it won’t be well-served to get into a track meet with Duke. The Blue Devils will no doubt make that difficult to avoid. Even if goalie Noah Fossner is ultra-sharp, this will be a much trickier task than last week’s impressive run.
Pick: Duke 13-8.
Hartford at Cornell (7:30, ESPNU): Hartford will make its first NCAA tournament appearance after its upset of Stony Brook in the America East final. The Hawks’ reward? A date with a team without a loss in the last two months.
Hartford should be celebrated for its turnaround as a program. Nonetheless, the Hawks are set up to learn just how talented the Big Red’s Rob Pannell is.
Pick: Cornell 16-5.
Maryland at North Carolina (1, ESPN): The true toss-up of the first round appropriately includes the No. 8 seed. The teams split their two meetings to date, though North Carolina had the better of play in six of the eight quarters in those games. The Terps were fortunate to play perhaps their best 15 minutes of the season in the fourth quarter of a 7-6 ACC semifinal defeat of the Tar Heels.
The Terps’ could be without injured attackman Grant Catalino and midfielder Joe Cummings. Perhaps more startling for Maryland is an incredibly shallow midfield. That might not mean much against the Tar Heels, who aren’t inclined to go too deep in the midfield, either.
Maryland has won at least two straight after each of its first three losses this season. It’s anyone’s guess if that streak can continue, though this should be close one way or another.
Pick: Maryland 8-7 (OT)
Bucknell at Virginia (3, ESPNU): Minus both Bratton brothers, the Cavaliers rolled past Penn 11-2 in perhaps their most complete game of the season. Two weeks later, they’ll get a tricky test from a Bucknell bunch with only two losses on the year.
Make no mistake – the Bison could pull an upset. But it’s going to require Virginia to play a sloppy game, too, and that might not happen after Virginia had the chance to refresh during a bye week to close the regular season. Expect this to be close for a good chunk of the game, but the Cavaliers should be able to advance.
Pick: Virginia 10-7.
Villanova at Denver (5:15, ESPNU): The first game west of the Mississippi in the tournament’s 41-season history is already sold out. The Pioneers are 13-0 when they reach double figures, and playing at altitude was an asset for Denver even before they became a postseason regular (four NCAA appearances in the last six years).
Villanova, meanwhile, has allowed only four of its 15 opponents to crack the 10-goal plateau. Yet the Wildcats are coming off a loss at Georgetown and beat only one team with a winning record (Drexel) away from home.
Pick: Denver 11-8.
Siena at Syracuse (7:30, ESPNU): As good a program as Siena has built, its not at Syracuse’s level. Two years ago, these teams met in the first round at the Dome – and the Orange left with an 11-4 victory. A year earlier, Cuse pounded Metro Atlantic champ Canisius 20-3 in its tournament opener.
After last year’s setback against Army in the first round, Syracuse is unlikely to come out flat. Expect this to be decided quickly.
Pick: Syracuse 15-5.