HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. – Greetings from Hofstra, where the first of two of this weekend’s doubleheaders will commence within the hour.
As for the week’s picks …
No. 2 Cornell vs. No. 7 Virginia: The Cavaliers beat the Big Red back in March, but it sure seems like it was a lot longer than two months and change ago.
Cornell hasn’t lost since (albeit beating only three NCAA tournament teams during its 11-game winning streak) as Rob Pannell emerged as the nation’s best player. The junior has 86 points – more than five a game – and his ability to both score and set up the rest of the Big Red offense makes him a gigantic headache and an impossible matchup.
Virginia has won two straight after a 1-4 skid, and its offense has fared well without the Brothers Bratton since Shamel was booted from the team and Rhamel was suspended indefinitely. Still, the Virginia defense remains a trouble spot, and Cornell is the perfect team to exploit that weakness and book passage to its third straight final four.
Pick: Cornell 13-9.
No. 3 Johns Hopkins vs. No. 6 Denver: Hopkins simply rolls along, finding offense from a talented attack and a deep midfield while almost automatically winning nearly two-thirds of its faceoffs behind Matt Dolente. The Blue Jays have moments where their inexperience shows, but rarely does it last more than a half.
In the Pioneers, Hopkins will face a team in the quarterfinals for the first time but a coach with plenty of postseason experience on Bill Tierney. Denver won on Long Island against Duke last month, and that victory probably earned the Pioneers a home game in the first round.
Still, Hopkins is more tested, and the four teams in the last four years to appear in the quarterfinals for the first time (2007 UMBC, 2007 Albany, 2008 Ohio State and 2010 Stony Brook) all lost. The future is promising for the sport’s notable western outpost, but Hopkins should survive.
Pick: Hopkins 13-10.
No. 1 Syracuse vs. Maryland: Twenty-five in a row. That’s the quarterfinal streak Syracuse has built up since 1983, with first-round losses in 2005 and 2010 and a missed tournament in 2007 the only years not factoring into the streak. The past doesn’t really matter, but that’s a heck of a psychological edge.
The Orange also has arguably the nation’s best goalie (John Galloway) and arguably its best long pole (Joel White). The Syracuse defense isn’t necessarily complex, just exceptionally good. Few teams have had much success in deciphering it.
Maryland, though, is a highly talented outfit for an unseeded team. It has experience at attack and defense, and faceoff man Curtis Holmes has enjoyed an exceptional sophomore year. It might not be quite as good as Syracuse and it owns three more losses, but this doesn’t have the look of a lopsided game at all. Even if the Terps don’t win, they should make a good showing.
Pick: Syracuse 10-8.
No. 4 Notre Dame vs. No. 5 Duke: A rematch of last year’s national title game – won in overtime by the Blue Devils – does mildly flip the script of that tussle. Notre Dame is the team loaded with postseason experience fresh off playing with the burden of preseason expectations. Duke is younger but plenty capable, though more highly regarded than the Irish were last year.
Notre Dame won the teams’ early-season meeting on a neutral field, and can be expected to attempt to dictate pace much as it did in the 2010 final. Duke will want to run, but it isn’t quite as ridiculously up-tempo as some of its recent editions.
Ultimately, this could wind up being the best game of the weekend. The higher the scoring, the more it favors Duke. Worth noting: The Irish lost two straight entering the postseason before handling an overmatched Penn team in the first round. Unlike last year, Notre Dame might not peak in May.
Pick: Duke 11-10.
Last week’s record: 8-0.