No. 16 Lindenwood vs. No. 1 Michigan, 4 p.m.
This seeding match-up is more of a ritual than a game. And by ritual, I mean something akin to an ancient Mayan rite where the high priest pulls the heart out of an unsuspecting villager and offers it up to a pagan god. We know how this one is going to turn out, even if Michigan coach John Paul is willing to sell the soap.
“First impression is they are the best No. 16 seed we’ve seen,” said Paul, running his three championship rings through his beard like a Bond villain. “They do some things really well. They’ve got a good faceoff guy and a little bit of an unorthodox offense that looks pretty skilled. We’re certainly confident going into this tournament, but I think this is the biggest challenge we’ve faced in the first round in the last four years.”
In his second stint as the Lindenwood head coach, Derek Schaub has superbly navigated the Lions through a schedule littered with canceled games and NCAA Division II competition to win the GRLC auto-qualifier. Like most opponents of the Wolverines, Lindenwood will try to keep the game as close as possible and take a shot in the fourth quarter. And, like most opponents, the Lions won’t get that shot. Michigan, 15-5.
No. 15 Minnesota-Duluth vs. No. 2 Colorado State, 4 p.m.
Although these two teams didn’t meet this year, they are familiar with each other from previous interactions. While Duluth coach Frank Clark is in his first year as head coach and Colorado State’s Alex Smith in his second campaign, both have been long-time assistants for their current teams.
“We know Alex and that program,” said Clark. “We’ve got a pretty good idea what to expect. We have multiple game films on them and we’ve been practicing with the scout team all week on what they like to do. It’s not a big change, but they do what they do pretty well.”
“I have a lot of respect for them because they play hard and they come after you for 60 minutes,” said Smith. “I don’t know a whole bunch about their specific team this year except that they have a couple of really nice middies and a very good goalie. When we played last year, they got up on us quickly and we can’t let that happen this year. We want to come out and establish our tempo early.”
The Bulldogs have played a strong schedule, but didn’t manage to win any big games, thus they were relegated to the No. 15 seed. That’s the bad news. The good news is Clark thinks much of the team’s problems are due simply to an inability to finish.
“It’s the same guys and the same system, they just aren’t finding the back of the net,” said Clark. “You can play as much offense as you want, but if you can’t do that, you’re in trouble. I’ll be honest, we shook the tree a little bit. But the shooters kept shooting and started finding the back of the net. Hopefully we can keep that going.”
Since the D-I tournament expanded to 16 teams in 2001, the closest the No. 2-15 game has been is three goals (which happened three times). I think that mark gets broken. Colorado State advances, but it’ll have to work. Rams, 10-8.
No. 14 UC Santa Barbara vs. No. 3 Brigham Young, 4 p.m.
After missing the first MCLA tourney since 2000 last year, UC Santa Barbara returns to the Big Dance with a young team and first-year head coach. Even with the daunting task of taking on the No. 3 seed, head coach Lane Jaffe thinks the Gauchos’ youth may help them.
“I think we are young enough not to realize how big the stage is in Denver,” he said. “We have played the Nos. 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, and 9 ranked teams already. We have yet to put a full game together, but besides the Michigan game, we have competed in every one of our games. Our guys are young, excited, and love the sport wherever they are.”
BYU enters its second tournament under the direction of Matt Schneck. After entering last year’s tourney as an uncharacteristic eighth-seed that required a date with Michigan in the quarters, the Cougars are back to a more typical seed.
“BYU lacrosse is in a much stronger place than we were last year,” said Schneck. “Last year we were still finding our identity entering the post season, which was not unexpected for the transition that we faced as a program. We are much closer to being the type of team that we know we can become.”
BYU’s strength lies in its offense, which boasts Ted Ferrin (51g, 41a), Andrew Harding (32g, 16a) and Tyler Monteath (19g, 23a), but the defense is only allowing six goals per outing, as well. I think the Gauchos will have their successes on the offensive end, but it’ll be slowing down the Cougar attack that will ultimately prove untenable for UCSB. I’ll take BYU, 15-11.
No. 13 Texas vs. No. 4 Chapman, 4 p.m.
Texas head coach Brian Myers told me that Denver was a business trip for the Longhorns and the ultimate quest was respect (and assumabley, a national title). We know so little about UT, other than the one-goal win over No. 11 seed Florida State, but we’ll find out one of two things about Myers next week.
The first possibility is Texas gets run off the field by Chapman, and we realize that Myers didn’t have a firm grasp on how competitive nationals can be. No shame in that considering he is a first-year head coach and much of what he’s seen of potential opponents is on tape.
The second possibility is Myers knows something we don’t, and the ‘Horns are a powerhouse operating without the benefit of the schedule to display that fact. This could be the case whether UT beats Chapman or not — the Panthers have been playing like a contender of late.
I’m thinking it’s probably the latter, but the Longhorns will not advance to the second round. Chapman is playing as well as any team outside of Ann Arbor right now, so it’ll be the Panthers, 11-9.
No. 12 Buffalo vs. No. 5 Arizona State, 7 p.m.
Other than the members of the PCLL, a couple of SELC schools and several CCLA lightweights, nobody knows a whole lot about the Bulls. Even Arizona State head coach Chris Malone speaks in generalities, with a sprinkling of qualifiers.
“From what I understand, they run an unorthodox offense; something that I have not seen since I have been here,” said Malone, who guided the Sun Devils to the national championship game last spring. “I heard their goalie played very well in [the PCLL] tournament. They have some good defenders that can make plays. Overall, they’re just a solid team that we have to make sure our guys are mentally ready to play.”
This has to be an uncomfortable spot for Malone and ASU. It’s one thing to go up against a team that is playing well in the tournament; it’s quite another when you know almost nothing about them. In the nebulous stats world of the MCLA, we anecdotally know that Buffalo has an exceptionally strong faceoff unit and an offense led by juniors Alex Hultgren (27g, 12a) and Ryan Grogan (14g, 24a). The Bulls will draw a lot of interest just from the curiosity of the unknown.
Let’s not lose track of the fact that Buffalo did, however, draw the Sun Devils. Alas, ASU is not the same squad that finished within a goal of Michigan in the title game.
“This is a completely different team than last year,” said Malone. “We are very young and it has shown this year in the big games. Growing up is something we have preached all year. I am very excited to see how this team is going to respond after losing to the Nos. 1, 2, 4, and 6 seeds.”
The reason ASU will win this game is because the Bulls have never seen Ryan Westfall play before. Not to say he’s unstoppable (although he’s close), but to game-plan Westfall, you have to have a frame of reference. Buffalo doesn’t have it. They can put their best pole on him, slide early, and use all the other schemes implemented to slow down a marquee guy. That makes very little difference when Westfall has turned over one of your middies at the top of the box and has sprung a 5-on-4. Devils, 12-6.
No. 11 Florida State vs. No. 6 Michigan State, 7 p.m.
Forget the seeding. Because of the mystery surrounding the Florida State team, Michigan State head coach Dwayne Hicks thinks the Spartans are chasing the ‘Noles.
“FSU is an unknown to be honest,” said Hicks. “They really didn’t play anyone this year so there is not a lot of scouting you can do. On the other hand, I’m sure they will know a lot about us and what we do. So I would say that we are going in as the underdog just based on knowledge and knowing what to expect.”
The underdog claim might be a nice motivational tool, but it doesn’t fly (and Hicks would probably smile and admit to it). The Spartan schedule is unrivaled among the teams in Denver and among MSU’s five losses, four are by a goal and two are to the unanimous No. 1 team in the country. This gives Sparty a knowledge that there is nothing they haven’t seen.
“Last year was the first time MSU had ever been to the nationals, so there was a sense of, ‘Wow, we made it,'” said Hicks. “This year, we are thinking differently. This team has played the No. 1 team in the country twice and given them a great game each time. We know what we’re capable of; it’s just a matter of executing and minimizing our mistakes. If we can do that, we will have a good week in Denver.”
It starts against Florida State. While the Seminoles have premium players all over the field, including attackman AJ Drivas (42g, 29a), close defender Jack Mata, and goalie John Goodrich (65.9 sv%), they haven’t been forged by the same schedule Michigan State has been. That is a pivotal difference. Sparty, 12-10.
No. 10 Boston College vs. No. 7 Colorado, 7 p.m.
This is basically the back-end of a home-and-home series between the Buffs and Eagles. Colorado traveled out to Chestnut Hill three weeks ago and captured a double-overtime affair, and now BC returns the trip to (the state of) Colorado. The closeness of the first contest gives the Eagles a certain confidence.
“[Colorado has] one of the best attackers in the country and it will take a team defensive effort to challenge them,” said BC coach Pat McCavanaugh. “With that said, the Colorado game was one that we had in our grasp until the final two minutes, eventually losing in two overtimes. We were happy to draw them again and get a shot at redeeming ourselves.”
Boston College would probably be better served to abandon the redemption theme and just concentrate on the little things they need to flip a game as close as the first one. The Eagles have a unique weapon in LSM/faceoff dual-threat Justin Katchis, who was named the PCLL Defensive Player of the Year, as well as a defensive tradition as strong as any team in the MCLA. That needs to be the Eagles’ focus, as well as what they’ve learned this year.
“This year’s team has an advantage in that we’ve seen some great national competition and been in some dogfights,” said McCavanaugh. “I think that experience has prepared us for the second season. We obviously didn’t want to back into the tournament [with an at-large], but the loss in our conference championship game to a quality Buffalo team might just be the kick in the ass we needed.”
Now we’re talking. A boot in the pants is far more effective as a motivator than redemption. That’s why BC advances to the second round. Eagles, 8-7.
No. 9 Cal Poly vs. No. 8 Oregon, 7 p.m.
Oregon’s Nick Johnston is the best goalie in the MCLA. In the first meeting between these two teams, Cal Poly made him look even better by taking poor shots in the Ducks 7-6 win in Eugene.
“We need to put a little more pressure on Johnston by taking better shots from better locations,” said Poly head coach Marc Lea. “In the first game, we settled for a lot of low angle shots on the perimeter and he shut us down pretty well simply by maintaining excellent position in the cage. We need to get to the middle of the field and make Johnston earn every save.”
Oregon feels that they left a couple of goals on the field in the first match-up that they can not afford to leave out there again.
“Cal Poly has an excellent defense,” said Ducks coach Joe Kerwin. “They came out and put some pressure on us, which disrupted the flow of our offense. They also rode aggressively. We need to be able to handle the pressure and dictate the flow of the game through our offense.”
The first meeting was a watershed game for these two programs. Since that contest, the Ducks have rolled to four straight wins by an average of 14.5 goals per contest, including a double-up of Simon Fraser in the PNCLL tourney finals, 16-8.
While Cal Poly has admittedly been hamstrung by injuries down the stretch, the Mustangs have a curious loss to Chico State in which they allowed 15 goals and were just average in their WCLL tourney run. These two appear to be heading in opposite directions at this point. That’s why I’ll take the Ducks (who, in full disclosure, were my championship pick six months ago) to win it, 10-7.
For more: http://www.laxmagazine.com/college_men/club/2010-11/news/051511_coynes_picks_mcla_div_1_tourney_first_round