The road to Boston starts now! The field of 16 has been set, the matchups have been announced, and this weekend the NCAA tournament will finally comense. This years fields features an array of talented team that vary from the defending national champion Maryland Terrapins, all the way to a young Robert Morris bunch, that is making their first ever appearance to the big dance. The actions gets under way this weekend with eight matchups along with a play in game on Wednesday, and we will preview every single game. We will then pick a winner for each contest at the end of the excerpt. Let’s start with the Saturday slate of games, that could feature some heavy upsets as well as some memorable performances from some special players.
12:00 UMass @ #3 Yale
The weekend action kicks things off in New Haven, Connecticut where the number 3 national seed in the tournament, the Yale Bulldogs, welcome in the UMass Minutemen. Although Yale is entering the matchup as a heavy favorite, they are coming off a heartbreaking loss in the Ivy League tournament final to Cornell, and could be vulnerable. The Bulldogs are led by one of the best players in all of college lacrosse, Ben Reeves, who is a human highlight reel. The 6’2 senior is having one of the best collegiate years the lacrosse world has ever seen, accumulating 90 total points in the span of 16 games to go along with 51 goals scored. Reeves is a matchup nightmare for defenders and you should expect him to have a huge game on Saturday. As for UMass, the Minutemen are coming into this game as one of the hottest teams in the country, as well as being one of the most underrated teams in the nation. They have won 11 games in a row, and are playing team lacrosse better than anyone. They are led by their face off specialist, Noah Rak who can become a problem if not contained by the Bulldogs. As for the matchup in this one, I think it will be close early. UMass has the attack to keep up with a high paced offense like Yale’s. That beings said, I think this Yale team is just way too talented and think late in the game, the Minutemen defense will have no answer for Reeves. I have the Bulldogs pulling away in the second half, and handling this game. Yale is a team that you should keep an eye on because they definitely have the talent to be playing on Memorial Day weekend.
2:15 Villanova @ #4 Duke
Duke Lacrosse. Some love em, some hate em, but one thing you must do, is respect them. Coach John Danowski has built a dynasty over his tenure, accumulating multiple national championships as well as being in the hunt seemingly ever year. This year is no different. The Blue Devils are coming into the tournament with a 13-3 record, earning them the number 4 national seed and a first round home game. The Dukies have one of the best scoring offenses in the country and are led by star senior attackman, Justin Guterding. Guterding has had a tremendous 2018 campaign in which he has scored 96 poins as well as scoring 56 goals. To beat a team like Duke, you must have a stout defense who can slow down the Blue Devil attack, as well as create offensive opportunities for your offense by creating turnovers. A team that is looking to chalk up that recipe and pull off the historic upset on Saturday, are the Villanova Wildcats. Villanova was one of the more controversial picks to be selected to the field as they only finished with a sub par, 10-5 record. Because they did not earn a AQ, many people thought other teams were more deserving of being in the field such as one of Rutgers who have been snubbed from the tournament for the third year in a row. That being said, Villanova has the perfect opportunity to prove all the haters wrong on Saturday afternoon in Durham. To pull off the upset, Nova is going to count on their graduate student goalie, Matt Barnett. Barnett is going to have to have the game of his life, as he is sure to face an overload of shots from one of the best attacks in the country. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, there will be no upset here. Duke is just way too good and is going to be way too overpowering for Villanova to handle. I see a blowout here and things this one could get ugly, fast.
5:00 Richmond @ #2 Albany
The third matchup on Saturday features two of the fastest teams in the country and is sure to be a high scoring, thrilling affair. Albany Lacrosse has been accustom to one thing and one thing only this season, being number one. The Great Danes have been labeled as the nations best team for most of the regular season and the only reason they come into this tournament as a 2 seed, was because they experienced a bad loss to UMBC late in the year. Albany has an offense that most coaches could only dream about. The Great Danes high power attack is led by two 70 point scorers in Tehoka Nanticoke and Connor Fields who most would argue that they are the best duo in the nation. If you cannot find a way to contain these two men, a game can turn ugly at any time and Albany will flat out embarrass you. As for their opponents on Saturday, the Great Danes will host the Richmond Spiders out of Virginia. Richmond is coming into the NCAA tournament with a boat load of momentum and many people are eying a potential upset on Saturday afternoon. Richmond does not necessarily have a star on the same level as Fields, but they play good team lacrosse and do a tremendous job of moving the ball. For Richmond to pull off the upset, they are going to have to have a big performance from their junior leader, Teddy Hatfield. When I say big, I am preffrencing huge and am essentially saying he has to become legendary if Richmond wants a chance to win this game. I don’t see it happening. Albany is way too good offensively for this to even be a contest and in fact, they are my pick to win the whole thing coming into this tournament, This will just be the first step for them.
7:15 Virginia @ #6 Loyola (MD)
This is where you are going to see your first major upset of the weekend. Virginia is a team that has been disrespected all year, and want to show people they belong in this field and they are here to compete. The Cavaliers come into the tournament with a 12-5 record and are led by one of the best goal scorers in the country, Michael Kraus. Kraus has put the ball in the back of the net 45 times this year and is also a great passer, collecting 38 assists on the season. Virginia also does a tremendous job of spreading the field and making other teams feel small. To play with the Cavaliers, you will have to one run with them and two, play their game, and make them feel small, which is a very hard thing to do. The Cavaliers will have their hands full trying to pull off the upset Saturday as they will face the 6 seed in this tournament, the Loyola Greyhounds of Maryland. The Greyhounds are coming into the NCAA tournament with a 12-3 record and are playing extremely well, being winners of their last seven. Loyola is led by Junior Attackman, Pat Spencer who has racked up 86 points on the year and has become one of the best utility players in the country. It seems like every year, we continue to talk about this Greyhound team and how far they will go in the upcoming NCAA tournament. This year, I think their journey will end shortly, as I am picking my first upset of the tournament. I think this Virginia Cavalier team has a lot to play for and feels disrespected, which will lead to a fire under their asses. I also think they are a tad more athletic than the Greyhounds and that will play dividends late in the game. How deep of a run is this Cavalier team capable of? It’s hard to say. But they are upset bound and will be the first cinderella story of the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
Noon Canisius/Robert Morris @ #1 Maryland
After seemingly being the top ranked team for over half a decade coming into the tournament, Maryland lacrosse finally broke through in 2017 to win their first national title since 1975. This year, as the Terps look to repeat as champions, many experts had their doubts as Maryland would be without one of the best players to ever put on a Maryland jersey Matt Rambo. Well, it is safe to say that the Terps proved the naysayers wrong. They come into this this tournament with a 12-3 record and are once again the top overall seed in the field. This year’s team have solely relied on their midfield play and thanks to production from Midfielders Jared Bernhardt and Connor Kelly the Terps have become the most balanced team in the country. They also have an extremely talented goaltender in Dan Morris who has the ability to dominate a game. Now as for the competitors go for Maryland, the Terps will face the winner of Canisius and Robert Morris who play in a play in game on Wednesday and although both those teams are young and athletic, they have absolutely 0 chance to pull off an upset. Maryland rolls and will do so in a big way.
2:15 Denver @ #7 Notre Dame
Here we have the best first round matchup and it is the best matchup by a wide margin. This is going to be a case of two historic programs going at each other and the team that has the last possession will most likely walk away with a win, they are that evenly matched. For Notre Dame, they are heading into this tournament with a team that is not as talented as one that we are accustomed to seeing. That being said, they are still fresh off an ACC Championship and have the tools to make a run to Boston. In order to win this game on Sunday, the Irish are going to rely heavy on their Junior attackman, Ryder Garnsey. They are also going to need to have a stellar performance from their defense as the Denver attack can become lethal at times. As for Denver, the fact that they are coming into this tournament as an unranked team is an absolute farse. They have a 12-3 record, have one of the best attacks in the country, and the only reason they are not ranked is because they lost in the Big East final to Georgetown. Denver is led by Sophomore attackman, Ethan Walker who if he gets going, can be a force to be reckoned with. Denver is also extremely athletic in the midfield area and is not afraid to run with you and score goals by the bunches. If you are a college lacrosse fan, this is definitely a matchup that you want to circle on your calenders as this has the making for a classic written all over it. As for a winner, I honestly went with Denver by the narrowest of margins and just for the sole fact that coach Bill Tierney is an absolute legend and knows how to win big time games in big time environments. This will be a game for the ages and is one you are not going to want to miss.
5:00 Georgetown @ #5 Johns Hopkins
Johns Hopkins is one of those teams where come tournament time, you know you can find them there and they will be contenders year in and year out. This year, the Blue Jay faithful believe this is one of their most talented teams and believe they are talented enough to win the National Championship. They come into the tournament with a 11-4 record, and are fresh off of an upset win against Maryland in the Big Ten championship game. The Blue Jays are led by their Junior attackman, Kyle Marr who just loves to score goals and make plays. Johns Hopkins also are one of the best teams in the country when it comes to their long stick play and at times, their defense can seem suffocating. If you don’t limit your turnovers against this Blue Jay team, you are in for a long day. As for their competitors, Johns Hopkins will welcome Georgetown to Maryland on Sunday afternoon. Georgetown is coming into this tournament feeling confident as ever, winning their first ever Big East title, that came off the helms of heavily favored Denver. This is the type of team that is just fun to watch, fun to root for, and are a team you find yourself attaching on to. The Hoyas are led by their 43 goal scoring leader in Jake Carraway. Carraway is a big time time play maker and is going to have to put on a show if the Hoyas have any chance to pull off the upset. Georgetown is also extremely fast and if they get in transition with numbers, it turns into a goal almost every time. As much as I would love to see this upset occur, I just do not see it happening. I think this Johns Hopkins team is one of the best in the nation and think they are the sleeper pick to win the National Championship. They will be too much for the Hoyas to handle and the Blue Jays will be the winners of this match up.
Winner: Johns Hopkins
7:15 Cornell @ #8 Syracuse
The last matchup of the weekend has become some what of a tradition to the NCAA Tournament as for as long as I could remember, the opening weekend was always concluded with a game on a Sunday night in the famous Carrier Dome. This year, the tradition lives on as the last matchup of the weekend features a matchup between the Syracuse Orangemen, being host to the Cornell Big Red. Syracuse has had a reputation of losing their first round games in this building so it is essential they play good lacrosse, to make sure that doesn’t happen again. To do that, they are going to need production from Sophomore attackman, Stephen Rehfuss who has had some what of an average season. The Orange are not a team that overall impress you and frankly, many are surprised they even got a national seed. As for a team that has been surprising people, we turn to the Big Red of Cornell. Cornell is coming into this tournament off a huge Ivy League title win against rival Yale, giving them an extraordinary amount of confidence heading into this tournament. Cornell is led by Jeff Teat, who in my opinion, is the second best player in the country behind Ben Reeves. Teat has had an exceptional 2018 season in which he has accounted for 96 points as well as 59 assists and 37 goals. If the Syracuse defense does not figure out a plan for Teat early, he is going to make their night a living hell. As for a prediction for this matchup goes, I think Cornell is going to roll all over Syracuse. I think Syracuse is the most overrated team in the entire country and that will show on Sunday night. I also expect Teat to have a huge game and expect him to collect ten plus points on the night. The Big Red will role in the Carrier dome and we will see a beat down in Syracuse to wrap up opening weekend.
There you guys have it! A preview for all 8 matchups for the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament. I hope you really enjoyed it and let me know if I missed anything or anyone in the comments below. Their is only one thing to be done now, let’s play some damn lacrosse!