ESPN analyst Mark Dixon, who provided color commentary for No. 7 Loyola’s 8-4 victory over No. 13 Johns Hopkins on Saturday, will handle play-by-play duties for the championship final of the America East tournament at Stony Brook this Saturday and offer analysis for the title game of the Ivy League tournament at Cornell a day later. The former Blue Jays midfielder, who can be followed on Twitter via his account @Dixonlacrosse, addressed questions regarding No. 5 Loyola, No. 11 Maryland and No. 13 Johns Hopkins.
Has the reigning national champion locked up a spot in the NCAA tournament even if the Greyhounds falter in the Eastern College Athletic Conference tournament?
I think losing in the semifinals would be damaging to Loyola, but I think they’re in at this point in time. The quality win that they have is [No. 8] Ohio State. The Fairfield win, I think [coach] Charley [Toomey] was hoping they would beat Ohio State this past weekend and make that a top 20 win, but it didn’t happen. But they’ve taken care of business when they’ve had to. Their worst loss is to [No. 4] Duke, which is a top 10 loss. There are no criteria for good losses, but they don’t have any bad losses on their resume. So I think they’ve done enough to warrant a NCAA bid, but it’s all about controlling your own destiny. Losing to Ohio State wouldn’t be the end of the world, but if they do lose, then I think they’re going to be nervous somewhat because they’re putting their fate in other people’s hands. I think the worst thing that can happen as well is if Ohio State runs the table and wins the ECAC or if [No. 9] Penn State gets upset in the [Colonial Athletic Association tournament] or if [No. 10] Albany gets upset in the America East [tournament]. Those are all the dominos that need to fall into place. When conference tournaments go the way that they’re supposed to go, teams like Loyola are going to get into the tournament. I think the ECAC could be a three-bid league with what those teams have accomplished. Ohio State has a win over Penn State, and they’ve played some good lacrosse. I think at this point, Loyola is in the tournament. But you never want to slip up on that last weekend and then have to sit around and bite your fingernails waiting for your name to get picked.
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How worried should Maryland be about its recent struggles on offense?
I’m really worried, and I’m sure [coach] John Tillman is as well. From what we’ve seen play out over the last three weeks, Maryland does not have an offensive leader. I’m not saying that they don’t have somebody who can make plays or who can get to the goal. I’m talking more about a guy like [midfielder] Drew Snider, who last year would get them a goal at a critical moment and give Maryland a spark. They have a lot of great players. It’s just right now, it doesn’t seem like they have any great leaders on the offensive end of the field, and that’s where I look at guys like [fifth-year senior midfielder] Jake Bernhardt and [senior attackman] Kevin Cooper to step up and make plays at critical moments that can give them a spark. Look, we’ve said all along that the first midfield is probably the best in the country. Well, now they’re struggling. [Senior] John Haus has been struggling mightily the last few weeks. [Redshirt junior Mike] Chanenchuk has been really their only consistent scorer, and when you have an attack that really doesn’t generate a lot of opportunities, that’s problematic. So they need somebody to step up and be that leader on offense, to get that gritty goal that says, ‘Hey, we can do this.’ I don’t know who that’s going to be, but they need somebody to step up.
How difficult will it be for No. 13 Johns Hopkins to get an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament after Saturday’s 8-4 loss to Loyola?
I think it depends on how the other tournaments play out. Virginia not winning the [Atlantic Coast Conference] tournament hurt them because that would have given them another top 20 – possibly top 10 – win. The Army game is not as big as it could have been. If Army could have won the Patriot League tournament, then all of a sudden, that’s a huge win if Hopkins could have knocked them off. But I think they missed their opportunity this past Saturday against Loyola. It’s going to depend on the results of the conference tournaments this weekend. I’ve kind of made this pithy little comment over the past couple of days, but when [the NCAA selection committee] is shopping at the Bid Store on At-Large Avenue, [Johns Hopkins] is in line behind [No. 6] Syracuse, they’re in line behind [No. 12] Princeton, they’re in line behind Albany, and now they’re in line behind Loyola. Those are teams that if they don’t win their conference AQs but are still in line for at-large spots – you can look at RPI and strength of schedule – but for my money, head-to-head, that’s it. You can have a really difficult time putting Hopkins in the tournament over any of those teams based on the body of work and the head-to-head competition. Is it unprecedented? No, it’s not. I think Hopkins just really missed an opportunity this past weekend against Loyola. Had they beaten Loyola, I think they would be in much, much better shape than they are in right now.