ESPN analyst Mark Dixon, who will be handling play-by-play duties when No. 7 Notre Dame visits Georgetown this Sunday, writes a weekly column for Inside Lacrosse in which he provides his thoughts on results from the previous week. The former Blue Jays midfielder, who can be followed on Twitter via @Dixonlacrosse, discussed the biggest surprise from last weekend, a team setting itself up well and Albany sophomore attackman Lyle Thompson’s candidacy for the Tewaaraton Award.
What results from this past weekend stood out to you?
I think the biggest surprise would be Georgetown knocking off [No. 6] St. John’s. That was a Red Storm team that was streaking with a four-game winning streak and they had just knocked off Notre Dame and were riding high and probably feeling pretty good about themselves. And here was a Georgetown team that was scuffling and coming off a loss at home to Villanova, and they were able to go to Bethpage [in New York] and beat St. John’s and stay alive in the Big East for one of those four spots to play in the Big East tournament. So that was the biggest surprise to me this weekend. I think you also have to look at [No. 19] Albany knocking off [No. 12] Hopkins for only the second time in program history, and it wasn’t so much that Albany beat Hopkins, but the way that they were able to do it with [sophomore attackman] Lyle Thompson being held scoreless. That’s impressive, that an Albany team that has arguably the most electric player in all of lacrosse is kept off the score sheet and they found a way to win. I thought the goaltending for both teams was sensational, but Albany stared Hopkins down on Homewood Field and won the game, so I thought that was a pretty impressive result. And I think you have to look at the Syracuse-Princeton game, which was terrific. [No. 9] Syracuse was down to [No. 8] Princeton entering the fourth quarter, and I think you have to tip your cap to [senior midfielder] JoJo Marasco. In a battle of first-team All Americans potentially at midfield with [junior] Tom Schreiber of Princeton and Marasco of Syracuse, of the last three Syracuse scores, he assisted on two of them and scored the game-winner. So I think that was a tremendous individual effort on his part. As far as the team, I continued to be impressed with [junior Dominic] Lamolinara in goal. That game was a toss-up, and I thought Syracuse winning the game and the way they won it and the person that led them speaks to his development and how his senior year has really been special.
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How much does the loss to Georgetown impact St. John’s bid for an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament if the Red Storm can’t capture the Big East tournament and the accompanying automatic qualifier?
They’ve got quality wins this year. They beat Notre Dame, they beat [No. 17] Yale, they beat Hofstra. But I think it does hurt them in the at-large scheme. Georgetown is a team that was scuffling, and you don’t want to ever call it a “bad loss,” but it was a surprising loss, and it is one that could cost them at the end of the day. I think it’s just a loss where everyone likes to have their own destiny in their own hands, and that’s a loss that on Selection Sunday – unless they win the Big East and unless they win the tournament and get the automatic qualifier – that could be a loss to where they’ve left their fate in the committee’s hands. They still have Villanova, Providence and Marquette left, and Villanova is getting better and depending on what the Wildcats do, that can be a quality win should they beat Villanova. But Providence and Marquette, although they’re having decent seasons, that’s not a marquee win. So I do think that loss to Georgetown hurts St. John’s if they have to go the at-large route.
How much does the win against Johns Hopkins aid Albany’s at-large resume?
This is no disrespect to the rest of the America East, but I don’t think they have anything to worry about with respect to getting that America East qualifier based on what I’ve seen so far. They’ve been ripping through the AE. They dominated Binghamton, they just beat Hartford this past weekend by 13 goals. But if you’re looking at an at-large, the Syracuse win right now is huge. I’m not trying to say that the Hopkins win is not, but the way that the Blue Jays’ season is going, Hopkins still has Maryland on the schedule and still has [No. 10] Loyola on the schedule, and they’re going to be the underdogs in those games. And then they have Navy and Army. If Hopkins can’t beat Loyola and/or Maryland, they could be on the outside looking in. So maybe the win over Hopkins isn’t as huge as it might be. But when you look at the body of work for Albany, if they have to go the at-large route, that Syracuse win is huge right now. And depending on how Hopkins plays the rest of the year, that win could be huge as well. But [the Great Danes] have lost to Bucknell, they’ve lost to Yale, and they’ve lost to [No. 20] Drexel. Those are three teams that could perhaps be in the mix for an at-large berth if they don’t win the Patriot League, Ivy League and Colonial Athletic Association [respectively]. When you start talking about these at-large berths, it’s how do you go head-to-head with potential at-large teams? We’re talking on April 8, and there could be drastic change over the next couple of weeks. When you’re looking at those at-large teams, Albany has lost to three teams that will have a claim to an at-large berth. So I think the win over Syracuse is huge, but right now, I think they’re the heavy favorite to win the America East AQ. If they don’t, it’s nice to beat Hopkins, and it’s nice to beat Syracuse. It’s an amazing accomplishment for any program, and the fact that it’s Albany, which has been a program that was down for several years and is not playing exciting lacrosse, are they completely out of it for an at-large? Absolutely not. But head-to-head, they’ve lost to three potential at-large teams, and that could put them in jeopardy.
Is there a team setting itself up nicely for a run in its respective conference and then league tournament?
[No. 13] Penn State. Penn State is a team that I’ve been incredibly impressed with over the last couple of weeks. They had a three-game losing streak, and now they’re on a six-game swing and just playing very, very good lacrosse. They dominated the second half against Drexel. It was a really tight game and a battle for first place in the Colonial. And let’s maybe talk about Towson, a team that has improved tremendously after that horrific start and now they’re battling Penn State this weekend for what could be the No. 1 seed in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament. But it’s more Penn State, and I’ll tell you why. The attack is terrific, but two areas have really improved over the last couple of weeks. [Junior goalkeeper] Austin Kaut is playing like an All-American again after he was struggling in the early part of the season, and they’re getting a lot more from their midfield scoring. Guys like [junior] Tom LaCrosse, [senior] Nick Dolik stepped up and had a goal, [junior] Gavin Ahearn has scored in his last couple games. If they can continue to get that midfield production, Penn State is a very dangerous team.
On the flipside, is there a team falling out of the postseason picture?
[No. 15] Virginia is the easy answer right there. The Cavaliers are playing hard. North Carolina’s goalie, a freshman, made 23 saves against them and played terrific. Virginia just really doesn’t have a whole lot of the leadership that they had in the past couple of years with guys like [long-stick midfielder Bray] Malphrus and [goalie Adam] Ghitelman and [attackman Steele] Stanwick. So that’s a team that right now is very young, and they’re struggling. They still have opportunity in front of them with the ACC [Atlantic Coast Conference] tournament, and they can try to steal a quality win there and maybe win that thing outright. And even though that thing doesn’t have an AQ, if you look at the history, any team that wins that tournament doesn’t usually get excluded from the NCAA tournament. Virginia is struggling right now, and Hopkins is struggling offensively. Defensively, I think they’ve played OK the past couple of weeks and [senior goalkeeper] Pierce Bassett was great on Friday night. But offensively in crunch time for two weeks in a row now, they haven’t been able to score a goal when having the last possession. But this is a great week for them to circle the wagons. Maryland week is special at Homewood as it is in College Park, and they would like nothing better than to get a win against [No. 4] Maryland and get that season back on track.
Is it time to starting including Thompson into the conversation regarding the Tewaaraton Award?
I think you give him a lot of consideration when the guy is averaging six or seven points a game. He’s terrific. He’s just so dynamic. He’s electric. Where would Albany be without him is the question you often ask yourself. Do I think [Cornell fifth-year senior attackman] Rob Pannell is the best player in the country? Yes. But I think a player like Lyle Thompson deserves serious consideration. If the season were to end today, he would be one of the five players invited to D.C. for the Tewaaraton ceremony, and he would be a first-team All American. But there’s a lot of great players out there, especially attackmen when you look at [senior] Marcus Holman from [No. 4] North Carolina and [junior] Kieran McArdle from St. John’s. But I think right now, Rob Pannell has established himself as the best player in the country and right behind him is Lyle Thompson.