Q&A with Mark Dixon
Mark Dixon, a former midfielder at Johns Hopkins and a current lacrosse anaylst with ESPN, candidly shared his thoughts on the upcoming lacrosse season. Here is a transcript of our conversation.
Question: Which team deserves the preseason No. 1 ranking?
Mark Dixon: "I personally voted for Duke, and the reason I voted for Duke is just because of what they return. First of all, they’ve got Ned Crotty, who I think is the frontrunner for Player of the Year right now. He’s a part of Team USA. I really like their defense with Parker McKee and Mike Manley and C.J. Costabile. I think the goal is a little bit of a question mark now with Sean Brady being ruled academically ineligible. Syracuse is the defending two-time champion, and they deserve consideration rightly so to be No. 1. However, they lose so much not only on offense, but in leadership in guys like Matt Abbott, Dan Hardy and Pat Perritt. But I think the biggest loss for them is on the attack end with Kenny Nims. He was the quarterback. He was the ball carrier. He was the one that got the ball to Stephen Keough. He was the one that would generate offense and get it to Cody Jamieson. Who’s going to be the quarterback of Syracuse’s offense? That’s a big question mark. And defensively, Sid Smith has been the linchpin the last couple years, and he’s graduated. Now they get [John] Lade back and they’ve got Matt Tierney and [John] Galloway’s in his third year, but the biggest reason Syracuse has won the last two national championships is because of that defense and when you’re missing your leader, things can get shaky. Just ask Johns Hopkins."
Q: Why isn't Duke a unanimous choice at No. 1?
MD: "If you look at their past experience, have they struggled on Final Four weekend the past couple of years? Yeah. That’s the monkey on the back of the Duke players. Can they perform and pull it through on the big stage? But if Syracuse were to play Duke right now, I think Duke would win."
Q: What do you make of Syracuse’s chances of a three-peat?
MD: "I’m a big believer in that you’re the champion until proven otherwise. But I think this year, with what Syracuse lost, it’s going to be a tough road to hoe. They’ve got some great juniors in Joel White, John Galloway, Jovan Miller, Josh Amidon, but I think when you look at the lay of the land … Virginia’s just loaded with midfielders. They’ve got defensive problems of their own, and they lose [Danny] Glading and [Garrett] Billings, but [Steele] Stanwick played a lot last year, and he can fill the role that Danny Glading had. You look at Carolina and think, ‘Are they for real?’ Billy Bitter is great, but they took a big loss with Sean Burke. Defensively, they’re going to be better because they’ve got a year under [head coach Joe] Breschi’s system and they’ve got some great athletes. Hopkins is going to be loaded offensively, but can they solve things defensively and in the goal? Then you’ve got teams like Maryland with a lot to prove. Georgetown has a lot to prove, and they’ve got some great kids coming back. So I really think this year is wide open when you consider the teams that were in last year's Final Four. The teams are getting closer and closer to one another. So I think Syracuse has a good chance. They’re the champions until proven otherwise. They’ve got a lot of holes to fill, but I think, if anything, John Desko has shown that he can adjust to any style that his team needs to play and he can coach his behind off and he’s going to have those guys ready, no matter what."
Q: Is this the year Georgetown snaps its two-year drought from making the NCAA Tournament?
MD: "It’s funny because we talked about Georgetown for years and whether they could break the ceiling of getting past the quarterfinals and getting to the Final Four. Instead of staying status quo, they took a step back and they haven’t made the tournament. I think Georgetown has a lot to prove. The kids that are seniors now, [Scott] Kocis and [Andrew] Brancaccio, I believe they were the No. 1 recruiting class a couple years ago by Inside Lacrosse, and they just haven’t really panned out. They’ve got talent. Barney Ehrmann, the long-stick midfielder, is excellent, the kid [Chris] Nixon is a great defenseman. I think the question about Georgetown is they’ve always had the talent, but do they have the hunger and determination? That’s a question they need to answer. I think on paper, they’ve got great talent, but it just hasn’t come together."
Q: Is Hoyas coach Dave Urick on the proverbial "hot seat"?
MD: "I think ‘hot seat’ in lacrosse is a relative term because lacrosse is not basketball or football. It doesn’t generate the money that other sports do. and whenever you say ‘hot seat,’ I think it’s a term that doesn’t have as much impact as college football or basketball. But if you talk to Georgetown alums, they’re not real happy with the way things have gone. If you look at Dave Urick, he’s taken that program from nothing to one of the elite programs in the country. You know as well as I do that in sports, it’s what have you done for me lately. So I guess in that regard, yeah, Urick might be a little bit on the hot seat."
Q: Which Maryland school has the best shot at playing on Memorial Day weekend?
MD: "It’s still Hopkins. They return their entire attack in [Chris] Boland, [Kyle] Wharton and [Steven] Boyle. [Michael] Kimmel at the midfield is just sensational. Good face-off guy with Matt Dolente, so they’re going to get possessions. Tommy Duerr is back on the attack, which is nice. They’ve got this freshman named [Zach] Palmer, who is supposed to be really good. They’ve just got so much talent everywhere on the field. They just need to adjust the defense, and they need consistent goaltending."
Q: Which team is your dark-horse candidate to reach the Final Four?
MD: "I think Brown is excellent. [Coach] Lars Tiffany has done a terrific job. They’ve got a huge task in replacing Jordan Burke, their goaltender, but they’ve got Peter Fallon back on defense, [Andrew] Feinberg and [Thomas] Muldoon on attack, [Reade] Seligmann is a good midfielder. I think Brown is a team you’ve got to keep your eye out for. … I know they’re top 10, but whenever you think of Hofstra, you’re like, ‘OK, they’ll be in the first round and then they’ll be out.’ They were a team a couple years ago that would just constantly invert. And now, they’ll attack from anywhere on the field because they’ve got better players and they’ve got deeper personnel."