ESPN analyst Mark Dixon has covered several games this season, including No. 7 Maryland’s 15-13 victory over No. 9 Georgetown and No. 3 North Carolina’s 12-7 win against No. 19 UMBC. On Monday, he shared his thoughts on the first month of the lacrosse season.
Question: Which team has exceeded your expectations?
Mark Dixon: "The one team that has really jumped out to me is Maryland. It’s not so much that they beat Georgetown and they beat Duke, but it’s the way they’re playing right now. They’re playing a lot of guys, and I’m particularly impressed with the midfield. You lose three seniors, and [sophomore] Jake Bernhardt and [senior] Adam Sear have played well and [freshman] John Haus has been terrific. They’ve got guys stepping into the midfield, but I think more importantly, there’s the level of excitement that they have. Maryland has always been intense, but the excitement and passion that they’re playing with, I haven’t seen that in recent years. Against Georgetown when they were making that comeback [from a four-goal deficit], the sideline was going absolutely nuts. They were animated, they were excited, and Coach [Dave] Cottle was right in the middle of it all. He’s high-fiving, chest-bumping, leading the cheers, pumping his fist. They’re just a really excited bunch right now, so Maryland is a team that has exceeded my expectations. I also think Princeton has exceeded my expectations. When you look at the new coach [Chris Bates] who came from a very defensive-minded program at Drexel, you think, ‘OK, I think Princeton’s going to have some trouble scoring goals or at least emulating the success that they had a year ago.’ But they put up 17 against a very good Hofstra team and 11 against Johns Hopkins. So I think Princeton offensively has surprised me. Defensively, they’re surprising me, too, with the amount of goals that they’re giving up, but when you lose a guy like [sophomore defenseman] Chad Wiedmaier [who is recovering from knee surgery], I think you can expect the defense to take a little bit of a step back. But I would say that Maryland and Princeton are the two teams that have surprised me thus far."
Q: Which team has fallen short of your expectations?
MD: "Well, it’s got to be Duke, which was my preseason No. 1. The loss to Notre Dame, I actually picked them to lose that game in the Inside Lacrosse Pick ‘Em. I just thought it was a dangerous game, and the way Duke was playing in an overtime win against Bucknell, that really told me that these guys were ripe for the picking. Notre Dame is a very, very good team with a lot of good defensive players. But what’s been disappointing about Duke is the midfield production. When you look at guys like [senior] Steve Schoeffel, [sophomore] Justin Turri, [sophomore] Rob Rotanz, [senior] Will McKee, I thought there would be more production out of the midfield, and there hasn’t been. Look at North Carolina and [junior attackman] Billy Bitter. He’s not doing it all by himself this year. He can’t because [opponents] are keying on him too much. The guys who are taking pressure off of Bitter are midfielders like [senior] Sean DeLaney, [senior] Cryder DiPietro and [sophomore] Jimmy Dunster. Those are dangerous dodgers who are scoring and producing. So Duke has two losses. They had two losses at this time last year. But it’s really the midfield that is not getting the job done for the Blue Devils."
Q: Is there a player who has separated himself from the rest of the crowd in the race for the Tewaaraton Trophy?
MD: "Absolutely not. It’s way too early. I think Billy Bitter has played well. I think he’s got five goals and 11 assists on the season. [Duke senior attackman] Ned Crotty was the preseason favorite, and he’s struggled a little bit. He’s got decent numbers, and he’s playing well, but Duke isn’t winning. I think those were the two frontrunners early on. [Virginia junior midfielder] Shamel Bratton, his brother [Rhamel] is playing better than him right now. Four goals [Sunday] against Syracuse, and he’s doing a terrific job. Shamel’s been injured a little bit. [Senior midfielder] Michael Kimmel has played really well for Hopkins, and [senior goalkeeper] Scott Rodgers of Notre Dame has been terrific. Those were my top five in the preseason. But there are two guys playing at incredibly high levels, and that’s [senior attackman Curtis Dickson from Delaware and [junior long-stick midfielder] Brian Farrell from Maryland. He makes Maryland a different team, and with what he’s been able to do against Georgetown when he had 10 groundballs and six caused turnovers and what he did against Duke this past Saturday, Brian Farrell has really stood out to me. Now I’m not saying that he’ll win the Tewaaraton. He’s a long-stick midfielder, and typically, those positions, it just doesn’t happen. But Farrell is a guy who has really stood out and played excellent. If I had to pick a Tewaaraton right now, probably Scott Rodgers would be the guy. He has just played at such a high level. He’s a guy who was a preseason Tewaaraton candidate, and I think he’s lived up to expectations."
Q: How much significance is there to be gleaned from No. 2 Virginia’s 11-10 win against then-No. 1 Syracuse on Sunday?
MD: "I don’t really think it bears much. It’s too early. Virginia beat Syracuse last year up at the [Carrier] Dome, and Syracuse went on to win the national championship. You have two great lacrosse teams separated by a goal. They could probably play the same game in May, and Virginia could lose that game. They’re very close. I do think that Virginia is the better team right now. I voted them No. 2 in the preseason, and I voted them No. 1 after Duke lost. But I don’t think you can say that, hands down, Virginia and Syracuse are the two best teams in the country. I think North Carolina’s been real impressive early on, and they’ve met the expectations. I thought they were maybe a little bit ahead of themselves with people giving them props, but I think [junior] Chris Madalon, their goalie, is excellent, and I think their defense – although they foul a little bit too much – is huge and athletic. And I think Notre Dame is playing at a very high level. They’ve got a terrific defense, and in a year when teams are scoring 10, 12, 14 goals a game, Notre Dame is that kind of team that can keep you in single digits."
Q: Which team outside of the Top 10 has the most staying power?
MD: "This is a year when teams are winning with a lot of offense. So with that in mind, I think Stony Brook is a very dangerous team. They’ve got [junior Jordan] McBride at the attack and [junior] Kevin Crowley at the midfield. They’ve got a pretty good goalie in [senior] Charlie Paar, who was actually enrolled at Towson a couple of years ago. I guess it didn’t work out for him, and he ended up at Nassau Community College and he won the [junior college] Defensive Player of the Year award [in 2008], and now he’s in the goal for Stony Brook. They lost to Virginia, 13-8, but Stony Brook is a team that I think is really dangerous. And although they lost to Hofstra, I really like Brown. I’m really taken by what they have at the attack and a good middie in [senior] Reade Seligmann. I knew they were going to be OK in the goal with Matt Chriss from Gilman, and I think he had something like 13 or 14 saves against Hofstra. So I still have a lot of faith in Brown. But Stony Brook is the team that I think is really dangerous right now."