Q&A with ESPN's Mark Dixon
Question: No. 1 Virginia and No. 3 North Carolina – the only remaining unbeaten teams in Division I – play against each other Saturday in the Konica Minolta Big City Classic at the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Which team remains unblemished and can that team run the table in the regular season?
Mark Dixon: “I think Virginia’s going to win the game, and I say that because I think last week [an 11-10 win against No. 5 Maryland] proved to be a wake-up call to them. They’ve got to play 60 minutes, they just can’t coast, and they’ve got to be aware that even if they get up by a few goals, teams are going to come back and really give their best effort. But I also like Virginia because North Carolina is so banged up right now. It’s uncertain whether or not [senior midfielder] Sean DeLaney will play. He may be out until the playoffs with that shoulder injury. [Sophomore attackman] Thomas Wood has a hand issue. He didn’t play against Hopkins, and it doesn’t look like he’ll play this week. And they’ve got young guys in the midfield who stepped up against Hopkins, but Virginia is a different animal both offensively and defensively. As far as running the table, I don’t know. This is a Virginia team that has struggled tremendously against Duke the last couple years, and the Blue Devils are on a seven-game winning streak. They play each other on the 17th, and then you’ve got the ACC [Atlantic Coast Conference] Tournament. I think the separation between those four schools is so razor-thin, that it’s going to be a wide-open tournament. This year, of the top five teams in the country, four of them are in the ACC – no questions asked. So I think Virginia beats North Carolina on Saturday, but will they run the table? I’m not so sure. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did, but I certainly wouldn’t be shocked if they didn’t.”
Q: Which team has surprised you thus far in terms of what they’ve accomplished?
MD: “If I’m looking at their recent performance – and they’ve burned me in the past – I look at Georgetown. They’ve got some fresh blood offensively. [Freshman attackman] Davey Emala has come in and scored six goals in two games. [Freshman midfielder] Zach Guy had three assists. I think they’ve relied so heavily on that midfield of [senior Andrew] Brancaccio and [senior Scott] Kocis that you haven’t seen other guys emerge. But now you’re seeing Zach Guy and [sophomore attackman] Zack Angel. The thing about georgeytown, though, is that they haven’t won that big one yet in 2010. They’ve lost to Maryland, they’ve lost to Syracuse, they’ve lost to Duke. They’ve got a big test this coming Sunday against Notre Dame, who’s struggling. But I like what [coach] Dave Urick is doing in giving some of the younger guys an opportunity to get out there and play. I also think that UMass is very dangerous. They’ve got a very good defender in [senior] Diogo Godoi, a good middie in [senior] Bobby Hayes, a nice attackman in [sophomore] Art Kell, and that’s a team that has beaten Hofstra and Brown. I thought earlier in the season, it was going to be between Hofstra and Drexel in the CAA [Colonial Athletic Association]. But now you’re looking at UMass.”
Q: Has No. 13 Hofstra or No. 14 Notre Dame been the biggest disappointment thus far?
MD: “Hofstra’s got the win over Hopkins, which doesn’t seem that big right now. But what I’m most surprised about is that Hofstra is 0-2 in the CAA. I think the biggest problem for the Pride has been goaltending. Rob Bellairs is a freshman who didn’t start at the beginning of the season. He replaced [sophomore] Andrew Gvozden, who struggled earlier in the season. Wen you look at that attack of [juniors] Jamie Lincoln and Jay Card, they’re terrific. They’re tremendous together, and they’ve developed some scorers. For the longest time, the joke on Hofstra was you called them ‘Hafstra’ because they had no ‘O.’ And now they’ve got the ‘O,’ but they’re struggling between the pipes. I think they really needed to get their defense in order. They’ve got a really good defender in [senior] Christian Scuderi, but I think their interior defense is a little lacking. The freshman [Robert] Church from Drexel had seven [goals] against them last week. For Notre Dame, that’s a team that you knew was going to win – or lose – 7-6, 8-7 games because their defense is strong, and they’ve got [senior goalkeeper] Scott Rodgers. Well, now Rodgers is out. He got hurt against Rutgers [a 10-8 loss for the Fighting Irish], and he didn’t play in the [9-8] loss to Villanova, but their [backup] goaltender [freshman John Kemp] has been doing pretty good. When I look at Notre Dame, they just have no one on attack that scares me. You’ve got the one kid, [senior Neal] Hicks, who’s a good scorer, but other than him, you really don’t have an attackman who can break the defense down, and that’s tough. You want to have at least two guys that you have to respect as dodgers. They’ve got some nice middies in [junior Zach] Brenneman and [senior Gran] Krebs and [junior] David Earl, but I think it’s been the attack that’s been lacking the punch for Notre Dame.”
Q: As of now, which four teams do you like to make it to the Final Four?
MD: “Carolina, Syracuse, Virginia and Maryland. Those are the four right now. They’ve got the talent, and they can put it together and make the run.”
Q: Who is your leading candidate to win the Tewaararton Trophy?
MD: “I think right now, it’s probably [North Carolina junior attackman] Billy Bitter. My midseason player of the year was [junior goalkeeper] John Galloway from Syracuse. I think he’s just been absolutely terrific, but when you look at Bitter and what he menas to that team and the leadership he’s provided, he’s special. He missed a game due to [a strained calf] injury, he comes back with his leg heavily taped, and he scores four goals on Hopkins – three in the first quarter. He is a very special player – the quickness, the agility, incredibly soft hands, great vision. He makes everybody around him better. Galloway, I think, would be Tewaaraton 1A simply because he has just elevated his game. In the preseason, all of the talk was around [sophomore goalie] Tyler Fiorito of Princeton and Scott Rodgers of Notre Dame. I think Galloway has been the anchor of one of the two best defenses in the country besides Carolina. But that’s why I would shy away from Galloway at this point, because he does have such a great defense. But Bitter is a just a guy who makes everyone around him better, and he can beat you in so many different ways.