Q&A with ESPN's Quint Kessenich
ESPN analyst and former Johns Hopkins All-American goalkeeper Quint Kessenich will occupy a spot in ESPNU’s studio in Charlotte, N.C., offering commentary on all eight NCAA Tournament first-round games this weekend. Kessenich broke down his thoughts on the snub of Georgetown, the challenge for Virginia and seed with the toughest path to the Final Four.
Question: What is your assessment of the selection committee’s decisions regarding the make-up of the 16-team field?
Quint Kessenich: "I think in the end, the two teams that were left out were Georgetown and Drexel. I can make a case for both of those teams, and I can make a case for the teams that were selected. So for me, just getting clarity on the selection process – what the mindset was, what the reasoning was – and if the fans are OK with what they’re hearing from [committee chair] Tim Pavlechko and the committee, then I can’t really argue. I thought Georgetown was in. In my mock bracket which we did on Saturday in the studio, I had Georgetown not only in, but I thought they had just as strong a resume as Stony Brook, and I gave them the eighth seed and had them hosting a game. That’s how tight it was in terms of being in and out. There’s not much difference between teams 8 through 16 this year."
Q: So the exclusion of Georgetown was the biggest surprise of Sunday night?
QK: "Yes, that’s the team that has the most to complain about given what they accomplished. One thing that surprised me looking at it this morning is that Mount St. Mary’s moved to 16 in RPI. So Georgetown gets a lot more credit for that Mount St. Mary’s win than I anticipated. I thought their RPI and strength of schedule were tough. They played teams ranked Nos. 2, 3 and 5, so I was surprised when the brackets initially came out. And I thought the Big East was a better conference than the ECAC [Eastern College Athletic Conference]. I think Loyola’s in-conference wins are unimpressive, to say the least. I thought the Big East and the CAA [Colonial Athletic Association] had better years and are much stronger conferences than the ECAC."
Q: So in your mock bracket, which team was out?
QK: "I did not have Loyola in the tournament. Otherwise, the field was the same. The top seven seeds were the same. Most of my match-ups were on. But I had Georgetown in and Loyola not in."
Q: So you had Hofstra in?
QK: "I did. Hofstra and Notre Dame, I thought, were very solid. And if Johns Hopkins got in, I thought Georgetown would get in also."
Q: With Virginia getting the top seed, can returning to lacrosse be cathartic for the Cavaliers?
QK: "I think it is. When we spoke to [coach] Dom Starsia last night, he mentioned meeting with the captains and making sure that they were on board and really willing to do this. I think Dom sat them down and really went over what they’re going to encounter over the next 20 or so days. This is going to be quite a journey for them. The issue is not going to go away. So they’re going to be confronted with it on a daily basis, especially as they near games. Playing lacrosse will be great therapy and will return their lives to – at least for 2½ hours – a little bit of normalcy. When they’re out on the lacrosse field, that will be an oasis away from the off-the-field troubles. That will help get them back to normalcy. They will be surrounded by friends and their teammates in the locker room, traveling to games, through the practices and schedule of their week. I can’t argue with [athletic director] Craig Littlepage and Dom Starsia saying that lacrosse is a vital part of the healing process."
Q: Would you agree or disagree that Virginia has the easist path to the Final Four at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on Memorial Day weekend?
QK: "This is year when the top five teams stood out. The ACC [Atlantic Coast Conference] was 40-1 out of conference, and Syracuse only has one loss, and that’s a one-goal loss at Virginia. Other than Duke’s loss to Notre Dame, those teams have really demonstrated to me that they’re superior to the rest of the country this year. I’m thinking the logical NCAA champion will come out of those five teams. The 8-9 game is not a particularly strong 8-9 game this year with Denver and Stony Brook. Is it an easier bracket? Well, look at Syracuse’s bracket. Syracuse has beaten every single team in that bottom half of the bracket. They beat Cornell, they beat Army, they beat Princeton, they beat Hofstra in a scrimmage, and they beat Maryland in a scrimmage. Their challenge is going to be between the ears."
Q: On the flipside, which seed has the most difficult path to the Final Four?
QK: "[No. 4 seed] North Carolina has the toughest road because in the last three games, they really haven’t played good defense. They gave up a lot of goals to Robert Morris [14 in a three-goal win], lost to Maryland, and gave up a lot of goals to Ohio State [13 in a six-goal win]. They’re 2-2 in their last four games. They’ve been banged up, they’re not 100 percent. They play a very dangerous Delaware team. This is a Delaware team that is very athletic with a nice senior class. Delaware beat Virginia in 2007 on the road, so they have a history of being able to pull this type of upset off. And then Carolina would face the winner of Duke and Johns Hopkins, and that’s going to be a tough game as well."
Q: So it sounds like the North Carolina-Delaware game has the biggest potential for an upset in the first round?
QK: "Delaware, if they play well, they’re right in that ballgame. I think No. 6 seed Princeton-Notre Dame would be second on the list. Those would be my two upset alerts."
Q: What’s your impression of No. 3 seed Maryland’s first-round game with Hofstra?
QK: "On paper, I thought Hofstra was going to have a really great year, but they’ve managed to lose games that they have no business losing like the game against Penn State. But Hofstra has a very skilled attack, very talented goal scorers in [junior attackmen] Jay Card, Jamie Lincoln and Stephen Bentz. Their defense has been suspect all year, and I’m just not sure how Hofstra is going to match up with [junior attackman] Grant Catalino, [senior attackman/midfielder] Will Yeatman and [junior attackman] Ryan Young. If Maryland takes care of winning the groundball battle, I just don’t see Hofstra being able to stop them. Hofstra has given up double-digit goals in four straight games. Their defense is just not playing well right now. Maryland’s in a good spot. If they just play with the energy and emotion that they have all year, they’ll be fine."
Q: What’s your evaluation of Johns Hopkins’ first-round showdown with No. 5 seed Duke?
QK: "[Coach] Dave Pietramala will have to draw something up to really help out his guys who are covering [Duke senior attackmen] Ned Crotty and Max Quinzani. Hopkins has not been a good groundball team this year, and Duke has great speed between the lines. On paper, everything points to Duke, but Coach Pietramala will scheme something up."
Q: Does Loyola need senior defenseman Steve Layne to return to have a chance against No. 7 seed Cornell?
QK: "They need someone to cover [Big Red sophomore attackman] Rob Pannell. I’ve been impressed with what Pannell’s been able to get done over the past several weeks. He is exceptional. Him, [North Carolina junior attackman] Billy Bitter, Ned Crotty and [Virginia sophomore attackman] Steele Stanwick are the best attackmen in the nation. So Loyola’s got to stop Pannell first. Cornell doesn’t impress me in terms of their midfield dodgers, so Loyola’s got a shot to play defense. My problem with Loyola is their ability to generate shots on the offensive end of the field, high-quality shots. They out-shot Hopkins [41-22 in a 9-6 loss last Saturday], but they’re not getting in a lot of good areas to score goals. They’re shooting a lot of severe-angle, low-percentage shots, and Cornell plays a really strong brand of team defense. So I would say that if Loyola can win some face-offs, they have a shot. The biggest issue for Loyola the last two weeks is that if you look at their losses this year, they don’t score goals in their losses. They’re single-digits in all of their losses. And lately, out in Denver and last week, [junior goalkeeper] Jake Hagelin all of a sudden is not making stops. He’s got eight saves and 19 goals-against in the last two games, and he got yanked the other day. So something’s happened to him. I don’t know what it is, but they’ve got to get him out of whatever funk he’s in."
Q: Give me one team that you think has dark-horse potential to make the Final Four.
QK: "Stony Brook and Princeton would have an intrinsic advantage if they can win their first-round game because they’re hosting the quarterfinals. That could be a two-goal swing. Those are two teams that have homefield advantage for the first two rounds of the playoffs, and that could be pretty significant. I don’t think you can underestimate that."