Q&A with ESPN's Paul Carcaterra
ESPN analyst and former All-American Syracuse midfielder Paul Carcaterra will provide color commentary when Duke and Notre Dame meet in Jacksonville on Feb. 20 in a re-match of last season’s national title game. Here are some of his thoughts on the upcoming campaign.
Question: Which team has separated itself from the pack as the front-runner for the NCAA championship this season?
Paul Carcaterra: “On paper, you look at Syracuse and Virginia in regards to what they have back. Syracuse has, I think, seven All Americans returning, maybe nine preseason All Americans, and they certainly have the goaltending and defense to carry that squad. I think the big question for Syracuse is maybe whether they can have two or three big dodgers emerge. And I think if that happens, their offense can click as well, too, because they certainly have the shooters and the inside players in guys like [senior attackman] Stephen Keogh and [senior midfielder} Josh Amidon. I just think that the thing that hurt them down the stretch last year was not having that player or two who could break a defense down in crunch time. I look at them, and then I look at Virginia with that offense. Virginia has the best offense in the country. They lost a lot on defense, so there are some question marks there. But if you look at Virginia’s offense with the Brattons and guys like [junior Chris] Bocklet and [junior Steele] Stanwick at attack, it’s going to be tough to contain them.”
Q: How much will the Syracuse players and coaches use last spring’s first-round exit from the NCAA Tournament as motivation?
PC: “It’s interesting because this senior class is one of the best that Syracuse has ever had with guys like [long-stick midfielder Joel] White, [goalkeeper John] Galloway, Keogh, Amidon, [midfielder Jeremy] Thompson, [midfielder] Jovan Miller and [defenseman] John Lade. Those guys won two national championships when they were freshmen and sophomores, so that’s all they knew. I think they were actually stunned that they weren’t back on the big stage last year. So I don’t think it’s even something that [coach John] Desko needs to really emphasize because I think all of the motivation can come from within that locker room.”
Q: Is there a team that people are paying enough attention to?
PC: “The talk in the lacrosse world is Stony Brook and Hofstra as teams that are fully capable of making a run. Both have great offenses. You look at a Stony Brook, and people realize how good they can be because of guys like [senior midfielder Kevin] Crowley, [senior attackman Jordan] McBride and [senior attackman Tom] Compitello. But they also have two other 20-goal scorers in [attackman] Kyle Belton who’s a junior and [midfielder] Robbie Campbell who’s a junior. So they’re not just a three-man show. That’s a very, very dangerous offense. So I think people know that. And I think people know Hofstra’s offense is dangerous with [senior attackmen Jay] Card and [Jamie] Lincoln. But one team that kind of intrigues me – if you go back to last year and that big upset – is Army. Army has a seasoned goalie and All American in [senior] Tommy Palesky, they have one of the best defensemen in the country in [senior] Bill Henderson. I think he doesn’t get the recognition that he deserves, but for the last three seasons, he’s just been dominant. He just shuts down the opposition’s top player. And then they have that 1-2 punch on attack with [senior Jeremy] Boltus and [sophomore] Garrett Thul. A good playmaker and feeder in Boltus and a great finisher and bull in Garrett Thul. The one question mark for Army is their midfield. I think if you really focus on that attack and make that midfield beat you, they don’t have those guys that can really stretch a defense or break a defense down. But they’re certainly a dangerous team. I like Army a whole lot.”
Q: Is there a team whose preseason ranking you question?
PC: “If you look at the preseason rankings with Duke, I think Duke’s history of success over the past five years, there have been some stars down there. But outside of [junior midfielder Justin] Turri and [senior attackman Zach] Howell, they have some huge question marks. They certainly have capable players, young guys who can do some great things down the road. But current day, I think Duke’s a little bit overrated. And I think the big question for North Carolina is if they can get some of their young midfielders to emerge. They can be a top team, but right now, that’s too big of a question mark for me. Their attack is great with guys like [senior Billy] Bitter and [freshman Nicky] Galasso and [sophomore Marcus] Holman and [junior Thomas] Wood. But their midfield outside of [junior] Jimmy Dunster is very unproven. These guys might grow up really quickly and be great players, but as of today, that’s a huge question mark.”
Q: Is there a freshman who will make an immediate impact this season?
PC: “There’s actually a bunch. You look at a Galasso at Carolina. He’s certainly a player that I think is going to have huge numbers not only because he’s so talented, but also because he’s playing with Billy Bitter and this is going to be the first time in three or four years that this kid is not going to have that huge target on his back. I think statistically, his freshman year could end up being one of his biggest because he’s playing with a first-team All American, and that focus isn’t entirely on him. A few other freshmen that I really like, I love Tommy Schreiber from Princeton, the midfielder. He’s outstanding. He plays both ends of the field, he’s a great dodger, he can shoot, he can score, he feeds the ball well. He’s about as polished of an all-around midfielder coming into college lacrosse as I’ve seen in some time in terms of being able to do a little bit of everything. So he’s a guy I’m excited to see play. Duke’s guys are going to have to grow up quick. They’re going to be playing a bunch of freshmen. And North Carolina’s playing a ton of freshmen midfielders, guys like T.J. Kemp and Mark McNeill. Those are young guys who I think are going to be thrown into a role quickly and will have to make plays.”
Q: Who’s the best attackman in the country right now?
PC: “All-around, I would say [junior] Rob Pannell from Cornell. The best feeder in the game right now, I believe, is Steele Stanwick, and the best dodging attackman is Billy Bitter. But all-around, it’s Rob Pannell because he does a little bit of everything.”
Q: Who’s the best midfielder?
PC: “Kevin Crowley is back as the [United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association] Player of the Year. Crowley is the complete package – feeding, defense, dodging. I think it’s unfair that people want to have reasons not to anoint the Brattons as top-flight, generation-type midfielders. But [senior] Shamel Bratton is one of them, and he deserves the recognition, and in his last couple of years, he’s been fantastic. He gets long-pole attention every time he touches the ball. But he’s great. An underrated midfielder who I think is one of the best in the country is [junior] Charlie Streep.”
Q: Who’s the best defenseman?
PC: “Joel White may be a long-stick midfielder, but he gets my vote. And Villanova has a player in [senior] Brian Karalunas, who’s awesome. The kid is all over the field. The best close defenseman? I like Bill Henderson from Army and [senior] Ryan Flanagan from Carolina.”
Q: Who’s the best goalkeeper?
PC: “Galloway is the returning [USILA] Goaltender of the Year. And another goalie to watch who, I think, can emerge as one of the top two goalies in the country is [junior] Mark Manos of Drexel.”
Q: Which players will be in the running for the Tewaaraton Award in May?
PC: “I’m going to go with Crowley, Shamel Bratton, Steele Stanwick, Rob Pannell, Joel White, Billy Bitter and John Galloway.”