Q&A with ESPN's Quint Kessenich
ESPN analyst and former Johns Hopkins All-American goalie Quint Kessenich spent the past weekend in the studio of ESPNU in Charlotte, N.C., watching every NCAA tournament first-round contest and participating in an online chat. On Monday afternoon, he will film a one-hour show wrapping up the first round and looking ahead to next weekend’s quarterfinals, each of which he will provide color commentary. Kessenich spoke Monday morning about the favorites’ ability to weather the storm, a team in the quarterfinals that is most troubled, and a snub for the Tewaaraton Award finalists.
Although seven of the eight seeded teams won their first-round games, some of them – No. 2 Cornell, No. 3 Johns Hopkins, No. 6 Denver and No. 7 Virginia – trailed either in the first quarter or at halftime. What did that suggest to you?
The theme was close games at halftime, and then adjustments and superior talent came through in the second half. Villanova led [Denver], 8-5, [in the third quarter] and Hartford led [Cornell], 3-1, [in the first quarter]. Bucknell led 4-1 early [against Virginia], and even Penn clawed back to keep the game within reach prior to halftime [against No. 4 seed Notre Dame] and Hofstra jumping out [against Johns Hopkins], 2-0. That was the theme, and the reason for that, to me, was that the teams between nine and 16 are very talented. They were excited and amped up to play, and they came out swinging. When the favored team dealt with that first flurry and settled down, they made their adjustments, found their strides, and then got rolling. In all those cases, you saw those teams in the second half play their best game, and the emotion was taken out of the equation. … To me, a bunch of those teams played really well for about a half or 45 minutes. I thought Maryland played the best 60-minute game, and now going forward into the quarterfinal round where all of these games look like one-goal games on paper, you’re going to have to play 60 minutes because if you do come out flat and the other team jumps on you, 4-0, you might not recover.
With seven of the eight seeded teams winning, what does that say about parity in college lacrosse?
When they talk about parity, to me, parity exists between teams 12 to 35 now. To me, the top teams are still the top teams. We could see upsets of the top teams, but 12 to 35 is absolute chaos. When a team like Siena can beat Rutgers or Robert Morris can beat Bucknell, there’s not much difference between teams 12 to 35. I still think this quarterfinal group has earned its separation from the pack, but beyond them, teams like Colgate and Harvard that didn’t get into the tournament are at equal quality with the teams that lost this weekend.
What team impressed you with its performance this past weekend?
I thought Delaware in its loss [to No. 5 seed Duke] was explosive offensively. I was impressed with what Bucknell brought to the table, and aside from not playing enough guys and getting tired, their offense is about as good as I’ve seen all year. From a winning standpoint, Hopkins continues to win using its formula of faceoff success, ground ball play and goaltending. Duke’s formula is pretty simple right now. They’re going to score in transition, and they’re going to score in the half-field set. I’ve got questions going forward because of their defense and their goaltending. And I like the way Notre Dame responded coming off of back-to-back losses to Syracuse and North Carolina. I thought they responded and jumped on Penn, 4-0, and that’s what you hope to see if you’re a Fighting Irish fan.
Is it fair to say that Virginia is the team in the quarterfinals with the most cause for concern?
I have concerns with different aspects of every team in the field, but certainly, Virginia’s defense is a concern right now and so is their lack of midfield production. Of the 13 goals they scored the other day, I believe 10 came from their attack. They got tremendous production from the attack. [Junior] Chris Bocklet made some shots that were just ridiculous, and [junior] Steele Stanwick is one of the great clutch players that we’ve seen in the last decade or so. I like the fact that they got to 13 goals without [senior midfielder] Rhamel Bratton in the lineup, but they are certainly a goal-or-two underdog in this re-match with Cornell.
Is there one game in the quarterfinals that you will have most interest in watching?
I’m looking forward to all of them. The Maryland-Syracuse game is a game that I would have said would be a national semifinal or a championship game. Now it’s a quarterfinal game, and that’s about as good of a quarterfinal game as you’ll ever get. I’m interested to see Johns Hopkins-Denver. They met back in 1998, but this is Denver’s first quarterfinal appearance. Johns Hopkins has appeared in 29 quarterfinals. So it’s kind of like the new kid on the block versus the established power. Notre Dame-Duke is a re-match of the championship game, and then Virginia-Cornell features two of the more dominant programs in the last 10 years. So I think from top to bottom, this is the best quarterfinals that I’ve ever been involved with, and I’ve been doing games since 1995 for ESPN.
Are Denver and Virginia impacted by having a short week of practice after playing on Sunday and then playing on Saturday?
Yes. The way the brackets work out this year, you had Johns Hopkins winning on Saturday, which allowed them to fly out to Denver and scout that game in person. Denver has got to fly east and play on Saturday after a Sunday game. So in Denver’s case, it’s probably the toughest scenario. They walk off the field on Sunday night, they’re going to give them Monday off, and then they’ve got Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to practice. They’ve got a short week, and the same thing with Virginia. I think for both Coach [Dom] Starsia [of Virginia] and Coach [Bill] Tierney [of Denver], there’s a legitimate gripe. I would think that the remedy is to keep those games on the same day, but unfortunately, it didn’t work out. But that is a slight advantage for Cornell and for Hopkins. And extra day of rest and an extra day of preparation.
The five finalists for the Tewaaraton Award, which is annually given to the top collegiate player, are Syracuse senior goalkeeper John Galloway and senior long-stick midfielder Joel White and Army attackman Jeremy Boltus. The juniors are Cornell attackman Rob Pannell and Virginia attackman Steele Stanwick. What are your thoughts on the finalists?
To me, the award runs through Rob Pannell. It’s his for the taking. Steele Stanwick is maybe making a late run now, although Virginia would need to make the national championship game. And then John Galloway, if Syracuse runs the table and John Galloway stands on his head, I could make an argument for him. But to me, Rob Pannell, you may as well just start engraving his name on the trophy with what he’s done this year. I was surprised that [junior attackman] Mark Matthews of Denver was not in the running. To me, if you watch Denver on tape and you see the numbers that this kid has put up, to me, he’s a top-five player. I would have replaced Joel White with Mark Matthews.
I thought that with Army not qualifying for the postseason, Boltus was a curious selection.
He put up great numbers and was a huge part of Army’s offense. I had him as a top-five player, and so I can’t argue with that. It was a disappointing season for Army, but to no fault of Jeremy’s. He’s an excellent player.