Q&A with ESPN's Mark Dixon
ESPN analyst and former Johns Hopkins midfielder Mark Dixon prowled the sidelines of all four NCAA tournament quarterfinals this past weekend, observing and collecting notes on what he saw and heard. Dixon, who will provide radio commentary for the NCAA Network on Westwood One for the semifinals on Saturday and the final on Monday at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, offered his opinion on the results in the quarterfinals, the favorite to capture the national championship and the leading candidate to take the Tewaaaraton Award.
Although each quarterfinal game ended with the lower-seeded team defeating a higher-seeded opponent, many of these teams were evenly matched. So it’s not fair to say that the entire round was defined by upsets, is it?
I would agree with you. I think everybody’s favorite all year was Syracuse, but Syracuse played seven games where they won by two goals or less and then of course, they lost to Cornell. So while Syracuse was the No. 1 seed and probably the majority of people’s favorite [to win], they weren’t really dominant in most of the games this season. They really turned it on late, but it was against some not-as-stiff competition. If you look at a team like Virginia, the No. 7 seed, that was everybody’s pick to go to championship weekend. With the events that took place this season, they fell off a little bit and they lost some games and the defense wasn’t playing well. Now they’re in there, but this isn’t the Virginia team that people picked to make it to championship weekend. So I think when you look at the whole gamut of the season, no one team was that dominating squad. No one team got you to say, ‘Wow, I’m betting the house on this team to win the national title.’ It just never happened. So I think it speaks to the separation between the elite lacrosse teams in the country, which is very, very narrow.
Can we say that the four teams in the national semifinals – No. 5 seed Duke, No. 6 seed Denver, Virginia and unseeded Maryland – were at some point in the season contenders for the NCAA championship?
With the exception of Denver. I think everybody knew that Denver was going to be better. But if you would have told me back in February that Denver would be in the national semifinals, I don’t think I would have said Denver. And the same thing could be said of Duke. I thought Duke would make the tournament with maybe a first-round or quarterfinal loss, but all of the leadership they lost last year in addition to the productivity – I know everybody speaks about [Max] Quinzani and [Ned] Crotty on the attack, but they also lost Steve Schoeffel in the midfield and Parker McKee on the defensive end and then over the summer, they lost [defenseman] Mike Manley to a knee injury. So I think Duke and Denver are surprising. Maryland and Virginia are two teams that the majority of folks picked to get to championship weekend. But of course, Maryland was up and down in its play, and we already discussed Virginia. So I think Duke and Denver are surprising from the preseason standpoint. Now as the season wore on and we had the Duke-Notre Dame game yesterday, I think you could say, ‘Yeah, anybody could win that game.’ But the Hopkins-Denver game, you thought Hopkins was going to be able to control the faceoffs a little better and really test that Denver defense, and they never got that chance.