Division I men's lacrosse Final Four preview
Lacrosse royalty collides in one game, coaching royalty in the other.
It's Final Four weekend for men's college lacrosse and the matchups in Philadelphia are intriguing.
In Saturday's opener, Duke, which has reached seven consecutive Final Fours, faces Cornell, in a game matching two of the nation's highest-scoring teams.
The Big Red features attack Rob Pannell (Smithtown West), the nation's second-leading scorer with 95 points (53 assists) who is six points away from the NCAA all-time career scoring record, and Steve Mock (Huntington), the nation's leading goal-scorer (59). Duke has five players who have scored at least 25 goals.
In the second semifinal game, top-seeded Syracuse, more of a defensive team the last couple of years, must try to stop high-scoring Denver, a relative newbie in the sport whose coach, Bill Tierney, won a record six national titles at Princeton. He has brought the Pioneers to two Final Fours in the last three years.
The Pioneers' offense is infused with the stick-skilled, sharpshooting influence of several box lacrosse players from Canada.
The Orange, which finished strong to earn the tournament's No. 1 seed, feature balanced scoring in a motion offense and a highly regarded defense.
Syracuse coach John Desko has five national championships and owns the highest winning percentage of any active coach (.765). No. 2, of course, is Tierney (.742). They have coached against each other 18 times. "I consider John a great friend," said Tierney.
Just not on Saturday night.
NCAA Division I Men's Lacrosse Championship
Lincoln Financial Field
Cornell vs. Duke, ESPN2, 2:30 p.m.
Syracuse vs. Denver, ESPN, 5 p.m.
ESPN 1 p.m.
TOP PLAYERS: Tewaaraton Trophy favorite Rob Pannell (Smithtown West) is strong on the dodge with uncanny vision who has produced 53 assists and 42 goals. His favorite target is Steve Mock (Huntington), whose 59 goals lead the nation. More Long Island influence comes from Syosset, where Thomas Keith is a top defensive middie and Doug Tesoriero is strong on faceoffs. From Smithtown comes starting defensemen Tom Freshour (East) and Jordan Stevens (West).
KEY STATS: Cornell is No. 2 in the country in scoring (14.59 gpg) and Pannell is third in points per game (5.59)
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Defeated Towson, 16-6, in the first round and blitzed Ohio state, 16-8, in the quarterfinals.
WHAT TO EXPECT: Cornell embraces its underdog role as the only unseeded team in the Final Four. Peaking at right time, especially on defense, but must capitalize on extra-man opportunities.
No. 7 DUKE (14-5)
TOP PLAYERS: A devilish offense that includes five 25-plus goal-scorers, led by Jordan Wolf (49) and Josh Dionne (40). That doesn't even count fast-rising middie Myles Jones (Whitman), who has become a force lately with 15 goals. More Long Island influence: Goalie Kyle Turri (West Islip) is 12-1 as a starter. He's an expert on groundballs and clears. Faceoff specialist Brendan Fowler (Chaminade) is a force who can control possessions.
KEY STATS: Duke is No. 3 in the country in scoring (13.84 gpg). Fowler is No. 3 in the nation in faceoff-win percentage (.649).
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Beat defending champ Loyola, 12-11, in the first round and edged Notre Dame, 12-11, in the quarterfinals.
WHAT TO EXPECT: Can the Blue Devils keep surviving close games? They will run and continue to espouse their share-the-ball philosophy. Fowler's success at the faceoff X could be critical.
No. 1 SYRACUSE (15-3)
TOP PLAYERS: Unlike previous Orange Final Four teams, this one doesn't feature an elite offensive star. It's whoever has the hot hand off the motion offense. Middie JoJo Marasco is the team's leading scorer with 58 points (38 assists), while Luke Cometti and Derek Maltz have scored 30 goals each. Brian Magill is an elite close defense.
KEY STATS: The Orange allows only 8.61 goals per game, 12th-best in the country. They have won nine one-goal games.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Beat Bryant, 12-7, in a first-round game and needed a goal with 13 seconds left to nip Yale, 7-6, in the quarterfinals.
WHAT TO EXPECT: Syracuse is not strong at the faceoff X, so it must force turnovers. Will mostly be patient on offense, waiting for the open man, but it's in the program's DNA to run when given the chance.
No. 4 DENVER (14-4)
TOP PLAYERS: Eric Law (40 goals, 35 assists) is the nation's 11th-best scorer and got the game-winner with 13 seconds left to eliminate North Carolina last Sunday. Wes Berg (56 goals) is second to Cornell's Mock in goals. Cameron Flint is Denver's third 50-point player with 36 goals. Chase Carraro gives the Pioneers an edge on faceoffs.
KEY STATS: Denver is No. 5 in the nation in scoring (12.67 gpg) and loves the transition game. The Pioneers have won eight one-goal games.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Defeated Lehigh, 16-7, in the first round and erased a 6-0 deficit to oust North Carolina, 12-11, in the quarterfinals.
WHAT TO EXPECT: Denver hopes to exploit its faceoff advantage by scoring with those extra possessions. The Pioneers, buoyed by its accurate-shooting Canadian box-lacrosse players, don't take many bad shots.