Friday, May 14, 2010

NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Q&A: Patrick Stevens

We believe in transparency around here, and when it comes to lacrosse, I’ve just never gotten it. I blame my upbringing in rural Connecticut, a whole ‘nother world away from the lacrosse hotbed of Fairfield County.

But lacrosse is big among the Dutch Nation (snort) faithful, probably the second-most popular sport behind men’s basketball (kind of like being the second-tallest midget in a room, but I digress). We understand the Loyal Readers here will want some lacrosse coverage, but as I noted yesterday, I’m not going to bluff you with my two-seven off-suit. Better to leave it in the hands of the trained professionals—you know, guys like Patrick Stevens.

I met Patrick—the maven of mid-Atlantic college sports and author of the outstanding D1scourse blog—in the Twitterverse over the winter and then in person in Richmond, where I spent about four of my 36 hours sitting in his seat along press row. He’s done a fantastic job of covering men’s lacrosse in general and has been all over tournament coverage this week.

He took a few minutes yesterday to discuss the NCAA Tournament, including of course an in-depth analysis of the first-round game Saturday between Hofstra and Maryland, as well as to explain how he ended up doing the blog in the first place (spoiler: because the real world, and the “business” of journalism in particular, sucks) and the difference between covering college basketball and college lacrosse. He also sneaks in a reference to Se7en, the creepiest movie ever made. Thanks again to Patrick for his time and make sure to read both his blog and his Twitter (@D1scourse) leading up to and during Saturday’s game.

Let’s shatter the idyllic hopes and dreams of aspiring writers who stumble upon this site and think sports journalism is the ultimate dream-come-true gig with absolutely no downside whatsoever. Explain the series of events that led to you starting this blog, as well as what D1scourse means (I’m stumped on the scourse part).

Long story short, I got a part-time gig with The Washington Times out of college in the summer of 2002. From there, I worked my way up to full-time copy editor, then got moved into the Maryland football and basketball beat early in the Terrapins' 2005 season. So far, so good. Then the Times faced some financial turmoil, and decided the best way to proceed was to slash the entire sports department at the end of last year. So that sort of sucked. I'm still looking for permanent work, and have used the blog as a bit of a sanity saver—maybe more than I should.

Anyway, "D1scourse" is supposed to be pronounced "discourse," but still maintain the play on "D-1." You know, sort of like Se7en, minus the decapitation and a creepy appearance from Kevin Spacey at the end and Numb3rs with just a little bit less math (but not much). That was the blog name I had at the Times, and figured that if they didn't want a sports section they probably didn't care if I took the name of the blog, either. It's supposed to be Google-friendly, but I might have out-thought myself on that one.

In happier news: Hofstra made the NCAA Tournament despite not qualifying for the CAA Tournament. What do you think it was about Hofstra that impressed the Selection Committee?

Without question, it was Hofstra's victory over Johns Hopkins back in March. It's really the best argument Seth Tierney's team can come up with, and it would have been pretty weak had Hopkins lost either of its last two games and not vaulted into the top 10 in the RPI.

Hofstra's strength of schedule was middling, it had just a dreadful loss to Penn State and its second-best win was against a sub-.500 team (Towson). To be fair, a midseason evisceration of Army certainly was impressive. But without that Hopkins win, this team had no chance to be in the tournament.

You’ve seen a lot of Maryland games this year. What makes them a dangerous opponent for Hofstra, and conversely, is there anything Hofstra does that makes the Flying Dutchmen particularly dangerous for Maryland?

The best part about this edition of Maryland is it never gives a whole lot away. Virginia (twice) and North Carolina had to play well to beat the Terps, and they never seem to panic even after a lousy quarter at various junctures.

The Terps' offensive pieces, particularly on attack, are going to be difficult for anyone to deal with. Grant Catalino and Will Yeatman are both big guys who aren't easy to defend, and Ryan Young (a Long Island product) helps orchestrate the offense. One other guy to look out for is Brian Farrell, Maryland's junior long pole. Few players nationally are as lethal in transition.

As for Hofstra, the three guys who really stand out are Jamie Lincoln (the Denver transfer), Jay Card and Kevin Ford. Lincoln and Card are the explosive scorers from Canada, one a lefty and one a righty. Ford came back from injury not too long ago, and adds an extra element for opponents to plan for.

No one I talk to seems to have a good recent comparison for what Hofstra does. They might be a smarter, more poised version of the Denver team Maryland beat up in the 2008 first round. I'm curious to see how an underrated Maryland defense deals with a high-powered attack.

Who on Maryland should Hofstra fans keep an eye on?

Maryland is good all over the place—there are few obvious weaknesses besides the midfield, where the Terps will probably run four lines in the first 10 minutes and use depth to make up for the absence of a single dominant player. In addition to the attackmen listed above (as well as Farrell), I'd probably point out Brian Phipps is one of the most tested goalies in the tournament and could carry Maryland if need be. The Schmidts—Max and Brett, no relation—are fine defensemen. And at the midfield, keep an eye out for Joe Cummings, a guy who has played well down the stretch and is an opportunistic converted attackman.

What are your predictions for the game and the tournament? Who are the favorites, in your opinion? (Warning: We don’t look kindly upon southern or mid-Atlantic bias here, even if you’re speaking a foreign language such as lacrosse!)

You and your bias. Tsk, tsk.

In this particular game, I like Maryland by three or four goals—maybe something in the 13-10 range. Hofstra can score, but it also has yielded double digits in five of its last six games and isn't particularly great between the pipes. Card and Lincoln will have to go nuts to pull the upset, and I'm not sure Maryland will let both of them put up huge days.

In the tournament, even though Virginia is the No. 1 seed, there's no telling how the Cavaliers are going to handle the tumult of having a (now former) teammate accused of murder. That leaves Syracuse—which has won the last two titles—as the most plausible favorite.

Beyond that, there's this opportunistic Maryland team and whoever comes out of the North Carolina/Duke/Hopkins/Delaware quadrant of intrigue. But betting on the 'Cuse is never a bad idea once May rolls around.

Lastly, another industry question: You cover ACC basketball during the winter. What is the difference, access-wise, in covering the sports? I imagine lax programs being more open than the hoops programs.

In general, I think that's a fair assessment. If you want to get a coach on the phone, you either call their direct office line or their cell. People are usually happy to see you come in lacrosse (though I'd say Duke '06 and the current situation at Virginia would be exceptions to that), and players are often less reserved in showing off their personalities than in other sports.

The April/May stretch was always something I looked forward to, simply because access was so tight throughout hoops season that lacrosse was a great change of pace. My editors didn't always seem thrilled with it, but there are enough interesting stories in the game to frequently make the time invested worthwhile—even if it wasn't a pressure cooker in terms of mainstream interest.

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1 comment:

Bryan V. said...

Assume you saw this, from Hofstra's most-distinguished sportswriting alumnus (you're a close second, my friend) writing about another (coaching) alumnus:

Coach Follows His Father While Leading His Way