Friday, May 13, 2011

Defiantly Dutch Men's Lacrosse Tournament Q&A: Patrick Stevens

Good afternoon and welcome to the second annual Defiantly Dutch NCAA Tournament Lacrosse Q&A with Patrick Stevens! As I noted last year, I believe in transparency around here, and I’m a complete lacrosse amateur, so instead of fudging my way through a preview I figured I’d go straight to one of, if not the, best lacrosse writers out there and get Patrick’s take on the Flying Dutchmen’s game tomorrow against Johns Hopkins as well as the tournament in general.

Patrick is back among the ranks of the gainfully employed—he’s so good that The Washington Times not only brought him back this spring but the entire sports section it dumped a couple years back—so we’re especially appreciative of his time this week. Make sure to check out his blog and his Twitter for lacrosse updates the next three weekends.

The last time we chatted, you were one of us—a sportswriter not making his living in sportswriting. Now you're back in, and at your former employer to boot. So for those of us who were never rehired by our former companies—WHAT'S YOUR SECRET? And how surprised were you by the chain of events that led you back to the Times?

If only there was a secret. Suffice to say, it's a lot easier for such an unlikely event to occur if you're not dealing with a paper that's part of a ginormous chain interested only in maintaining unsustainable profit margins.

I think if you'd have asked me in November when there were initial rumblings of a restoration of a sports department, I'd have said there was no chance it would happen. By around the third week of January, I'd have said it wasn't terribly likely. And less than a month later, well, I was back in the fold. It's not something I spent much time with; trying to stay professionally relevant and paying the mortgage were far bigger priorities than keeping tabs on the internal machinations of the business that cut me loose on New Year's Eve 2009. But here I am, working after a 14-month hiatus.

There were a lot of bubble teams for a precious few slots. What made Hofstra stand out from the field?

Two things stood out. One, Hofstra had four top-20 wins (Colgate, Harvard, Princeton, Massachusetts). The Pride didn't do anything terribly fantastic, but they'd built up a decent resume against borderline tournament candidates. Selection committee chairman Dermot Coll said Colgate was probably the last team out. It's safe to say Hofstra's head-to-head win played a role in determining who played on for at least another weekend.

The other thing is Hofstra didn't do anything to demonstrate it clearly wasn't a tournament team. The Pride's two losses came against Delaware, which won the CAA tournament and earned a ticket to Duke this weekend. Colgate lost to Vermont and Binghamton. Harvard fell to Albany and Dartmouth. Massachusetts stumbled against Albany. Those are all setbacks against sub-.500 teams.

In short, Hofstra had more good days against decent teams than the rest of the bubblers, and no bad days against middling or worse opponents.

In the eyes of the committee, do you think it helped Hofstra that Johns Hopkins and Army dropped HU, and not vice versa?

I think that played zero role whatsoever. The schedule you play is the schedule you play. It's worth pointing out one of the games Hofstra added this year was Colgate— a victory that was probably the difference for the Pride getting in.

The VCU analogy is an obvious and not very compatible one to make, but is there anything about Hofstra that has you thinking they can go from the last team in to the Final Four?

I covered Hofstra's loss to Maryland in last year's tournament and came away believing the Pride would be a sneaky possibility for the Final Four if they got the right draw. The regular season didn't change that, even though none of their victories carry much weight (the Pride didn't beat a team in the 16-team field). The attack is superb; Jay Card, Jamie Lincoln and the underrated Stephen Bentz will be difficult to contain.

That said, matchups mean a lot at this stage of the game. The Hopkins defense isn't the same porous outfit it was a year ago. Oh, and the Blue Jays have won 15 straight home postseason games dating back to 1992. I like Hofstra's chances to win at home in the quarterfinals—but it's going to be awfully tough to get there.

But first of course us huge lacrosse fans just worry about Saturday! So, umm, what does Hofstra have to do to beat this John Hopkins guy?

It should come as no surprise these teams have more than a few similarities, considering Hofstra coach Seth Tierney worked for Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala for several years before taking his current gig on Long Island.

So the easy way out is to say Hofstra needs to do the same things Hopkins does—run a patient and crisp offense, find a way to either get close shots or open lasers from the wing, win faceoffs and limit the opponent to one or two shots at most on a possession—except do it better.

Issue No. 1 out of that whole bunch might be the faceoffs. If you're looking for a national most improved player, look no further than Hopkins' Matt Dolente. Only a year ago, Dolente was an illegal procedure magnet, but a change in the faceoff rules and his own advancement as a player have helped him become one of the Blue Jays' most dangerous weapons. He may well win more draws than he loses, but Hofstra needs to keep possession as close to a 50-50 split as possible. Give Hopkins a three-goal lead, and Dolente combined with a steady defense will make it tough for anyone to rally.

Knowing what you know of the two programs, has this turned personal between Hofstra and Hopkins, or is it just business?

At this time of year, it's just business. Given the schedule Hopkins plays (Princeton, Syracuse, Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland), its scare in barely making the tournament last spring and its utter inability to win on Long Island—0-for-4 since 2006, including three setbacks at Hofstra—it's tough to blame the Jays for nudging the Pride off the schedule.

Hopkins' last two tournament games have ended very, very poorly. Hofstra has a record 17 appearances without a final four trip (Rutgers is a distant second with nine). The postseason provides its own incentive.

Who is your pick to lose to Hofstra in the national title game? (Or, if you want to be really daring, which non-Hofstra team will win it all?)

I seem to recall picking Syracuse to win it all last year, only to have it blow up in my face on the first weekend. Don't think I was alone on that, though.

Here's the thing: It feels as wide open at the start of the tournament as I can remember. Maybe not in the first round—I think at least half and maybe three-quarters of the opening weekend will be littered with clunkers. But I'm not sure the difference between 1 and 9 is all that great, and it wouldn't stun me if there's some bracket chaos much like a year ago once the quarterfinals hit.

If the talent's close, I'm less inclined to worry about who can win four straight so much as who can win four one-game playoffs. In short, I'd veer toward the most prepared team, and that's more likely to be Hopkins than anyone else in the field. I'll take the Blue Jays over the Cuse in the title game, with a revived Virginia bunch and Duke also appearing in the final four.