Ranking All Eight First-Round NCAA Tournament Games

(Photo Courtesy of Cornell Athletics)

The brackets are set and the 2022 Men’s College Lacrosse NCAA Tournament will get underway this weekend with the field of 16. The two play-in games will be had on Wednesday to decide who plays the No. 1 seed Maryland and No. 2 Georgetown in the first round.

When you sit down this weekend at noon on Saturday with no intentions of leaving your TV until near midnight on Sunday, what games should you watch? Which ones are the best matchups, the most interesting, or trump all others?

Here is my personal ranking of all eight first-round games, broken down into tiers.

Tier 1: Must-Watch

(7) Cornell vs Ohio State

One of two rematches during the first-round, the Cornell Big Red will welcome the Ohio State Buckeyes to Schoellkopf Field for a second time this season. Last time out, Cornell’s Gavin Adler held Ohio State’s Jack Myers to one goal and the Big Red held Buckeyes to a 12-of-19 mark in the clearing game. Additionally, Angelo Petrakis went 16-for-29 (55%) at the faceoff dot for the Big Red. Matchup intrigue will be everywhere. However, there is a lot that has changed about theses squads since they last met each other in early March. Above all for the Big Red is the fact that their top midfielder, Aiden Blake, has been out of the lineup due to injury and Billy Coyle has been inserted as that third middie. For Ohio State, beyond the emergence of that core around Jack Myers, the story for the Buckeyes has been in cage as Skylar Wahlund took over as the starter eight games ago and hasn’t conceded.

(8) Brown vs Virginia

The team that nobody thought would be here just over a month ago and the two-time defending national champions will go head to head in Providence on Saturday. But that storyline laid out above isn’t even the main reason for intrigue. The Brown Bears will welcome in the Virginia Cavaliers for a 7:30pm contest under the lights, and when they do they will be welcoming Virginia head coach Lars Tiffany back to home. A Brown alum, Tiffany left his alma mater following the 2016 season in which he took them to Championship Weekend to take over at Virginia, where he has since won two national titles. The “Peoples Goalie,” Connor Theirault, will be manning the cage and helping to highlight this Brown squad while Virginia walks in with a top-three offense led by redshirt sophomore Connor Shellenberger, who made a name for himself in the tournament a year ago.

Tier 2: Upset Potential?

(5) Princeton vs Boston U.

The second first-round rematch, the Princeton Tigers and Boston U. Terriers played just last month in a game the Tigers took 12-7. Princeton exploded late to get the win in what was an otherwise defensive-heavy game as both sides were knotted at 5-5 early in the third. The fact that the Terriers held their own with the Tigers last time isn’t the only reason to believe an upset could happen here. Additionally, Boston U. has seemingly gotten better and deeper since midfielder Jake Cates went down and Roy Meyer was moved to close D after Patrick Morrison’s injury. Additionally, their 10-man ride has continued to cause trouble. Princeton comes in having lost their past two games (Cornell, Harvard) and while the key to their success will likely be in their two-way midfielders such as Jake Stevens, they haven’t been the best clearing team as of late, going 48-for-58 (82%) in their three games since playing Boston U.

(6) Rutgers vs Harvard

On Sunday, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights welcome in the Harvard Crimson into Piscataway. Rutgers has only faltered against two teams this season: Princeton and Maryland, and is led by a veteran core with junior Ross Scott leading the way at attack while grad transfers Mitch Bartolo, Ronan Jacoby, and others all pitch in on that end. On defense, Jaryd Jean-Felix, Bobby Russo, and goalie Colin Kirst all came back for an extra season. Bryant Boswell is a grad transfer while LSM Ethan Rall is a true senior. That is a stark contrast to the young, scrappy team Gerry Byrne has on his hands in Cambridge. Austin Madronic and Hayden Cheek are the only two top-five scorers that aren’t freshman. Senior goalie Kyle Mullin is the only senior starter on defense. But despite the inexperience this team came into the season with, they have surprised many with convincing wins over Brown and Princeton, as well as an overtime loss to Yale in their regular season finale. So on Sunday who wins out, the veteran squad or the young one?

Tier 3: More Ivies vs Mid-Majors

(4) Yale vs Saint Joseph’s

Yale comes into the NCAA Tournament after faltering in the Ivy League title game against Penn and will now have to face a Saint Joseph’s team that is coming off their first NEC championship and is looking as good as ever. The biggest talking point heading into this game will be the faceoff dot, and rightfully so. Headlining the Hawks is Zach Cole, who is the best faceoff man in college lacrosse having gone 68% this season. How Yale and Nicholas Ramsey play Cole will be of serious intrigue and importance. But don’t forget just how good both of these offenses can be. Matt Brandau, Chris Lyons, Leo Johnson, and company lead Yale. Levi Anderson, Matt Bohmer, and Carter Page headline the Saint Joseph’s offense. Both are top-15 units, statistically, and can get humming on a moment’s notice. On top of that, Robbie Seeley has been phenomenal in cage for the Hawks since taking over in March and on the other end, Jared Paquette has continued to be a bright spot for a defense that hasn’t played its best as of late.

(3) Penn vs Richmond

Penn has had one heck of a ride over the last week, or so. The situation played out for them to get into the Ivy League Tournament as the No. 4 seed and they made the most of it, putting on two of their best offensive performances of the season against Brown and Yale to claim the Ivy crown for the second consecutive time. This squad leaned heavily on Sam Handley and Dylan Gergar, as well as goalie Patrick Burkinshaw last week. LSM BJ Farrare has been playing close at times recently and is also a force to be reckoned with. Now, the Quakers will have to face SoCon champion Richmond. The biggest question is how the matchup between the Richmond D and Penn O goes. While Penn’s offense looked improved recently, the same can be said for the Spiders defense, which ranks 8th in DI (10 goals allowed per game) and headlined by freshman Griffin Kology, seniors Ray Baran and Jake Saunders, and anchored by Zach Vigue in cage.

Tier 4: Whoever Gets Maryland and Georgetown

(2) Georgetown vs Robert Morris/Delaware

Having only lost to Princeton, the Georgetown Hoyas have been the clear-cut second best team in college lacrosse practically all season long. The two-headed monster of Will Bowen and Gibson Smith creates the best defensive duo in college lacrosse. Add in Owen McElroy in cage and this is a defense that will give anyone fits. Whether it is Robert Morris or Delaware that they end up facing, both teams will come in featuring solid offenses with a little Canadian flare. Jake Boudreau leads the way for the Colonials offense and had himself a stellar ASUN tournament. The same can be said for Tye Kurtz at Delaware, leading a talented Blue Hens offense that is one of the best in the CAA.

(1) Maryland vs Vermont/Manhattan

Maryland comes into the NCAA Tournament with a perfect 14-0 record and with a clear championship or bust mentality. Between their top-tier offense headlined by Logan Wisnauskas, steady play of Logan McNaney in cage, emergence of Ajax Zappitello on defense, and improvement of Luke Wierman at the faceoff dot, the Terrapins have virtually no holes. Whether it’s Vermont or Manhattan they face, the Terrapins will get a game with a really good goalie as Ryan Cornell anchors the Catamounts defense and Brendan Krebs anchors the back end for Manhattan.

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