Ranking All Eight First-Round NCAA Tournament Games

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics)

The brackets are set and the 2023 Men’s College Lacrosse NCAA Tournament will get underway this weekend with the field of 16. The one play-in games will be had on Wednesday to decide who plays the No. 1 seed Duke in the first round.

When you sit down this weekend at noon on Saturday with no intentions of leaving your TV until late Sunday night, what games should you be the most excited about to 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

(4) Maryland vs Army West Point

The two teams that arguably lost the most from a year ago will meet on Saturday as the Maryland Terrapins welcome in the Army West Point Black Knights. That storyline, however, isn’t even the main reason of intrigue in this contest. Army features the No. 1 scoring defense (8.67 goals allowed per game) with Knox Dent anchoring things in cage and AJ Pilate leading the way out in front. Maryland has the No. 15 scoring defense (10.60 goals allowed per game) with freshman Brian Ruppel anchoring a unit headlined by poles Brett Makar and Ajax Zapitello. Moreover, Maryland’s Luke Wierman (61.4%) is 11th nationally in faceoff win percentage while Army’s Will Coletti is 8th (62.3%). How these matchups take hold and materialize over the course of Saturday night will be interesting to watch.

(5) Penn State vs Princeton

Not many expected either Penn State of Princeton to have the seasons they had. The Nittany Lions were coming off two abysmal seasons and were in dire need to a bounce back year. Indeed, they would get that and more. The Tigers, on the other hand, were coming off a Championship Weekend appearance and has quite a bit of talent returning. A slow start and injuries all played a factor in Princeton having one path to the NCAAs: winning the Ivy League. Both of these teams have solid and deep offenses. Coulter Mackesy has exploded onto the scene as a sophomore for Princeton while Penn State has seen TJ Malone and Jack Traynor help lead the way after and injury-riddled 2022 for both. The Nittany Lions and Tigers also have two of the best goalies in the country with Penn State’s Jack Fracyon (57%) ranking third in save percentage whole Princeton’s Michael Ginaforcaro (59%) ranks second.

Tier 2: Upset Potential?

(8) Cornell vs Michigan

The Cornell Big Red welcome in the Michigan Wolverines on Sunday afternoon. Cornell has only faltered to three teams this season: Penn State, Harvard, Yale. The Big Red are led by a dangerous attack unit of CJ Kirst, Billy Coyle, and Michael Long. That group headlines the sixth-best scoring offense (14.86 goals per game) in DI. Michigan is also headlined by a talented offensive group in which first-year offensive coordinator Scott Bieda has gotten the most out of this season. Attackmen Michael Boehm, Josh Zawada, and Ryan Cohen headline the 16th scoring offense (13.80 goals per game) in DI. With that, Michigan has surprised this season and is only here because of two upsets wins over Penn State and Maryland to win the Big Ten. Do they have another in them?

(6) Johns Hopkins vs Bryant

Johns Hopkins comes into Sunday after faltering in the Big Ten semifinals to Maryland and will now have to face a Bryant team that features much newness this season but has remained as successful as ever, winning the America East in its first year in the league. One of the points of focus coming into Saturday will be how Johns Hopkins matchups up against Bryant at the faceoff dot with Nathan LaLiberte (60%) being the Bulldogs’ top option. He is a top-15 guy in faceoff winning percentage. Bryant also has a top-10 scoring offense (14.56 goals per game) with Kevin Groeninger and Aidan Goltz leading the way. It should provide a tough task for a Hopkins team who’s defense is allowing 11.19 goals per game (26th in DI) and is headlined by a pair of exceptional poles in Scott Smith IV and Alex Mazzone, and anchored by Tim Marcille in cage.

(7) Georgetown vs Yale

Georgetown comes into this year’s NCAA Tournament on a tear after winning each of their last 12 games after an 0-3 start. The Hoyas were upset by Delaware in the first round last season and will be looking to avoid similar fate this time around. Georgetown is led by a trio of grad transfers in Tucker Dordevic, Brian Minicus, and Jacob Kelly who headlined the 8th ranked scoring offense (14.60). Yale, on the other hand, has had a very solid past month with its only loss being to Princeton in the Ivy League title game. The Bulldogs have one of the most electric offense, averaging 15 goals per game (5th in DI). An attack line of Chris Lyons, Matt Brandau, and Leo Johnson headlines that offense with a combined 191 points (129 goals) this season.

Tier 3: Playing ACCs

(1) Duke vs Delaware/Marist

(2) Virginia vs Richmond

(3) Notre Dame vs Utah

I am putting all three of these games together here. After last season, it has been revenge time for the ACC and the leagues top three teams have been given the top three seeds in the NCAA Tournament. No. 1 seed Duke will play the winner of Delaware vs Marist while Virginia will face in-state foe Richmond, and Notre Dame will face Utah. Virginia, Duke, and Notre Dame have the first, third, and fourth scoring offense in DI and are headlined by those units that have poses a great threat to their opponents all season long. Duke has seen Brennan O’Neill lead the way while the duo of Xander Dickson and Connor Shellenberger have done for for Virginia. The Kavanagh brothers (Pat and Chris) lead the way for Notre Dame.

During the regular season, these three beat up on each other. Duke beat Virginia twice while it lost to Notre Dame. Virginia beat Notre Dame twice. The expectation is that another matchup between at least two of these teams by the time Memorial Day is here.

For Duke, no matter if its Delaware or Marist they will have to face an offense that has been firing on all cylinders as of late. Virginia draws a rematch with a Richmond team they beat 25-8 in early March. Notre Dame faces a Utah squad that is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time and is perhaps the most dangerous of all three matchups theses ACCs have drawn. The Utes have a strong faceoff man in Cole Brams and the second-best scoring offense in DI.


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