Big Ten Lacrosse season starts this weekend with scrimmages for two out of the six Big Ten teams (Villanova at Rutgers, and Hill Academy at Ohio State) with the rest of the conference starting in the weekends after. So it’s as good a time as any for a preview at our B1G Little Lacrosse League which includes Ohio State, Penn State, Maryland, Rutgers, Johns Hopkins, and Michigan. Just to recap last year, five out of the six Big Ten teams were consistently ranked in the Top 25. After taking a glance at the final pre-tourney RPI rankings I’m reminded of some feelings I have regarding NCAA tournament snubs, but bygones, a new season is here. Maryland was the #1 seed for the tourney, and #3 Johns Hopkins was seeded at 5. The rest of the Big Ten teams were ranked as follows: #15. Rutgers, #18. Ohio State, #22. Penn State, and #25. Michigan. All teams had great 2018 seasons in their own right making the conference shine and all six teams seem to have a lot going for them ahead of the 2019 season. Maryland and Johns Hopkins were the only B1G teams to have made the NCAA Tournament with Maryland making it all the way to the Semifinals, unfortunately being upset by Duke. Johns Hopkins, however, defeated Maryland 13-10 in the Big Ten Championship. US Lacrosse Magazine’s Way-Early 2019 Rankings has plotted all B1G teams in their Top 25. Michigan at #22, Rutgers at #14, Penn State at #12, Ohio State at #10, Johns Hopkins at #8, and Maryland at #3.
So let’s talk about expectations for each team this year.
Last year the Terrapins finished 14-4 and went 4-1 in Big Ten play. Maryland will be once again vying for the NCAA tournament and their highest expectations, given last year, will be to actually earn that National Championship which eluded them in 2018. They’ve gone to the tournament five times in the past five years (very impressive, Terps), so it’s pretty much par for the course that they will again this year, and the Terrapins, in spite of losing a solid chunk of seniors, has the talent to be a national contender for sure.
All hail the defending Big Ten Champions. This is arguably the Blue Jays’ greatest accomplishment from last season, having lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. So what are the expectations for the Blue Jays this season? Well, they lose a worrisome amount of talent and will be starting fresh at goalie. But still, Hopkins is a lacrosse school, so their up and coming players have it in them to potentially deliver an even more successful 2019 season... maybe. I don’t know, personally, I think they take just a little step back this year.
So now we’re in the territory of teams whose expectation is to actually earn a bid for the NCAA Tournament. The Buckeyes’ tournament dreams were cracked by the bill of the Blue Jays in the Big Ten semifinals effectively shutting them out from the tournament. This year it appears Ohio State is going to be quite impressive given their returning offensive talent and I think they will be THE Big Ten team to watch out for. Tre Leclaire, Jackson Reid and Jack Jasinski will be scary offensive players to watch. The last time Ohio State made the tournament was in 2017, and before that 2015, and before that 2013... Hmmm seems like the Buckeyes have a little odd number year luck, can they keep this streak?
Oh boy, Penn State has the lowest senior starter loss percentage out of all Big Ten teams (just 10%!). This stat alone, I think, gives the Nittany Lions the potential to really be a contender in the B1G this year. Now of course senior =/= talent, however, Penn State has that too and some crazy high scorers in Mac O’Keefe and Nick Spillane. However, they’ve only been to the NCAA tournament two times in eight years under head coach Jeff Tambroni. It’s a small league and something’s gotta give, so can the returning senior talent be capitalized on and earn a tourney bid for the Nittany Lions?
The Scarlet Knights have not been to been to the NCAA Tournament since 2004, but not for lack of trying. The Scarlet Knights have ended their seasons right on the cusp of the tournament for the past two years. Rutgers finished 9-6 last year, however, they went 2-3 in Big Ten play, losing to Maryland in the Big Ten semifinals. So if Rutgers wants a shot at the tournament, they first have to stand out amongst the rest of the Big Ten, which is do-able with high scorers like Kieran Mullins. A dagger for Rutgers was attackman Adam Charalambides missing the whole season due to injury. So can the Scarlet Knights maintain a fully healthy team AND fill some crucial holes left empty by graduated seniors? They need to.
The Wolverines’ greatest achievement last year was knocking Penn State out of tournament consideration by beating them 10-9 to end their season. This broke their 17 game in-conference losing streak (ugh, good job, Penn State). Michigan, as you can tell, is consistently the weakest Big Ten lacrosse team. However, weakest Big Ten team is not a weak team. The Wolverines went 8-6 last year, and though 1-4 in Big Ten play, with that one conference win being a tough Penn State team, they also upset Notre Dame. They return all five of its 20-point scorers, a group led by rising senior midfielder Brent Noseworthy, and if they can continue to strengthen their defense, I think Michigan has a shot at really doing something B1G this year.
Overall, I think our B1G Little Lacrosse League will once again be a consistently elite Lacrosse conference in 2019 and with Michigan on the rise, the conference should be even more competitive from top to bottom than in years past. I look forward to bringing you guys all the Lacrosse coverage for this season. Keep an eye out every Tuesday morning for my weekend recaps. Depending on the rigor of my PhD life, the articles mayyy vary in effort, but hey I’ll post something with at least 250 words every week...