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5 BOLD PREDICTIONS FOR THE 2021 DIVISION I MEN'S LACROSSE SEASON

5 BOLD PREDICTIONS FOR THE 2021 DIVISION I MEN'S LACROSSE SEASON

PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

 


The most anticipated lacrosse season in recent memory also might be the hardest season to forecast given the upheaval of the past year. Army was scheduled to play UMass this weekend. Instead, Army takes on Virginia. Expect more changes, and not just in the rankings. The landscape can shift on a week-to-week, if not-day-to-day, basis.

Still, with the return of lacrosse, we couldn’t help ourselves.

Here a five bold predictions for 2021.

1. MAC O’KEEFE SETS NCAA GOALS RECORD BEFORE APRIL

The three-time All-American from Syosset (N.Y.) has scored as many collegiate goals, 192, as Gary Gait. Still, O’Keefe was left off many preseason first-team All-American lists, in large part because of Grant Ament’s graduation.

After O’Keefe broke onto the scene with 51 goals his freshman year, he scored 35 goals in 14 games when Ament was sidelined for the entire 2018 season with a foot injury. Ament’s return in 2019 coincided with O’Keefe scoring a Big Ten single-season record 78 goals that helped propel the Nittany Lions to their first Final Four in program history. Last year, he registered 28 through seven games, which leaves him 20 away from tying the mark set by Justin Guterding.

“Is that good?” Ament asked, rhetorically, on Twitter in response to the US Lacrosse Magazine Penn State preview that highlighted that statistic. Correlation does not always imply causation.

The first half of Nittany Lions’ schedule, announced last week, features five conference games through March 20. You do the math.

2. FOUR ACC TEAMS MAKE FINAL FOUR

After Virginia and UNC’s performances this weekend, it’s not that hard to imagine the Final Four turning into a de facto ACC tournament, which will not be held this year.

Despite Duke’s early struggles against both Denver and Robert Morris, the Blue Devils prevailed in both contests in large part because of their unfathomable depth. They’re bound to only get better as the offense builds continuity and personnel combinations get more defined.

It’s still early. Other top teams like Maryland and Penn State in the Big Ten have yet to take the field. We won’t get our first looks at Notre Dame (No.10) or Syracuse (No. 2) until this weekend, either.

But if this past weekend was any indication, we’re in for a treat.

3. RUTGERS MAKES THE NCAA TOURNAMENT 

Before you mention it, we know. We made this prediction last year. The return of Adam Charalambides, who had a 61-point campaign in 2019 after missing the previous two years due to injury, left us hopeful that the Scarlet Knights could rekindle a resume like the one they put together his freshman year. Rutgers went 11-5 and beat Johns Hopkins, twice, yet were still left out of the NCAA tournament. They haven’t made the tournament since 2003.

As we learned, especially this past year, things rarely go to plan. Rutgers stumbled to a 2-4 start in 2020, including a 15-4 loss to Army.

But like this take, Charalambides is back, this time for a seventh year. The Scarlet Knights also added former Big East Player of the Year and Preseason first-team All-American Connor Kirst, who scored 126 goals at Villanova.

“The attitude around the men’s lacrosse program in Piscataway, N.J., is as palpable as it has been in years,” US Lacrosse Magazine’s Matt Hamilton wrote in his preview of Rutgers, which comes in at No. 19 in the Nike / US Lacrosse Preseason Top 20.

If not now, then when?

4. DENVER WINS THE BIG EAST TOURNAMENT

This prediction was the opposite of bold a week ago. The Pioneers were ranked No. 6 entering a weekend slate that featured games against Duke on Friday and UNC on Sunday. Denver dropped both, including a 23-14 drubbing at the hands of the Tar Heels. That was the first time a Bill Tierney-led Denver team surrendered more than 16 goals. Think about that.

After a 9-8 win over Utah a week earlier, the early results have not exactly been encouraging.

But consider that Denver has yet to practice with their full roster of 66 players on the same field at the same time, given the university’s protocols. Or that despite Alec Stathakis’ impressive 19-for-25 showing at the faceoff dot against Duke, the Pios could still add Yale’s TD Ierlan, who holds virtually every Division I faceoff record imaginable.

The last time the Pioneers prevailed in the Big East Tournament? 2015. Spurred by another pretty good faceoff specialist, who you might have heard of, Denver went on to win the NCAA championship, too.

5. THE IVY LEAGUE PLAYS

This is not a prediction. This is wishful thinking. That’s it.

 

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