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Friday, April 15, 2011
ACC strength, POY candidates, more

By Kyle Harrison and Brett Hughes
Special to ESPN.com

Editor's note: Each week, 2005 Tewaaraton winner, four-time Major League Lacrosse All-Star and current LXM pro player Kyle Harrison and former Virginia All-American, Major League Lacrosse All-Star and current LXM pro player Brett Hughes will use this space to debate college lacrosse's biggest storylines.

1. Is there a clear elite team this season?

John Desko
John Desko has the Orange's attention after a midweek loss to Cornell.

Brett Hughes: Harri, I think this is an interesting question. Elite, to me, does not mean the team that just stomps everyone every week. I think it's more important to win the games you are supposed to win. Even in the wake of Tuesday's 11-6 loss to Cornell, I feel Syracuse is the No. 1 team right now. The Orange have a history of being up and down and playing to the level of their opponent, but they win most of their big games. In that way, Syracuse's biggest strength is also its weakness. If an opponent grabs Syracuse's attention, it will get a team ready to fight, but if the Orange decide to overlook a team, it can knock them back. In the tournament, veteran players are a good thing, probably as important as having star players. So Syracuse is the elite team this year. Cornell, Maryland and Virginia are the other teams that have all the tools to become elite at the end of the year.

Kyle Harrison: Cornell's win was a huge statement not only for the Big Red but a message to the rest of the country. Until that game, Cuse hadn't lost. The Orange had found ways to win -- whether they were down a few goals, needed overtime or were able to cruise. So the fact that late in the season, when a team is supposed to be playing its best lacrosse, the Orange took a five-goal loss in the Dome shows everyone else they're beatable. That being said, they still have seven seniors on a team that has won two rings, so I have to think, when all the chips are down, those boys will be ready to go. I also like my boys at Johns Hopkins. The young guys are getting more comfortable and seem to improve every time they step on the field. Virginia and Maryland will be in the mix, as both teams have big-time senior leadership (and big-time players). For Cornell to get to Memorial Day, Rob Pannell is going to have to keep putting up big numbers, which he's clearly capable of doing, so don't count the Big Red out just yet. But to answer the question of an elite team this season, we'd have to give the nod to the Orange, as they've been the clear-cut No. 1 all season. All bets are off come tournament time, though, and I can't wait to watch it all go down.

2. Who would get your vote for player of the year at this point?

Hughes: My votes have to go to Pannell and Virginia's Steele Stanwick. Pannell is as good as they come this year, but Stanwick is holding together a team that needs leadership while also wanting the ball is big spots. Pannell already has 61 points on 30 goals and 31 assists, which is a huge season with games left to play. Steele has a little less with 44 points (23, 21) but is shooting 44 percent. Player of the year honors should be linked to what a player is doing for his team that maybe isn't clear from the box score. Hopkins sophomore goalie Pierce Bassett is playing out of his mind, and I think he gives his teammates confidence when he's between the pipes.

Harrison: I don't think there's any argument that Pannell is going in this year and single-handedly pushing Cornell through top teams. After Pannell, the second-leading point-getter on Cornell's team is 47 points behind him. Pannell is a baller, and if he continues playing this way through May he'll walk away with the POY this year. However, I don't think the race is over just yet. If you look at the history of the award, it's the guy who goes the furthest in the tournament (along with having a great regular season) who usually ends up walking away with the trophy. So if Cornell has an early exit from the tourney and a handful of other candidates are playing in the Final Four, they may get an upper hand on Pannell. But as far as the regular season goes, no one has done it better this year then No. 3 at Cornell.

3. Going into the season, we talked a lot about the ACC's strength. What are your thoughts on the conference right now?

Hughes: The level of competition in the ACC -- all four schools are tournament-level teams -- mixed with the constant threat of injury or missing personnel really has prepared all of these teams for the NCAA tournament. The ACC tournament is as hard as any weekend in lacrosse, because these teams just finished playing each other. I think we'll see two of these teams playing on Memorial Day weekend; Maryland and Virginia seem to be the favorites.

Harrison: It has definitely been an interesting year (as usual) in the ACC. I agree, Hughey, that there have been some injuries or personnel missing for various reasons, but it looks as if all four teams will be ready to go come ACC tourney time. Three ACC teams in the final four? No sir, don't see that happening. At most we'll see two, and realistically I think we'll see one. I'd like to see UNC turn it up a level and make a run in the ACC tourney and build some momentum heading into May.

Bonus question

Hughes: With Syracuse losing to Cornell, do you like HUGE midweek games? Would you like to play a crosstown rival on a Tuesday night? It seems like a good idea, but much like the Thursday NFL games, I feel like it throws a big wrinkle in preparation. It's an advantage for the more disciplined team, and that came through last night.

Harrison: I think it's whack. Not only does it throw a wrinkle in preparation, but it takes away from the exciting atmosphere of the game! People have commitments on weeknights. From practices to meetings to games, the crowd on a Tuesday night doesn't compare to what it would be on a Saturday night. In a big rivalry game, you want it in prime time, and Tuesday night is hardly prime time.

Brett Hughes is the co-founder and vice president of Lacrosse the Nations. You can check out the group's work here. Follow Brett on Twitter: . Follow Kyle on Twitter:

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