13 min read

Round Rock Round 2022 Preview - Round 2

Round Rock Round 2022 Preview - Round 2

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#6 Liberty vs #11 Grand Canyon

Liberty is a team who has been knocking on the door for several years, but just hasn’t been able to get over the top to reach the semifinals. In 2018 they lost a heartbreaker in overtime to the #1 seed Chapman and in 2019 they lost to the eventual Champions, South Carolina.

In their third appearance their path doesn’t seem that much easier.

Liberty snuck away with a 1 goal win over South Carolina in their first game of the season, and continued their undefeated streak for the next month picking up 4 more wins. One of those wins was over then undefeated Florida, a win that vaulted Liberty to #1 in the poll. Nobody expected the Florida game to be the last time Liberty would beat a ranked team in the 2022 regular season.

Their time at the top was short-lived after Clemson came into Lynchburg and walked away with a 1 goal win in one of the most exciting games of the year. Their scheduled lightened up for the rest of March until they hit a stretch of top tier games against BYU, Virginia Tech and Clemson again in the ALC tournament. The Flames would drop all 3 games. The BYU game and Clemson game were both 1 goal games. Virginia Tech won a bit more comfortably, walking away with a 3 goal victory.

The 6 seed might be more indicative of Liberty’s potential than their results this year, but there is no question they have the ability to run with the top teams.

Sophomore midfielder Keaton Mohs would be on my short list of 1st team All-America midfielders. He’s incredibly fun to watch. His 55 points (35g, 20a) are second only to Carter Elliot (43g, 13a, 56p), the Liberty mainstay since 2017.

Thanks to ESPN+ I had the chance to watch the Flames play more than any team outside BYU this year. Their offense is very methodical, valuing possession and smart shots. Their ride is tenacious and their 10 man ride has frustrated a lot of teams.

Face-offs have been up and down, but they have had some incredibly great games, like when Senior Cole Jankowsky went 11 for 13 (85%) against BYU.

If the Flames get past the Lopes in Round 1 they could be looking at a rematch of the 2019 quarterfinals against South Carolina.

Rewind 2 weeks ago and it seemed like Grand Canyon was going to be on the outside looking in for this years tournament.

The story of the SLC this year was how much they beat each other up. GCU was no exception. They picked up wins over Chapman and Arizona State while dropping games to Concordia, USC and Arizona. GCU had done enough to get in to their conference tournament, but it seemed like to make it to Round Rock they would have to do what no other SLC team had done this year. Beat Concordia.

And they did. In one of the biggest upsets of the year the Lopes took out the Eagles in the first round of the SLC tournament. That win was enough to overcome any inconsistencies earlier in the year and snag them one of the final At-Large bids.

I’ll talk more about Concordia in their preview, but I believe the Eagles are one of the 5 best teams in the league this year. Grand Canyon proved to themselves and to the league that they have the ability to run with the best teams.

For most of the Lopes, this will be their first tournament action after 2 abbreviated Covid years. Junior Nick Whitall leads the Lopes with 57 points (31g, 26a)

Matt Hartig has been great for Grand Canyon at face-offs, winning nearly 60% of his draws on the year. Freshman Goaltender Jake Hives has had some ups and downs this year, but overall he’s been solid, posting a 57% save percentage.

The Lopes defense will need to be able to handle the Liberty ride to win this game. The combination of a suffocating ride and methodical possession offense doesn’t leave a lot of time on the clock for your offense to outscore the Flames, so Grand Canyon will need to be extremely efficient on offense to pull off the upset.

#7 USC vs #10 Boston College

The preseason SLC Coaches poll had USC ranked #5 in the conference, with only Arizona State, SDSU and UCLA behind them. An early season win over Arizona raised a few eyebrows, but we didn’t really know just how closely matched the entire SLC would.

Again, we’ll talk about Concordia in a second, but after the Eagles walloped the Trojans by 11 it seemed liked USC was destined to play second fiddle in the conference again this year. Until they took the title.

Maybe the Trojans got an ideal path to the championship after Arizona State was deemed ineligible? They did face 2 teams that they had beat earlier in the year. I imagine they were fine not having to see CUI again. Regardless, they took care of business when it mattered most and the committee rewarded them handsomely.

The committee decided to ignore a head-scratching 1 goal loss to unranked Nevada. We’ve heard that they may have been playing shorthanded that game, but still a very surprising result.

Either way, this is a team that has been tested this year. They played 10 ranked teams this year and won 7 of those 10 games. In their 7 ranked wins, 6 of them were by 2 goals or less, with 4 of them being 1 goal affairs. Knowing how to win close games is a skill that matters a lot in the tournament.

The Trojans have a nice balance of youth and experience on their offense. Freshman Antoine Moats leads the team in scoring with 49 points (29g, 20a), but in talking to a few coaches they say the Senior duo of Ryder Mora (26g, 19a, 45p) and Jack Watters (22g, 16a, 38p) are the heart of the offense.

In net, Senior goaltender Michael Smat has been good to great for the Trojans. His 62.2% save percentage is a bit down from his 2019 numbers (68.5%), but he’s had some of his best games against the best competition. If you watched the Trojans play Chapman you saw him make a huge save in the waning minutes of the game to keep USC alive.

Where USC has struggled the most this year is at the face-off X. As a team on the year they are winning 46% of their face-offs, the lowest of any tournament team. If they struggle in Round Rock that will put a lot of pressure on the defensive unit to be elite.

On the flip side of this game you have what may end up being a dark horse team in Boston College. In their first game of the year way back on February 11th they made waves after knocking off South Carolina by 3. The rest of the year was filled with some ups and downs for the Eagles.

They lost to Georgia Tech 2 days later, beat Texas and UCSB in Texas, then went to California where they dropped games to Cal (by 5) and Chapman (by 3). A win against a then unranked Cal Poly team wasn’t enough to stave off a slide down the rankings for the Eagles.

Earlier this month when they dropped a game to unranked New Hampshire followed by a loss to a very good Northeastern team, Boston College went into “AQ or Bust” territory for the rest of the year.

In the CLC tournament they righted the ship and were able to avenge both losses, snag the AQ and a top 10 seed.

We’ve seen enough to know that they can run with some of the teams at the top of the bracket, but enough to also know they’ve been inconsistent.

Both USC and Boston College played some of the same teams.

USC beat Cal by 8 and Boston College lost to them by 5.
USC beat Chapman in OT and the Eagles lost by 3.
Boston College beat Cal Poly, USC lost to them in their first action of the year.
BC beat UCSB by 8 while the Trojans beat them by 1.

My best guess on this game is that it won’t be a runaway for either team.

Exactly like USC, Boston College has been average to bad at face-offs, averaging 46% on the year as well.

The Eagles have spread out their scoring across a bunch of guys, but Junior Midfielder Nick Luzzo leads the team with 30 points (23g, 7a). 8 other players are averaging at least 1 point per game.

I’ll be watching this game closely next week. Excited to see what happens.

#5 Clemson vs #12 Cal Poly

Outside of the Georgia Tech v Concordia game, this is the game I’m most excited for on Day 1.

Clemson has been solid all year and they ooze talent when you watch them play.

Clemson has 4 wins over tournament teams with wins over Georgia Tech (by 7!), Grand Canyon, and 2x over Liberty.

Outside of their losses to Virginia Tech, they dropped 2 close games to Arizona State and South Carolina (in overtime).

Virginia Tech is very good this year, and they had Clemson’s number in both games they played, but it’s clear this is still a top team.

They have probably the best face-off specialist in the tournament in Junior Alec Frank, who has won 72.5% of his face-offs this year. That includes games of 60% against Virginia Tech in the ALC Championship, 81% against Liberty and 80% against South Carolina.

Everyone has heard talk of the bevy of transfers that made their way to Clemson, but it’s Graduate Senior Garret Brennan who has stolen the show this year with 73 points on the year (61g, 12a), putting him in the Top 10 of all scorers for the MCLA. Brennan is surrounded by more talent than any other year.

Senior attackman Coston Pendleton leads the team in points per game with 4.33. He missed two games earlier in the year, but his 65 points on the year are still eye popping.

First Team All-Conference midfielder Will Ciccarelli (38g 14a, 52) leads the Tigers from the midfield with Junior Jacob Meggelson (28g, 5a, 33p).

With covid eligibility making everything less certain there is still a lot to be decided, but on paper, this is one of the more experienced teams in the tournament, especially when it comes to point production.

If Clemson is gelling and playing well, I wouldn’t be shocked to see them in the semifinals this year.

If you gave out an award for “Most Improved Team” over the course of the year, it would HAVE to go to Cal Poly. After taking down USC in their first game of the year the Mustangs dropped 7 of their next 8 games, finding themselves at 2-7 and outside the top 25.

Here is where we note that Cal Poly’s strength of schedule this year was #1 in the league, by a decent margin. All of their 7 losses were to teams ranked in the top 25.

At the time I noted that it wasn’t THAT surprising that Cal Poly was losing these games, but it was a little surprising by how much. They lost by 11 to Cal, 15 to Chapman, 9 to BYU and 6 to South Carolina. They were getting blown out.

By the time that WCLL league play rolled around the Mustangs were looking like a different team. After losing to Cal on February 12th, Cal Poly didn’t lose another WCLL game this year.

In the Championship game of the WCLL tournament they avenged their only WCLL loss of the year, beating Cal (who, remember, beat them by 11 earlier in the year) by 1.

I had a chance to watch Cal Poly play BYU and UVU as well as their game vs Cal in the WCLL tournament. This is a different team. They are playing significantly better and more confident.

We shouldn’t be surprised to see this kind of growth from teams playing for the first time in several years this season, but Cal Poly put it on full display. They were forced to mature quickly against the most brutal schedule in the MCLA and they came out on the other side a MUCH better lacrosse team.

When you look at Cal Poly’s stats for the year, you have to view them through the lens of their early schedule. They have struggled on face-offs, being well below 50% as a team on the year. But Sophomore Face-off Specialist Guy Lyons won 66% of his draws against Cal last weekend.

Goalie play has also been a bit up and down, but Senior goalie Tom Baquerizo stopped 64% of the shots he faced in the WCLL tournament.

Junior Luke Mikolajewski leads the Poly offense with 61 points (28g, 33a) and played one of his best games against Cal.

Cal Poly will be primed to make more noise next year with the experienced gained this year, but it will be fun to see how far they go next week.

#8 Georgia Tech vs #9 Concordia

I saved the best for last.

If you had told me last week this would be one of the two semifinal matchups, I wouldn’t have batted an eye.

In one of the most head scratching committee decisions I can remember, Concordia, who only lost 2 games this year and beat 9 ranked teams, was punished incredibly harshly for bowing out early in the SLC tournament. Had Concordia won the SLC tournament they’d probably be looking at a 2 or 3 seed. Instead they drop all the way down to the 9 seed.

I think the committee got this one wrong. I don’t want to take shots at any team above them saying Concordia should be there instead, but there are at least 4 teams I feel that way about. However big the chip is on the Eagles shoulders, it’s there for good reason.

Regardless of that, we now have an incredibly intriguing 8 vs 9 matchup in Round 1.

Georgia Tech is a team the computer rankings like a lot more than the pollsters. They only have 3 ranked wins, but they have a bunch of good wins against good teams that aren’t ranked. RPI and the Redd Rankings both have the Ramblin' Wreck at #4.

GT took down BC in the first game of the year and started off the season 4-0. They dropped back to back games toward the end of February to Clemson and Florida, and it seemed like that was enough to keep them off the radar for the rest of the year.

Quietly the Jackets got back to full strength and strung together 9 straight wins, including wins over South Carolina and Northeastern. Even those 9 wins weren’t enough to really build a buzz about the Jackets.

South Carolina took home the SELC crown, defeating Tech by 2, but the game was never out of reach. This is one of the better 8 seeds we’ve had.

GT has 5 players with 30 points or more on the year. That’s some great balance. Sophomore Brooks Baro leads the team with 52 points (31g, 21a), but if you look at the game logs you can see where the Jackets went without their best player, Senior Sam Eck (33g, 10a, 43p). Notably, he recorded a DNP in the 1 goal loss to Florida.

I didn’t comb all the way back through, but I believe this is the only team in the tournament that is led in scoring by their midfield instead of their attack.

Freshman face-off specialist Aaron Piszczek has been very good for Tech, winning 58% of his draws on the year.

On the Concordia side, I mentioned earlier I think this is one of the 5 best teams in the tournament playing in the 8v9 game. Not only is that a raw deal for Concordia, it’s kind of a raw deal for Georgia Tech.

In the rumblings I’ve heard from the Selection Committee there was a general feeling of “yeah, but who did they beat?” around Concordia. I don’t think that holds up to scrutiny when you actually compare them to the teams ahead of them, but that has to be some extra motivation for the Eagles to make a statement.

The Eagles spent most of the year in the Top 3 of the Coaches Poll. They have wins over tournament teams Cal Poly, Grand Canyon (the first time they played), USC (by 11!), and Arizona. Their only losses were a 1 goal loss at BYU and a 2 goal loss to Grand Canyon in the SLC tournament.

Concordia is one of the few teams I had a chance to see play in person this year. Troy Hofer is the real deal at attack. He won’t blow anyone away with his athleticism, but what he will blow you away with is his ability to make magic happen with the ball in his stick.

My sample size is low and my bias is probably high, but I thought Concordia didn’t get him enough chances to do his thing in the second half against BYU. Some of that was probably smart adjustments by BYU to discourage that, but with a guy like Hofer you can force the issue at times.

At face-offs, SLC Defensive Player of the Year Cade Poe has been elite. If there was a challenger to Frank from Clemson for best FOS in the tournament, it’s Poe. He’s won 69% of his face-offs over the course of the year and will need to be great for the Eagles next week.

The defensive unit for the Eagles is very good. I’m a big fan of First Team All-Conference defender Jake Cloutier (who has elite hair). Fellow First-Teamer goalie Tyler Schweickert continues his run as one of the best goalies in the MCLA.

I couldn’t be more excited for this game. Like I said, semifinal matchup in the first round. Let’s go.

That’s it for our tournament preview. If you want to keep up to date with us in real time during the tournament, drop a follow on twitter @vvlacrosse.

We’ll certainly be sending more newsletters recapping the tournament and more heading into the summer, so if you aren’t subscribed it’s time.