It’s Week 1, again! With most of the rest of the country getting into action this weekend (join the club, Ivy League), we have even more great games on the schedule. It was hard to pick just three. Ultimately, it came down to statement games that piqued my interest the most. Is Loyola for real? How does Penn State bounce back against a Villanova team with plenty of unknowns? How does Michigan handle the weight of expectations? It's a weekend with plenty of opportunity to learn, even if it is still February.
Here are my three favorite games of the weekend. Spreads are from DraftKings at the time of writing, rankings are from the latest Inside Lacrosse Media Poll.
6 Maryland vs (RV) Loyola
Loyola would be ranked if we did a new poll this week, since they just waxed Georgetown 18-10. Maryland would move into the top five, filling the spot vacated by Hopkins and Penn State. The Hounds offense is stacked with weapons that returned from a year ago. That team came out of the gates like gangbusters, but got bogged down as the year went on and the offense lost a spark a bit. The defense from that team moved on to the pros, leaving major questions for this year. Loyola answered them last week, with a very good defensive performance, particularly from Remi Reynolds, a Rutgers transfer. The Terps needed two OTs to beat Richmond last week, not a result I’m sure many expected. Maybe a close game, but not that close. Terps have Eric Malever back and he had three assists week one, looking very much ready to be a leader on the offense. Braden Erksa I’d say is underrated coming into this year, despite a Big 10 Freshman of the Year campaign a season ago. Maryland got at least one goal from nine players last week; Owen Murphy’s OT winner was his only goal on the day. They are a team that shares the rock, and has a nice balance of ball dominant and off ball weapons. And of course, Tillman will have the scheme ready. It’s tough to expect a Maryland loss here. Last year, Loyola handed Maryland their first loss in a year following an undefeated 2022. Nobody thought the Hounds would do that. And now in 2024, I don’t think I’ve learned my lesson. I still don’t expect Loyola to win this game, and that’s all the more reason to watch.
3 UVA vs 11 Michigan
Okay Michigan, honeymoon is over. For years, fans have awaited the Michigan break through. Neutral fans, or just folks who want to see the sport expand, have often pulled for Michigan in some underdog games just in the interest of having a sports program that large be part of the lacrosse elite. And last year, they broke through. The thing is, once you’re through, you’re through. The neutrals pulling for the underdog days? Gone. You don’t get that anymore, Wolverines. Now, you get expectations. That’s what happens when you win the Big 10 tournament. People will expect Michae Boehm to successfully trigger the offense, even against defenseman like Cole Kastner. Justin Wietfeldt will be expected to deliver faceoff wins. The defense led by Ryan Shriber needs to hold its own. If Michigan loses this one badly, the conversation isn’t about how they’re getting closer to being elite, it’s about wondering if they’re for real this year or overrated. All that pressure is difficult to handle, that’s what happens when you arrive though. UVA will send out one of the most loaded, and balanced, offenses in the nation. The defense has multiple top tier stoppers. There are Tewaaraton and Schmeisser candidates, top tier transfers, phenom freshman, all going to take the field for UVA in this one. Michigan, as of last year, is going to be expected to have the answers. Particularly after Coach Conry said this week that they play in the Big 10, not the “pretty boy conference”. The bear, or in this case the Cavalier, has been poked. This game is exciting to me for all those reasons. To see what Shellenberger has for us this year, particularly when he’s flanked by McCabe Millon and Jack Boyden. And to see how Michigan plays with the weight of expectations, rather than just hope.
4 Penn State vs (RV) Villanova
Safe to say that four is only there because we don’t have a new poll yet, and Penn State likely as of this writing would probably settle somewhere in the teens if we did. The loss to Colgate was the stunner of week one. Colgate deserves credit for the win, but Penn State didn’t help themselves. They were 0-5 on extra man, they committed more turnovers (25 in the game), and failed on seven clears. That adds up to a loss by a goal, considering a bad inbounds pass and a failed clear led to the game winner for Colgate. I will remain bullish on the Nittany Lions, because what kind of person would I be if I bailed after one game. But if they lose here, that hole gets mighty deep. Villanova’s David Evanchick was one of the top freshman defender’s in the nation a year ago, and he’ll get a tough assignment this week. If it’s Malone, Traynor, or Lehman, it’s real tough. Villanova will also be showing off a revamped offense. Matt Campbell is in the PLL now, while Patrick Daly and Austin Fraser has graduated. Villanova’s alpha on offense needs to emerge, and win a matchup presumably with Jack Posey, a tall order.
Penn State’s offense has the depth to give Villanova problems. Villanova will have a new starter in net following the graduation of Will Vitton. Penn State would do well to try and get out fast in this one. A few quick strike goals, triggered by Malone, will have the fans taking a deep breath and saying “that’s more like it”. But if Penn State starts slow, the feelings of last week can linger. They can stick around and take hold, as fans and watchers wonder when the real Penn State will please stand up. Faceoffs could be big in this one. Make it take it kind of day for Chase Mullins will help Penn State grease the wheels. But that’s far from a given against Justin Coppola. I’ll be particularly interested in the first 5-8 minutes of this game, and what kind of pace and energy Penn State plays with.