Furman hosting Vermont in the NCAA Division I men's lacrosse opener at 5 p.m.. Here's a closer look at the Nike/US Lacrosse Preseason Top 20.

1. Denver

2016 record: 13-3 (5-0 Big East)

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Syracuse's Luke Schwasnick hurdles Maryland's Will Bonaparte in an NCAA quarterfinal game May 21, 2016, at Brown Stadium in Providence, R.I.

NCAA Preview: Division I Men's Preseason Top 20

The race to May starts today, with Furman hosting Vermont in the NCAA Division I men's lacrosse opener at 5 p.m.. Here's a closer look at the Nike/US Lacrosse Preseason Top 20.

1. Denver

2016 record: 13-3 (5-0 Big East)

Last seen: Taking back-to-back losses to close out the season, including a 10-9 setback against Towson in the first round of the NCAA tournament to quickly end the Pioneers' title defense.

Starts lost: 16%

Scoring lost: 17%

Forecast: The early postseason exit left Denver out of sight and out of mind, but this was still a team that was 13-1 in early May, can dominate possession thanks to Trevor Baptiste and should have one of the best players in the country in senior attackman Connor Cannizzaro. Overall, the Pioneers return three first-team All-Americans (Christian Burgdorf also is back), though they must cope with the unexpected absence of Zach Miller. In short, a couple late-season losses do not portend the collapse of a program that's delivered on a consistent basis since it first reached Memorial Day weekend in 2011. There are areas for improvement, particularly a defense that hid some of its vulnerabilities thanks to the team's penchant for playing make it/take it. Tighten up the defense, and Denver will contend for another national title.

Enemy lines: “Deepest, most talented team in the country, plus King Tuna and Tierney. … Incredible coaching on both sides of the ball, best FOGO in the nation. … Baptiste for Player of the Year. ... Will bounce back after a disappointing exit. Best coach ever.”

2. Maryland

2016 record: 17-3 (5-0 Big Ten)

Last seen: Nearly bringing an end to a 41-year title drought, only to allow the final three goals to North Carolina in one of the best national championship games in recent memory.

Starts lost: 39%

Scoring lost: 28%

Forecast: No, Maryland did not win the national title last year. But it was the most complete team of 2016, with the fewest vulnerabilities, and one of the benefits of that is it has fairly established answers for nearly all of the graduation hits it absorbs. The entire starting attack returns, including second team All-American Matt Rambo. After running two midfields heavily, the Terps can better handle losses in that area. Bryce Young saw plenty of time and is a good bet to slide into Matt Dunn's old starting spot. Matt Neufeldt will return from injury and reclaim his long pole spot from the graduating Greg Danseglio. Goalie Kyle Bernlohr leaves a substantial hole, but "fourth-year junior who played well in limited work" describes Dan Morris going into next year just as well as it did Bernlohr entering 2015.

Enemy lines: “Matt Rambo could very easily be a Tewaaraton finalist this year. He does get a lot of credit but probably not as much as he deserves. … Questions in cage. All-Americans everywhere else. … Word is they feel good about Morris and seemingly every year the baton has passed between great goalies, it has worked well.”

3. North Carolina

2016 record: 12-6 (3-1 ACC)

Last seen: Celebrating its first national championship since 1991 in the wake of Chris Cloutier's extra-man goal in overtime against Maryland on Memorial Day.

Starts lost: 26%

Scoring lost: 33%

Forecast: North Carolina loses only five players off its national championship team, so there's great temptation to anoint the Tar Heels as the early favorite for 2017. Yet while Joe Breschi's bunch finally obliterated the narrative of North Carolina continuously falling flat upon arriving in postseason every year, this was still a team that entered May at 8-6. The Tar Heels must find another lead attackman with Steve Pontrello (49 goals, 21 assists) graduating, but they enjoyed enough success moving around pieces last year that they'll be fine. Though North Carolina's defensive questions will pop up again.

Enemy lines: “No pressure now. Should be interesting to watch them play loose. … Seems like they have figured out some of the culture issues that may have been holding them back. … Breakthrough 2016. Pressure to repeat, see Denver '16 season.”

4. Loyola

2016 record: 14-4 (7-0 Patriot League)

Last seen: Surrendering 18 goals to North Carolina (half of them to Chris Cloutier) in the NCAA semifinals, though it should be noted the Patriot League champions' offense largely did as it pleased whenever it got the ball in that game.

Starts lost: 28%

Scoring lost: 24%

Forecast: Pat Spencer (37 goals, 52 assists) has another three years of eligibility remaining. The attackman was spectacular as a freshman, and he'll have a good chunk of his supporting cast back (though finisher Zach Herreweyers departs after a 37-goal season). The Greyhounds are the clear-cut Patriot League favorite, and a serious threat to make it to the final weekend in Foxborough.

Enemy lines: “Spencer is the best player in the country. ... Watch for freshman long-stick middie [Ryan McNulty] to make an early impact. … Spencer is not a bad place to start on offense, and [offensive] coach [Marc] Van Arsdale has some experience working with talented attackmen.”

5. Notre Dame

2016 record: 11-4 (3-1 ACC)

Last seen: Having few answers for North Carolina at either end of the field in a surprisingly lopsided NCAA quarterfinal loss.

Starts lost: 51%

Scoring lost: 36%

Forecast: It would be overly melodramatic to suggest the Irish missed the best chance they'll get to break through for their first national title. But it isn't an exaggeration to assert 2016 was a missed opportunity based on the depth of the senior class. Still, outside of a rout of Syracuse in the Carrier Dome, this is a bunch that lived a bit dangerously against most of the good (and a few of the average) teams on its schedule. History suggests the defense will be fine, and a nucleus of Ryder Garnsey, Sergio Perkovic and Mikey Wynne is a decent place to start at the other end.

Enemy lines: “Garnsey should take a big step this year and Perkovic can be the best player in the country at times. … Will need to replace Kavanagh’s play-making ability and reliability in the clutch. ... Can Perkovic produce consistently? Can Garnsey take pressure off him and get him the ball in scoring spots, or has he added more ability to create on his own?”

"Cuse is going to slip this year."

6. Johns Hopkins

2016 record: 8-7 (3-2 Big Ten)

Last seen: Absorbing a trouncing in the first round of the NCAA tournament at the hands of Brown, a team that proved to be the Blue Jays' nightmare matchup.

Starts lost: 17%

Scoring lost: 29%

Forecast: The Blue Jays never had Connor Reed and Joel Tinney in their midfield and lost Drew Supinski halfway through the season, and yet they averaged 12.3 goals and made the most of what they had. In short, coordinator Bobby Benson and the offense maxed out what they had, and the return of a lot of midfield talent should more than offset the graduation of attackman Ryan Brown (41 goals, 16 assists).

Enemy lines: “Getting Tinney back helps a lot. Team shot lights out last year.  He adds a huge midfield dodging threat. … Interesting to see if [goalie Gerald] Logan comes in and can steal a win or two for them early on.”

7. Yale

2016 record: 13-3 (5-1 Ivy League)

Last seen: Exiting the NCAA tournament much earlier than expected thanks to a 13-10 loss to Navy in the first round just a week after claiming yet another Ivy League tournament title.

Starts lost: 36%

Scoring lost: 27%

Forecast: The team to beat in the Ivy League. The Bulldogs have the bulk of their offense back in 2017, with Tewaaraton finalist Ben Reeves (45 goals, 34 assists) the most noteworthy returnee. Is goalie Hoyt Crance (52.6 percent in six starts as a freshman) the permanent answer?

Enemy lines: “Tough. Gritty. In other words, not a typical Ivy. ... Need a goalie to own the spot. … Knocking on the door the past few years. Reeves is a stud.”

8. Syracuse

2016 record: 12-5 (2-2 ACC)

Last seen: Taking every easy-to-stop outside look it could while getting carved up on the defensive end in a 13-7 quarterfinal loss to Maryland, leaving the Orange at home during Memorial Day weekend for the sixth time in seven years.

Starts lost: 54%

Scoring lost: 40%

Forecast: Expect the usual cutthroat, Darwinian competition for playing time on offense, where midfielders Nick Mariano and Sergio Salcido will head into the season as the biggest and most capable knowns. But as has been the case the last three years, can Syracuse do enough to stop good teams? The Orange's defense played better in front of goalie Evan Molloy than Warren Hill, though Molloy did more than his share to help, too

Enemy lines: “Need their highly-recruited guys to actually step up. Studs, but individuals. Need chemistry. … Cuse is going to slip this year. … [Faceoff specialist Ben] Williams is a monster.”

9. Brown

2016 record: 16-3 (6-0 Ivy League)

Last seen: Erasing a four-goal deficit in the fourth quarter against Maryland in the NCAA semifinals, only for the Terps to score in overtime to bring an end to the Bears' up-tempo run.

Starts lost: 54%

Scoring lost: 58%

Forecast: You want the good news first? Dylan Molloy, the best player in the country in 2016, is back. Long pole Larken Kemp, a first team All-American, also returns for his senior year. So Brown has that going for it. But the Bears were hammered by graduation as much as anyone. Five of their top six scorers, faceoff maestro Will Gural, first-team All-American goalie Jack Kelly, short stick d-middie Jon Yozzo-Scaperrotta — all depart Providence in the wake of Brown's first trip to championship weekend since 1994. The up-tempo system should be very similar under new coach Mike Daly, who first developed it at Tufts.

Enemy lines: “What can Coach Daly do now that he actually has fall ball to develop his players and system?... The loss of Kelly and especially Gural might change the way the Bears will be able to play. You can’t run-and-gun with out winning faceoffs.” 

10. Duke

2016 record: 11-8 (2-2 ACC)

Last seen: Getting steamrolled at Loyola on the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, the Blue Devils' second consecutive exit after a decade as a Memorial Day weekend regular.

Starts lost: 48%

Scoring lost: 59%

Forecast: Not to put too fine a point on it, but what exactly are the Blue Devils going to do in the midfield? No one rode their first midfield harder than Duke last spring. Deemer Class and Myles Jones had plenty to do with that. But so, too, did the lack of developed options behind them. Brad Smith was solid on the seldom-used second line. Duke might ask more of its defense in 2017 than at any point in John Danowski's tenure in Durham. It needs to be up to the task.

Enemy lines: “Will, of course, come on late and make a push. Duke is Duke. …  No true star for first time in a while, but that may help them write a new chapter. … Do they get back to more of a team game with Jones gone?”

Nike/US Lacrosse Rankings
Division I Men | Division I Women
Division II Men | Division II Women
Division III Men | Division III Women

11. Virginia

2016 record: 7-8 (0-4 ACC)

Last seen: Sealing a sub-.500 season with a blowout loss against Brown during ACC tournament weekend. A little more than three weeks later, the school opted to make a coaching change, ending Dom Starsia's 24-year run in Charlottesville.

Starts lost: 19%

Scoring lost: 31%

Forecast: The Cavaliers' overall level of talent isn't the same as it once was, and Virginia was missing a charismatic, high-end No. 1 option while averaging 10.6 goals last season. Two of the top three scorers graduated, and then goalie Matt Barrett was suspended for the 2017 season following an arrest for drug possession. A trip back to the postseason remains plausible, however, with new coach Lars Tiffany and his former Brown staff bringing the Bears’ headache-inducing run-and-gun game to Charlottesville.

Enemy Lines: “New blood will lead to a resurgence. …[Michael] Howard should thrive in the system similar to how Brown’s poles thrived last year. … Zed Williams moving to attack will help them.”

12. Albany

2016 record: 12-4 (6-0 America East)

Last seen: Dropping back-to-back tournament games, falling to Hartford in a conference tournament shocker before being overtaken by Syracuse in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Starts lost: 29%

Scoring lost: 14%

Forecast: This much seems certain: The Great Danes will score, they'll be fun to watch and they'll probably be the class of the America East so long as they don't get demolished at the faceoff X. In other words, just a normal year for Scott Marr's team. Albany will return plenty of knowns on offense, from Connor Fields to Seth Oakes to Justin Reh. If the Great Danes can find steady goalie play, they’ll be a final four sleeper.

Enemy Lines: “Wild-card players with insane skill. Weird offense to defend, sneaky good. … Connor Fields is an elite attackman. … Find a way every year to be relevant, with or without Thompsons. … Losing [goalie Blaze] Riorden could loom very large.”

13. Navy

2016 record: 11-5 (7-1 Patriot League)

Last seen: Nearly ousting Brown in the NCAA quarterfinals on the strength of goalie John Connors' 21-save outing — the most for a Midshipman since 2003.

Starts lost: 50%

Scoring lost: 43%

Forecast: How will the Mids follow up their first trip to the tournament since 2009 and first quarterfinal appearance since 2008? Well, it helps to have a lot of knowns on defense. Connors enjoyed a stellar senior season, but the other big names at that end of the field — defenseman Chris Fennell, long pole Matt Rees and short sticks DJ Plumer and John Trainor — are all back. But Navy suffered an enormous blow when All-American midfielder Casey Rees suffered a non-contact knee injury during an offseason workout. He’s out for the season.

Enemy lines: “Losing Casey Rees is huge for their midfield. Greyson Torain must be ready to pick up the slack. … Wonder if they try to push the tempo a little more from defense to offense to create some goals.”

14. Towson

2016 record: 16-3 (4-1 CAA)

Last seen: Falling 10-8 to Charles Street rival Loyola in an NCAA quarterfinal played 400 miles away in Columbus, a setback that brought an end to the winningest season in program history.

Starts lost: 60%

Scoring lost: 27%

Forecast: When six starters depart but nearly three-quarters of the offense is back, the math makes things fairly clear. Namely, Towson has a lot to replace on a stellar defense that surrendered only 7.26 goals per game. The Tigers might just have to lean on its offense, a more palatable possibility than in years past given Towson's improvement at that end of the field. Ryan Drenner and Joe Seider provide a pair of 30-goal options.

Enemy lines: “[Jack] Adams and [Zach] Goodrich are arguably the best short-stick defensive midfielders in lacrosse. They should help ease the transition of an entirely new close defense and goalie. … Perennial CAA champions and brutal NCAA tournament matchup.”

15. Penn State

2016 record: 8-7 (2-3 Big Ten)

Last seen: After a series of tight, crushing losses, falling into a huge hole early in the Big Ten semifinals, a 16-9 loss to Maryland.

Starts lost: 10%

Scoring lost: 17%

Forecast: It's tempting to label Penn State as a possible breakout team in 2017, but the Nittany Lions' performance the last three years when more was usually expected of them doesn't make them the easiest team to embrace for such a role. Still, only one starter (TJ Sanders) graduated. Grant Ament impressed as a freshman with 20 goals and 34 assists, and seven double-digit goal scorers could return. The biggest problem here is on defense.

Enemy lines: “Attack is scary good. … They get better with the addition of [Mac] O’Keefe. … Jeff Tambroni is due. He’s as good of a coach as there is and he finally has the pieces at both ends of the field.”


Junior Ben Reeves, Yale's first Tewaaraton finalist, is coming off a 45-goal, 34-assist sophomore season.

16. Rutgers

2016 record: 11-5

Last seen: Falling to Maryland in the Big Ten title game, then getting denied an NCAA at-large bid the next night to bring a disappointing conclusion to a largely entertaining breakout season in Piscataway.

Starts lost: 28%

Scoring lost: 27%

Forecast: The major questions are obvious. Leading scorer Scott Bieda (28 goals, 38 assists) graduated, as did goalie Kris Alleyne (51.7 save percentage). Much of Rutgers' success stemmed from how well Bieda helped set up fellow attackmen Adam Charalambides (43 goals, 14 assists) and Jules Heningburg (39 goals, 21 assists). Figuring out how to replicate that without Bieda could be the Scarlet Knights' trickiest task — especially now that Charalambides, the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year, is out for the season due to injury. Nonetheless, Rutgers' adoption of a more up-tempo approach makes them a different animal from the rest of the Big Ten and many of its opponents, and the Scarlet Knights' cast of thousands in the midfield doesn't lose many contributors, either. Rutgers has not made the NCAA tournament since 2004.

Enemy lines: “Scott Bieda is a huge hit. He was their leader on offense.  … Going to play with a huge chip on their shoulder after a tournament snub last year. … Jules Heningburg is an All-American. He’s been getting better and better every year. ... Very similar to Brown in many ways.  Transition and early offense can kill you.”

17. Marquette

2016 record: 11-5 (4-1 Big East)

Last seen: Falling by a goal at home to North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA tournament; the loss didn't stand out nearly as much as the Golden Eagles hosting a playoff game in their fourth season of existence, a credit to Joe Amplo's work of building a credible program from scratch.

Starts lost: 41%

Scoring lost: 33%

Forecast: For a team with a 19-man senior class — many of whom were at Marquette from its first game —  the statistical damage in the departure category doesn't look so bad. Still, no more Conor Gately on offense, no more Liam Byrnes on defense. Those are real losses for the Golden Eagles to deal with, but they clearly have a promising future. Two of the biggest pieces from Marquette's playoff push are in this year's junior class: attackman Ryan McNamara (team-highs with 40 goals and 17 assists) and faceoff ace Zachary Melillo (.562). The Golden Eagles went from curiosity (college lacrosse in Wisconsin!) to spunky start-up to downright dangerous in a hurry, and the victory at Denver to seal the Big East tournament title was another significant step forward. Marquette isn't going away.

Enemy lines: “Playoff experience. Ryan McNamara is one of the best players people don’t know about. Amplo will figure out the defense.”

18. Ohio State

2016 record: 7-8 (2-3 Big Ten)

Last seen: Ruining Rutgers' at-large chances with a 12-10 victory hours after any hopes of reaching the Big Ten tournament were slammed shut.

Starts lost: 33%

Scoring lost: 25%

Forecast: The numbers above suggest an obvious conclusion — the Buckeyes did not losing much scoring (outside of Carter Brown, anyway). But there's also a problem that's not hard to discern: Ohio State didn't exactly light up the scoreboard a whole lot last season. Little wonder the Buckeyes lost four one-goal contests in a five-game stretch. Nick Myers has done a fine job of mining north-of-the-border talent, and many of Ohio State's best pieces will probably be Canadians — Eric Fannell, Johnny Pearson and Austin Shanks on offense, and faceoff ace Jake Withers (60.7 percent as a junior).

Enemy lines: “Jake Withers back at the faceoff X is a major plus that should keep them in every game. … A ton of talent, but can’t figure out what works for them, in my opinion. Carey is great in net. … Sleeper team. Hungry. Excellent coaching. Best player nobody knows about in Eric Fennell. Solid faceoff game. Will surprise people early with offensive production. … Tre Leclaire is probably their next great offensive guy from B.C. in long line of them.”

19. Air Force

2016 record: 15-3 (7-0 Southern)

Last seen: Having arguably the best season in program history come to an end with a 15-7 loss at Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Starts lost: 39%

Scoring lost: 23%

Forecast: Air Force was 1-3 against the NCAA tournament field (no shame in that), played a cerebral style, banked on a steady defense, rarely tried to do too much and thrived in one-goal games (6-1, including 4-0 in overtime). That latter trait isn't easy to replicate, so it's possible the Falcons are just as capable and take a few extra setbacks along the way. But they're not going to disappear from NCAA tournament contention, not with three 20-goal scorers (Chris Walsch, Nick Hruby and Andrew Tien) back and two starters on a technically sound close defense.

Enemy lines: “Great year last year. If healthy, they’ll be even better in 2017. …  Goalie is great. Never bet against a service academy. … Keep sneaking up on polls. Probably will again.”

20. Villanova

2016 record: 9-5 (3-2 Big East)

Last seen: Getting drubbed by Marquette for the second time, leaving it at 0-4 against eventual NCAA tournament teams and its season over in the Big East semifinals.

Starts lost: 29%

Scoring lost: 28%

Forecast: Villanova handled business against nearly everyone it should have, but couldn't get over the top against the best teams on its schedule. Oh, but the Wildcats could score, rattling off 13.57 goals per game, a strength that should continue with four 30-point scorers returning. That group includes Jake Froccaro (40 goals, 16 assists) and Devin McNamara (30 goals, 19 assists), so the offense is in capable hands. But Villanova's defense yielded 10.64 goals per contest, and its goalies combined to muster just a .475 save percentage. It's hard to win consistently with those numbers.

Enemy lines: “For some reason, they seem to hit a wall every year after starting hot. … Explosive offense. … Weapons everywhere. …  Joey Froccaro is a stud. Insanely talented offensively. Can they make a stop when the offense isn't firing?”

Excerpts of this article appear in the February NCAA preview edition of US Lacrosse Magazine. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse today to start your subscription.

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