Way-Early 2018 Rankings: Nos. 1-5 (Division I Men)


Denver's Austin French will be back to help lead an offense that saw Connor Cannizzaro graduate after the 2017 season.


2017 record: 9-6 (2-2 Atlantic Coast)

Last seen: Absorbing its most lopsided loss in 20 years, a 16-4 drubbing against Denver in a quiet quarterfinal exit

Senior starts lost: 60 of 150 (40 percent)

Senior scoring departing: 46 of 237 points (19.4 percent)

Initial forecast: Overrated? Maybe, though there is some understandable inclination to give the Fighting Irish the benefit of the doubt since they dealt with injuries to Ryder Garnsey and Sergio Perkovic down the stretch this season. Through about the end of March, Notre Dame looked like it had one of the highest floors in the country, which made it like a lot of other recent seasons. Perkovic graduates after scoring 23 goals as a senior, but the other six Irish who recorded 10-point seasons are set to be back. The same goes for long pole John Sexton and short stick Drew Schantz, who might form the core of the nation’s best defensive midfield in 2018. Notre Dame won’t soon forget its quarterfinal humiliation against Denver, and perhaps that will incentivize the Irish as much as anything could. But that game also spotlighted the program’s biggest current hole — faceoff play that ranked 53rd nationally at 43.7 percent. Get that number a bit closer to 50 percent and fill a couple defensive vacancies, and Notre Dame has a chance to get back to championship weekend.


2017 record: 15-3 (6-0 America East)

Last seen: Falling in the NCAA quarterfinals for the third time in four years, this time in an 18-9 rout at the hands of eventual national champion Maryland

Senior starts lost: 36 of 180 (20 percent)

Senior scoring departing: 117 of 448 points (26.1 percent)

Initial forecast: The last two years have witnessed the end of a pair of long title droughts (Maryland and North Carolina) and a significant breakthrough for a program that’s knocked on the door to a final four for a decade (Ohio State). Maybe, finally it will be Albany’s turn. The Great Danes might have fared better with nearly any other quarterfinal matchup, but it ran into a Maryland team both with the experience of dealing with their potent offense and the ability to counter their strengths. Tewaaraton finalist Connor Fields will be back, as will faceoff maestro TD Ierlan. Albany consistently demonstrates the ability to reload, and winning the America East again shouldn’t prove an arduous task. The window for Albany to be good doesn’t look like it will shut in the near future, but for it to be great? Next season appears is the Great Danes’ best chance yet of playing on the last weekend in May.


2017 record: 16-3 (4-1 Big Ten)

Last seen: Partying like it was 1975 after a 9-6 defeat of Ohio State on Memorial Day brought the program its first national title in 42 years.

Senior starts lost: 75 of 190 (39.5 percent)

Senior scoring departing: 188 of 355 (53.0 percent)

Initial forecast: The likes of Matt Rambo, Tim Muller, Colin Heacock and Isaiah Davis-Allen went from all-conference and All-America honorees to program legends thanks to their roles in the Terrapins’ national championship run. They will all be difficult to replace, but no program has enjoyed the consistency Maryland has over the last seven years. Much of the defense that suffocated Denver and Ohio State in the final four is back, and midfielder Connor Kelly should again be one of the nation’s best midfielders. There’s a good chance Jared Bernhardt moves from midfield to attack, and incoming freshman Bubba Fairman will have a chance to take on a large role in his first year. Maryland won’t have to hear about its championship drought any longer, but will have to adjust to being the hunted. It’s a trade those in College Park are happy to finally make, and while there’s enough exiting to ensure the Terps shouldn’t be the favorite in 2018, there’s also enough in place for them to find themselves in their now-customary spot on Memorial Day weekend.

No. 2 DUKE

2017 record: 13-4 (3-1 Atlantic Coast)

Last seen: Having its much-improved defense torn asunder by Ohio State in the middle two quarters of a quarterfinal loss

Senior starts lost: 34 of 170 (20 percent)

Senior scoring departing: 69 of 358 points (19.3 percent)

Initial forecast: Jack Bruckner and his 44 goals are gone. The rest of Duke’s offense — from senior Justin Guterding to an expanding cast of midfielders — will be back. Toss in a maturing defense that will be led by fifth-year senior Danny Fowler, and the Blue Devils should be able to build off an encouraging season. What’s fascinating about this group is that the contributors from Duke’s back-to-back championships in 2013 and 2014 have all departed, and next year’s senior class has yet to make it to a semifinal. Every graduating class in the program has done so since 2005, and restoring the Blue Devils’ place at the top of the sport will be a priority for the ultra-competitive Guterding and his teammates. With so many of this year’s top teams losing plenty of components from their deep tournament runs, others are likely to emerge as final four contenders — and none of them are more likely to do so than Duke.


2017 record: 13-4 (5-0 Big East)

Last seen: An untimely crease violation away from sending a national semifinal against Maryland into overtime

Senior starts lost: 49 of 170 (28.8 percent)

Senior scoring departing: 105 of 358 points (29.3 percent)

Initial forecast: The Pioneers still have Trevor Baptiste, the Tewaaraton finalist who was probably the most valuable player in the country thanks to his faceoff prowess, and as a result they’ll again be part of the national championship discussion. Denver will need to find a need a new lead attackman after Connor Cannizzaro’s graduation, but the benefit of the Pioneers’ system is there really isn’t a guy who makes the offense tick by himself. Austin French and Ethan Walker and more than capable of turning in stellar seasons, and Denver showed off its depth in the semifinals against Maryland by getting three goals from its third midfield. The defense is still a bit concerning; opponents went from shooting 25.8 percent against the Pioneers in 2015 to 29.4 percent in 2016 and 29.2 percent this spring. So long as Baptiste largely dominates, though, Denver will be a threat to win any game and as good a pick as any to claim the program’s second national title.

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