Defense has become more about scheme and less about personnel, which means the same teams consistently end up atop the scoring charts. Still, each system requires a different skill set, so matching style and talent is important. These defenses do that best.
1. Duke: The Blue Devils defense welcomes back Mike Manley after he sat out 2011 with a torn ACL. Manley may be the first defender taken in the 2012 MLL collegiate draft. Sophomores Chris Hipps and Luke Duprey benefit from significant playing time last spring, and C.J. Costabile is a flashy pole whose versatility and handle give opponents nightmares. Jimmy O'Neill, Bill Conners and Henry Lobb fortify the defense in front of goalie Dan Wigrizer, who'll be challenged for the starting role.
2. Johns Hopkins: Chris Lightner missed the fall nursing a lower back injury. He's the glue inside. The hard-nosed defender is flanked by Tucker Durkin and sophomore Jack Reilly, who must progress if Hopkins hopes to hold the trophy in May. Marshall Burkhart is at shortstick d-middie, but the Jays lack a charismatic longstick middie. Goalie Pierce Bassett benefits from a strong team defense, as the Jays don't surrender many shots from inside the paint.
3. Virginia: It'll be interesting to see whether the Cavs play as much zone D in 2012 as they did in 2011. Their personnel on defense is better overall this spring. Scott McWilliams is a prototypical No. 1 cover guy. Harry Prevas improved late in 2011, and Chris Clements was the unsung hero of the national title run who can play pole or close defense. Matt Lovejoy is back after injuring his shoulder last spring, while freshmen Greg Danseglio and Tanner Ottenbreit will be incorporated into the lineup. The biggest question mark for Virginia on defense will be in the goal and at shortstick d-middie.
4. Syracuse: Matt Harris, Brian Megill, Kyle Carey and Dave Hamlin form a strong, close defense. Harris played second pole last spring and was a beast in limited runs. Megill is best suited as a No. 2 defender. Kevin Drew solidifies the midfield defense; he may be the best at his position in the country. The Orange auditioned seven goalies in the fall and will likely start Matt Lerman or Bobby Wardwell.
5. Princeton: If the Tigers stay healthy, they'll be back in the hunt for an NCAA bid because of their stingy defense led by John Cunningham, Chad Wiedmaier, Jonathan Meyers and goaltender Tyler Fiorito.
6. Ohio State: The Buckeyes have recruited killer defensemen, and it'll pay off in 2012. Last year, they held opponents to 8.06 goals per game. Ohio State returns three starters in Matt Kawamoto, Keenan Ochwat and Joe Bonanni and has a deep core of athletes including Darius Bowling, John Hardesty, Joe Meurer, Brock Sorensen and Dominic Imbordino -- guys with size and speed to fill out the midfield defense.
7. Hofstra: The Pride will put up terrific defensive numbers in 2012 because of their patient offense, faceoff dominance and solid schemes. The close unit will be made up by Cody Solaja, Corey Caputo, Mark Mullen, Michael Hamilton, Brian Hogan and Tom Passenant.
8. Penn: The Quakers return starters in longstick middie Will Koshansky, goalie Brian Feeney and close defensemen Maxx Meyer and Anthony Santomo. The third starting spot, along with the fourth close defenseman and second pole, will be between sophomores Alex Blonsky (the second pole last year), Reid Tudor and freshman Matt McMahon.
9. Cornell: The Big Red rely on undersized but productive defenders in Mike Bronzino and Jason Noble. They collapse in the paint, support and slide early. Cornell "shows," or fake slides from the adjacent defender, as well as anybody. The third spot appears to be an open battle between Thomas Keith, Tom Freshour and a trio of freshman -- Connor Hunt, Jordan Stevens and Russell Scott. Cornell must get bigger, more physical and stronger in the defensive end. The Big Red got pushed around in their 2011 playoff loss.
10. Yale: Continuity and chemistry mean everything for a defense. Yale has a trio with that synergy, as juniors Mike McCormack, Peter Johnson and Phil Gross have started since day one. Yale has question marks between the pipes and at LSM.
Best of the rest
Notre Dame: Kevin Randall, Jake Marmul, John Kemp
North Carolina: Charlie McComas, Jordan Smith, Steven Rastivo
Georgetown: Chris Nourse, Brennan Bicknese, CT Fisher