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In the Crease: Duke, Denver, Maryland, Notre Dame Battle for NCAA Lacrosse Championship

In the Crease: Duke, Denver, Maryland, Notre Dame Battle for NCAA Lacrosse Championship

Duke faces a tough challenge in their quest for back-to-back lacrosse championships. The Blue Devils square off against a scrappy Denver team in a final four match up on Saturday. One of those teams will face the winner of the Maryland/Notre Dame game to play for the trophy on Monday at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. Last year Duke topped Syracuse in a 16-10 victory to bring home the prize. This year’s championship weekend should be no less exciting, as lacrosse continues to draw more and more converts to the game.

How they got here

The quarterfinals began last Saturday with a thrilling overtime victory by Notre Dame over Albany, easily one of the best games of the tournament. In short order the top seeds filled the rest of the weekend with routine victories, as they advanced into this weekend’s final four.

For the record, I’m not betting against the Irish for the rest of the tournament. In the Crease noted last week that Notre Dame feels like a team that’s hitting its stride at just the right time, and this game showed why, as the Irish turned a five-goal 4th quarter deficit into an improbable 14-13 overtime win.

Many of the fans at the game were there to watch the mesmerizing Thompson Trio of Lyle, Miles, and Ty continue their assault on the record books. They didn’t disappoint in that department, but fell short in the last three minutes of regulation, as their final shot, with three seconds left, bounced off the facemask of goalie Conor Kelly.

The Irish jumped off to an early 4-0 lead, looking comfortable and steady, and taking a 6-5 lead into half time. Albany, led by three goals each by Lyle and Miles, went on a tear, and led Notre Dame with what looked like a comfortable five goals, with just over eight minutes remaining in the game.  

Then the Irish got busy. Turning to a 10-man ride, essentially hounding everyone on Albany as they tried to clear, Notre Dame forced eight Albany turnovers, allowed only one clear, and outshot the Great Danes 17-9.

With 2:29 left in overtime, Notre Dame’s Matt Kavanagh, whose intensity in the 4th quarter helped ignite the Irish turnaround, scored his third goal of the day, and iced Notre Dame’s trip to the Final Four.

For the game, Lyle Thompson had three goals and three assists to end his season with a NCAA D1 record 128 points. Brother Miles had three goals, one assist, and tied the record for most goals in a season with 82. He ended the year with 119 total points, also eclipsing the previous record for points in a year, and second to Lyle.

In the other matchups, Cinderella teams Bryant and Drexel, who knocked out the #2 and #4 seeds respectively, saw their brilliant seasons end in duds, as Maryland doubled up Bryant 16-8, and Denver knocked out Drexel 15-6. Duke also overpowered Johns Hopkins 19-11.

With the most intriguing storylines in the tournament the dominance of Albany’s Thompson Trio and the storybook seasons of unseeded and relative newcomers to the postseason now off the table, what do we have to look forward to this weekend?

Turns out, quite a bit.

NCAA Championship Weekend (all times eastern)

#1 Duke v #5 Denver – M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore MD – 1:00 ESPN2

In the Crease spoke with Paul Rabil and Paul Carcaterra, co-hosts of The Lacrosse Show on Sirius XM to get their insights into this weekend’s championship.

Going in to the post-season, Duke was my favorite to hoist the trophy on Memorial Day, for their second straight title, and third in five years. They’re still my favorite, but the road to the championship got tougher with recent injuries to Josh Dionne, Duke’s second leading scorer, and defender Luke Duprey. Both will sit out this weekend.

The continued emergence of middie Myles Jones should assuage some of the panic in the Duke locker room. Jones has been nothing short of sensational in the tournament, building on his improved play over the second half of the season. His three goals and four assists helped Duke to an easy victory against Hopkins.

Jones has the potential to be absolutely dominant at the middie position. Clocking in at 6’4″, 240 pounds, he’s built more like a NFL middle linebacker than a lacrosse player. He’s often played like one too, relying on strength and power to bull his way past defenders as a one-dimensional player.

This year Jones has added finesse and expanded his game and he’s now a threat to score any number of ways, or find the open man. He could be the difference maker in Saturday’s game. Paul Carcaterra says that Jones put in “tons of time in the offseason and with assistant coaches Matt Danowski and Ron Caputo to improve his game.” That time looks to be paying off.

Rabil says  Jones’ development is largely due to “Matt Danowski getting him into different positions on the field to initiate his dodges…before he would sit on the wings and back in to the short stick [defender] and go left and right and do an inside roll and spike the ball into the net. They’ve brought him up to the center of the midfield and he’s taking dodges north and south, being able to go either way. It’s a simple coaching adjustment, but it’s opened up both sides of the field.”  

Duke’s Jordan Wolf continues to dazzle, scoring four goals and adding three assists against Hopkins. There’s a reason why he’s a Tewaarton finalist, and the only one left playing in the tournament.

Denver continues its stellar play after ousting North Carolina in the first round, and cruising to a 15-6 victory over Drexel in the quarterfinals. Coach Bill Tierney has six NCAA championships under his belt (all with Princeton), and is looking to make it seven.

“Their style is so unique,” says Rabil. “They play more methodical, very high skill, a lot of cutters, a lot of on-ball picks, and very different from what you’ll see at Duke. They are #2 and #3 in the country in scoring, with totally different approaches. Some underlying things going on: will it be a high-scoring game or will one of the coaches try to take the air out of the ball to offset the other team’s strengths?”

Denver is riding a 13 game winning streak, and lost to Duke way back in mid-February 14-10. Denver is the third highest scoring team in the country (behind #2 Duke).

This game might come down to faceoffs, where Duke’s Brendan Fowler is sensational, particularly in big games.

Prediction: Duke, in a high scoring game.

#6 Notre Dame v #7 Maryland – M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore MD – 3:30 ESPN2

Notre Dame just finds ways to win. The heart and never say die attitude they’ve shown since winning the ACC tournament, where they dispatched Maryland in a low scoring 6-5 victory, tells me that they’re going to find a way to win on Saturday. In the ACC game, Notre Dame trailed 4-1 in the third quarter before outscoring the Terps 5-1 for the win.

It won’t be easy for the Irish, who split two games against Maryland this year. The Terps defense is tops in the nation giving up just seven goals per game. Niko Amato anchors the D in goal. Amato received this year’s Kelly Award, which is given to the most outstanding goalie in lacrosse.

Maryland will essentially be playing a home game, as they make the short trip up 95 to Baltimore. Mike Chanenchuk is the leader on the Terps offense. He scored the game-winning goal against Cornell in the opening round of the tournament, and followed that performance with a nine-point outing last week against Bryant. In that game, FOGO Charlie Raffa, who has been dominant all year, took Kevin Massa, the #1 faceoff specialist in D1 lacrosse out of the game, which helped Maryland jump out to a 9-4 lead at halftime.

Carcaterra says, “Maryland has had a lot of success in the tournament [MD holds the longest current active streak in NCAA appearances at 12], if Raffa and Amato can dictate the tempo with possessions and saves, that bodes well for Maryland.” 

Matt Kavanagh has been the spark plug for the Irish. He scored the game-winning goal against Maryland in the ACC tournament, and the game-winning goal against Albany last week in the semifinals. John Scioscia has scored 12 goals in the last three games and the Irish have found their shooting touch, averaging 15 points per contest over their last three.

“The two teams are very familiar with each other” says Rabil, the way I see it, the media is hyping the Duke/Denver game as the national title game. If those two teams beat each other up and Notre Dame or Maryland cruise by their guys, they have a great chance of picking off the Denver/Duke winner on Monday.”

Prediction: Notre Dame seems to have the X factor, and pull out a close victory

Women’s Championship – Towson, MD – Sunday 8:30 ESPNU

 

Last year’s triple-overtime women’s championship between Maryland and North Carolina was a thriller. On Sunday, #1 seed Maryland squares off against #2 Syracuse in a game that will feature four of the five final candidates for the Tewaaraton Award. Expect another epic game. 

SiriusXM to Air 2014 NCAA Division I Men’s Lacrosse Semifinals and National Championship Game

Sirius XM is expanding their coverage of NCAA lacrosse this year, for the first time bringing bringing Paul Carcaterra and Paul Rabil, hosts of The Lacrosse Show on Sirius XM channel 91, to the lineup.

From the press release:

NEW YORK – May 22, 2014 – SiriusXM will broadcast the 2014 NCAA® Division I Men’s Lacrosse Semifinals and National Championship game live from M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, MD, this Saturday, May 24, and Monday, May 26.

 

Live play-by-play of every matchup will be available to subscribers on SiriusXM College Sports Nation, channel 91, on satellite radios, on the SiriusXM Internet Radio App and online at SiriusXM.com. 

 

On Saturday, top-seeded Duke University faces off against #5 seed University of Denver in the first game starting at 12:45 pm ET.  In the second semifinal game to follow, #6 seed University of Notre Dame plays #7 seed University of Maryland.  The national championship game will be played on Monday at 12:45 pm ET.

 

In addition to live play-by-play, SiriusXM will offer exclusive pre- and postgame coverage for both the semifinals and the national championship game.  Special editions of The Lacrosse Show – featuring analysis from four-year Johns Hopkins All-American and two-time national champion Paul Rabil, former Syracuse captain and ESPN commentator Paul Carcaterra, and Paul Mittermeier – will air Saturday and Monday starting at 11:00 am ET on SiriusXM College Sports Nation.  After the games are played, listeners will hear postgame analysis from Rabil and Mittermeier, as well as live interviews with players and coaches

 

The Thompsons Continue to be the Face of Lacrosse

Recently, Albany’s Thompson Trio have been the subject of numerous national press stories. From the New York Times, to CBS News, AP, and ABC News, the Tewaaraton Award leading candidate Lyle Thompson, with his record setting year, and the Thompson’s family story – growing up on a reservation, breaking records with Miles and Ty, and electrifying fans nationwide, have been too good a story to pass up.

This weekend, ESPN throws its hat into the ring with a special that will premier on Sunday at 10AM. You can see the trailer here.

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