After thrilling first-round and quarterfinal weekends of action in the 2014 NCAA lacrosse tournament, the stage is finally set for the last four schools still alive to decide the national champion in Baltimore.
The first few rounds of the tournament didn't exactly go as planned, with a plethora of notable upsets sprinkled in with the first round. Albany, Bryant and Drexel all knocked off top national teams to advance to the quarterfinal round, where all of them saw their Cinderella stories end to another low seed.
National powerhouses such as Syracuse, Loyola (Maryland), Penn and Johns Hopkins have all been bounced, but a couple of national title contenders have emerged from the four teams still standing.
Let's take a look at the updated bracket from all of the NCAA lacrosse tournament action and break down Saturday's two semifinal matchups.
|No. 1 Duke||Air Force||20-9|
|Johns Hopkins||No. 8 Virginia||14-8|
|No. 5 Denver||North Carolina||9-5|
|Drexel||No. 4 Penn||16-11|
|Albany||No. 3 Loyola (Md.)||13-6|
|No. 6 Notre Dame||Harvard||13-5|
|No. 7 Maryland||Cornell||8-7|
|Bryant||No. 2 Syracuse||10-9|
|No. 1 Duke||Johns Hopkins||19-11|
|No. 5 Denver||Drexel||15-6|
|No. 6 Notre Dame||Albany||14-13|
|No. 7 Maryland||Bryant||16-8|
|May 24||Semifinal 1||No. 1 Duke vs. No. 5 Denver||1 p.m.||ESPN2|
|May 24||Semifinal 2||No. 6 Notre Dame vs. No. 7 Maryland||3:30 p.m.||ESPN2|
|May 26||Championship||TBD||1 p.m.||ESPN2|
Note: Updated bracket information courtesy of NCAA.com.
No. 1 Duke vs. No. 5 Denver
The semifinal showdown on the other end of the bracket is considerably less predictable, but things, for the most part, worked out like we had expected on Duke's end.
The top team in the nation—unlike almost all of its counterparts in that regard—took care of business quite easily en route to Baltimore. The Blue Devils easily disposed of Air Force 20-9 in the first round, then took care of Johns Hopkins 19-11 one weekend later to advance yet again.
Per the team's official Twitter, it was its eighth straight appearance in the semifinals:
EIGHT STRAIGHT! Duke heads to Baltimore for 8th straight NCAA mlax semifinal appearance. Duke vs… http://t.co/lrrtLJT0W4— Duke Men's Lacrosse (@Duke_MLAX) May 19, 2014
But while Duke was able to easily stroll through its first two games, that will change in an instant come Saturday.
No. 5 seed Denver took out North Carolina 9-5 in the opening round, then moved on to stomp Drexel, which topped Penn in the first round, 15-6.
In fact, it would make for a fitting victory for the Big East school if it was to knock off the top seed. The Pioneers already avenged one of their two losses this season with the Penn victory, and their only other loss this year came against the Blue Devils, whom they could topple here in Saturday's semis.
The game will match up two of the most potent offenses in college lacrosse. Duke ranks second in the nation with 14.82 goals per game while Denver is right behind them with 13.18.
One thing is certain—there will be plenty of goals when these two teams face off.
No. 6 Notre Dame vs. No. 7 Maryland
While Duke getting to Baltimore seemed like a formality, the matchup on the other side wasn't expected.
No. 6 seed Notre Dame will face off against seventh-seeded Maryland on Saturday right after the Duke-Denver showdown, with the winners battling Monday for the national championship.
The Fighting Irish and Terrapins both benefited from big first-round upsets. Albany toppled Loyola 13-6, meaning the Great Danes would advance to face Notre Dame, which beat Harvard easily in the opening round.
Meanwhile, Maryland was happy to see Bryant knock off No. 2 seed Syracuse, as the Terrapins squashed the Cinderella story school 16-8 to move onto Baltimore. But it was easier said than done for Notre Dame in its quarterfinal matchup, as it had to hold on for a 14-13 win over Albany to advance.
Both schools have experience in recent weeks of battling through close games with their season on the line. Also, this is the second Final Four appearance in three years for Notre Dame and the third in four years for Maryland.
The two are also familiar with each other, which should help both sides come Saturday. Maryland and Notre Dame clashed twice during the regular season and split the two matchups.