In what has been a thrilling 2014 NCAA lacrosse tournament thus far, one final clash separates ACC rivals Duke and Notre Dame from lifting the national championship trophy.
ESPNU captured how the bracket unfolded over Saturday's semifinal round:
To get there, though, both schools had to get past one of their toughest tests of the season during the semifinal round in Baltimore, Maryland.
As the defending champions, the Blue Devils entered the weekend as the top-ranked team and the only top-four seed to make it to the Final Four. The high-octane Duke squad had to face a similarly potent Denver team Saturday, featuring a battle between two of the nation's best offenses.
The Pioneers hadn't lost since March 1, but that ended Saturday when Duke slipped past them, 15-12, in a shootout. Led by Kyle Keenan's four goals and Jordan Wolf's three, the Blue Devils' attack was just barely too much for Denver—which got five goals from Wesley Berg—to match.
Denver fought back valiantly in the third quarter after Duke led 8-4 at half. But as Duke player Myles Jones said, the Blue Devils hung in there just enough to stay in front, per The Chronicle's Ryan Hoerger:
"The game is full of runs. We had ours in the first goings of the game, and we knew they were going to have theirs. It was a matter of how we reacted and responded."
Duke's victory set up an all-ACC championship, as both Maryland and Notre Dame hail from the Blue Devils' conference. And it was the Fighting Irish who slipped past the Terrapins in the second match, 11-6, per Inside Lacrosse:
Notre Dame and Maryland started out tight at 2-2, but two Irish goals in the final 16 seconds of the first quarter pulled them ahead for good. Maryland was able to cut it to two right before halftime, but after outscoring the Terrapins 4-1 in the third, the finishing touches were being put on the win.
With a Notre Dame-Duke championship game all set, let's dive in and break down the upcoming clash.
|2014 NCAA Tournament: Men's Lacrosse Championship|
|No. 6 Notre Dame vs. No. 1 Duke||Monday, May 26||1 p.m.||ESPN2|
For the second time in five years, Notre Dame and Duke will face off for the men's lacrosse national championship—and what better of a matchup could there be?
While neither school ranks up there with Syracuse and Johns Hopkins in terms of historical dominance, both teams have been two of the biggest forces in the sport in recent years. Duke has made it to the Final Four a whopping eight straight times, with all two of their championships coming since 2010.
Notre Dame doesn't have a national title to its credit, but it has made three Final Fours in the last five years, quarterfinal appearances in five years straight and the national title game four seasons ago.
Duke's narrow 6-5 victory over the Fighting Irish in overtime of the 2010 championship indicates there's little to separate these two teams.
But these rosters have changed entirely since then and seemingly in Duke's favor.
The Blue Devils lost two straight in early March but have only one loss on their record since then. They enter the championship match with a dazzling record of 16-3.
Notre Dame has enjoyed a great season as well, but it's seen a handful of unfortunate moments. The Fighting Irish entered the NCAA tournament with a record of 9-5, with losses to Penn State, Denver, Syracuse, Maryland and, most importantly, Duke.
Not only did the Irish get beat by the Blue Devils back on April 5, but it was a lopsided 15-7 Duke victory that was wrapped up shortly after halftime.
Of course, since then Notre Dame has been a completely new group. It has only lost once since it played Duke, and that was to Maryland—whom the Irish disposed of in Saturday's semifinal.
Duke has an advantage in terms of stats as well. The Blue Devils have the second-best scoring offense, and while their scoring defense is 24th, both rankings are ahead of where Notre Dame lies.
Indications from this season alone seem to prove that Duke has the upper hand, but then again, that's why the game is played. If it shapes up to be anything like the epic 2010 final, fans should be in for a treat.