Virginia-Duke: NCAA Lacrosse Final Four Preview
Another year of lacrosse, another Final Four appearance for the Virginia Cavaliers.
The most dominant regular season team this decade has punched their ticket to Baltimore for the third straight season.
2008 saw the Cavs fall to eventual champion Syracuse in double OT in a heartbreaking loss. However, in 2009 there were no tears, only faces of shock, as underdog Cornell wiped the floor with No. 1 seeded Virginia en route to the Finals.
2010 was another cookie-cutter season for the Wahoos. A gleaming 14-1 record, an ACC tournament title, and a Final Four berth. The question remains the same though.
Do the Cavs have what it takes this year?
A similar story can be told for the Duke Blue Devils.
Duke arrives to the Final Four in 2010 for the fourth consecutive time with no hardware to show from the previous trips, thanks much in part to Johns Hopkins who beat them in 2007 and 2008.
The Blue Devils will be able to take a trip to Hawaii after their season is over because of all the frequent flyer miles they've racked up the past three Memorial Day weekends.
They've been to Philadelphia, Foxboro, and now Baltimore.
Duke got off to a slow start this season, but has improved vastly down the stretch and is looking more dangerous than ever.
Yet, the same memories of Final Fours past that plague the Cavs also haunt the Blue Devils.
IN THE QUARTERFINALS
Virginia topped an energetic Stony Brook team, 10-9, in a back and forth game.
The Cavs took an early 5-1 lead, but the eighth-seeded Seawolves would not say die, battling back to keep it close all game long.
Sophomore attackman Chris Bocklet registered three goals and two assists as UVA closed out the pesky Seawolves in Stony Brook, NY.
Duke took care of business in style against fellow ACC rival North Carolina in the most heated quarterfinal clash of the weekend.
UNC fought to keep up with Duke's high powered offense in the first half. Heading into the break, the Blue Devils were hanging onto a 9-6 lead.
Thanks to Duke's deadly attack unit, the Blue Devils were able to outscore the 'Heels 8-3 in the second half, blowing away their hated rivals, 17-9.
For Virginia, their strength lies in a balanced attack, having several players contribute from midfield and attack to exploit matchups all over the field and overpower defenses.
However, the key to Virginia sharing the wealth starts with the NCAA's most dangerous sibling duo —midfielders Shamel and Rhamel Bratton.
The combo from Huntington Station, NY has combined for 69 points this season and have equally potent skill sets.
They're fast in transition, possess the ability to break anyone's ankles off the dodge, and can pick corners from long range.
The Brattons will need to dodge effectively in order to rotate the Duke defense and free up finishers at attack like Steele Stanwick and Chris Bocklet.
Likewise for Duke, their biggest forte is their offense.
Seniors Ned Crotty and Max Quinzani, along with junior Zach Howell, combine to form to the nation's deadliest attack unit.
The talented trio has notched 82, 77, and 64 points respectively in 2010.
Crotty, Quinzani and Howell feed off their chemistry in order to spread the wealth around.
They'll all need to be on the same page in order to upend Virginia on Saturday.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
While both teams sport high-powered offenses, the key for both teams in the Final Four matchup will be defending the transition.
Virginia boasts the nation's most competent clearing unit with a 92 percent success rate. It starts with goalie Adam Ghitelman dishing effective break out passes to exceptional long-pole handlers like senior star Ken Clausen.
Virginia's midfield is also laden with fast athletes that can push the ball and get easy goals off of fast breaks and late slides from defenses.
Duke will have to rely on sophomore LSM C.J. Costabile and senior defender Parker McKee to stifle UVa.'s counter-attacks.
Likewise, Duke's attack unit will have to ride effectively as well to get easy turnovers and give their defensive comrades ample time to matchup behind them.
Usually, it is Virginia that breezes through the opening rounds into the Final Four, often leaving them a little complacent.
However, a close-fought victory over Stony Brook in the quarters, coupled with the horrific tragedy that struck UVA's campus, will have the Cavs focused and ready to play come Saturday.
Duke, on the other hand has been the hottest team in the country leading up to Baltimore. It'll be hard to bet against the Blue Devils because of the high level that they have been playing at.
Both teams relish the big stage, so don't expect the rowdy M&T Bank Stadium crowd to rattle either side.
Virginia and Duke have split the season series at 1-1. Duke topped the Cavs by four goals on April 17th, with Virginia repaying the favor six days later, beating the Devils 16-12, making this ACC clash exceptionally hard to call.
It may be easy to say Duke will ride their momentum into the finals, but I give UVa. the edge here, and their third trip to the Final Four may be the charm for the Cavs.
Duke: 12 (OT)
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