NCAA Lacrosse: Duke vs. Notre Dame Championship Preview

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NCAA Lacrosse: Duke vs. Notre Dame Championship Preview
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BACKDROP

For the first time since Princeton captured the 1992 title, modern NCAA Division I Lacrosse will crown a new champion.

Unseeded Notre Dame squeaked into the tournament with a 7-6 regular season record, the clock has yet to strike midnight on the Cinderella team from South Bend, who now have a shot at the national title. They are just the third unseeded team in the history of the sport to play in the title game. 

Ironically, Notre Dame's tournament resume was bolstered by an early season win over the Duke Blue Devils, which definitely swayed the selection committee.

Duke entered the tournament as the fifth ranked team in the country, however, if the NCAA polled for momentum, Duke would be No.1.  They were undoubtedly the hottest team coming in.

Not even top ranked Virginia could stop Duke's big M-O, who are now looking to snag a national championship after being runner-ups in 2005 and 2007. 

When Notre Dame squares off against Duke at 3:30pm on Monday, it will be the first time since 1973 that two college lacrosse teams in search of their first title will play each other.

Even more staggering, whoever wins Monday's championship game will only be the eighth program in the history of intercollegiate lacrosse to hoist the trophy.

The first recorded NCAA national championship took place in 1971.

That's 39 titles split amongst 7 teams, for all you math whizzes out there.

 

IN THE SEMIFINALS...

Duke senior attackmen Max Quinzani played the role of indomitable hero as the Blue Devils upset the No.1 Virginia Cavaliers.  It was Virginia's third consecutive Final Four loss.

The Cavs controlled the tempo for much of the game, extending their lead to 8-5 early in the third quarter. 

It was all Duke after that, as the Blue Devils constructed a dominant 7-0 run led by Quinzani and surprise midfielder Justin Turri to take a 12-8 advantage.

The Cavs, unlike the "roll over and die" UVA teams we've seen in 2008 and 2009, gritted their teeth and went on a little run of their own.  Led by senior midfielder Brian Carroll, Virginia was able to knot it up 13-13 in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter.

In the final minute of play, LSM C.J. Costabile came up huge for the Blue Devils, collecting a crucial ground ball off a face-off and giving Duke the chance to set up their last play.

Duke ran a tricky pick off the right post, which allowed senior Ned Crotty to hang up UVA defenseman Ken Clausen in front of the net.  Crotty then dodged to his left and found a streaking Quinzani in front of goal, who buried the winning tally.

Notre Dame on the other hand, won their game over Cornell the only way they know how to, with tough, team-oriented defense and a balanced offensive attack.

Attackman Neal Hicks led the way for the Irish with four goals, as ND took a 6-3 halftime lead and proceeded to batten down the hatches on defense.

Notre Dame's three longpoles were the stars of the day. The three seemingly interchangeable defenders communicated effectively, and were able to slide and defend one-on-one with equal prowess against Cornell's versatile offense.

Sixteen saves from senior netminder Scott Rodgers doesn't hurt either as the collective team effort was enough to mail in the 12-7 win for the Fighting Irish.

 

KEY PLAYERS

All bets are off in this one.  I don't care how unstoppable Duke's offense appeared in the semifinal, the Blue Devil attack needs to figure out a way to solve Scott Rodgers and the Notre Dame defense.

The Fighting Irish were able to smother the national attackmen of the year in Rob Pannell yesterday, holding him scoreless.

What's intriguing is that seemingly none of Cornell's attack nor midfield seemed to be the beneficiary of Pannell's misfortune.  Panell was not doubled, nor shut off, nor faceguarded by the team's best defender all day.  ND's defense was able to rotate and slide as they normally do and still lock down one of the best attackmen in the country.

Duke's attack may be prolific, but if Crotty can't find mismatches and holes in the airtight Notre Dame defense, then Duke could be in for a long, slow game.

 

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

The match-up at the face-off X was pegged as one of the key's to the game in the Duke-Virginia game, and Duke's Sam Payton and C.J. Costabile delivered, winning 15-23 of the game's draws and scooping up ground balls that led to key possessions.

Trevor Sipperly of Notre Dame is a great FOGO (face-off, get off) man in his own right, he'll need to be quick off the draw if Notre Dame wants to keep the ball out of Crotty and Quinzani's sticks.

Sipperly won 11-23 face-off in the semifinal against Cornell. Not great numbers, but Notre Dame's defense was able to bail him out with key stops.  Duke's attack is far too potent for Sipperly to have another sub 50-win percentage at the face-off X.  Notre Dame needs to win the possession game, simple as that.

 

PREDICTION

I may have hyped up Notre Dame's defense a lot in this preview, but let's face the reality, Duke's offense will be like nothing the Fighting Irish stronghold has seen this year.

That's not saying they don't stand a chance, their defense may be able to keep the Blue Devils at bay, but it's not going to win them the game.

Notre Dame will need to keep up the increased production of its attack to stay competitive in this one.  If Neal Hicks or Sean Rogers hangs another three or four goals on Duke's defense, who knows? However, if Duke gets up early, watch out.

This game may be more hotly contested than people think. Fans are obviously excited about Duke given the instant classic of a game last night, but as someone who has a keen eye for defense, Notre Dame's performance was equally as impressive.

THE PICK

Duke: 11

Notre Dame: 9

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