Who: Virginia v. Notre Dame
Where: Notre Dame, Indiana
When: Sunday, March 16th, 5pm ET
Analysis: Before this weekend, the Irish had a shot to upset two #2 teams at this stage in the season. However, Virginia dropped their weekend contest against Cornell so Notre Dame will have to settle for taking on the #7 team in the country.
Virginia, coming off a tough season, has turned last season's heartbreaking losses into wins to start 2014. The Wahoos won their first three games by one goal apiece before going on a three week offensive binge to start 6-0. They then ran into the Ivy League frontrunner in Cornell, losing 12-9.
Offensively, the Cavaliers are stout at all positions, led by Mark Cockerton (25g 9a) and James Pannell (24g, 4a) at the Attack position. Pannell is the younger brother of last year's Tewaaraton Award winner, Rob Pannell from Cornell and Cockerton is a preseason All-ACC First Team selection.
While Cockerton and Pannell are the goal-scorers at the Attack position, Owen Van Arsdale is the one that feeds them the rock, as he has 17 assists already on the season. This isn't the most dynamic attack unit the Irish have faced, but they are among the most volatile, with the ability to reel off shots in the offensive end. Cockerton and Pannell average about 10 shots a game each, meaning that Shane Doss will be seeing a lot of work when the Wahoos have the ball.
At midfield, Virginia is led by preseason All-ACC First Teamer Rob Emery, who has 9 goals on the season and has a penchant for creating opportunities for his teammates. He is joined on the first line by Ryan Tucker (13g, 3a) and Greg Coholan (5g, 8a), making for one of the toughest midfield lines that Notre Dame will face all season.
Defensively, Virginia is led by Greg Danseglio, who is a ground ball monster with 28 pickups. Joining him in the back line are Tanner Scales (25gbs) and Scott McWilliams, who actually has a goal on the season. The trio are more athletic than they are big. They average about 6'1, 200 pounds, meaning that they can move and slide fast. That hasn't necessarily translated into stops though.
In net, the Irish won't have to face a two-goalie team again. Virginia rides the pipes with Matt Barrett, who has started and played every game, only leaving for blowout wins. Barrett has 63 saves on the year, and sees a good number of shots. Just throwing it out there: Barrett had 16 saves in their win over Drexel. 16 saves by a Division 1 lacrosse goalie in the modern era is pretty impressive, and clearly had an impact on the Cavaliers' one-goal win.
At faceoffs, Virginia tends to favor using Mick Parks at the circle. Parks is 78-145 for a 53% success rate. He isn't bad by any stretch, but he should be a faceoff specialist that O'Connor could take advantage of.
Prediction: This is a hard game to dissect. On one hand, the Cavaliers started the season 6-0 and rose to as high as #2 in the polls, but those 6 wins came over relative cream puffs, with the obvious exceptions being Loyola and Syracuse (maybe, I'll get to them when I have to preview the Orange). Virginia won their first three games by one goal yes, but those three teams were Loyola (good), Richmond (first year D1 program!) and Drexel (3-3, meh). Their wins over Rutgers, Mount St. Mary's and Syracuse are muted by Rutgers' low RPI, Mount's record (0-6) and Syracuse's blowout loss to Maryland. So, they are a hard team to track.
Are the Wahoo's good? Most definitely. Pannell is a future All-American and had an impressive 6-goal outing against Syracuse. Virginia's midfield led by Rob Emery is among the best in the nation and Virginia's defense might be the most athletic unit the Irish have faced.
But, they are susceptible to scoring. With the exception of the Mount game, Virginia allows an average of 12 goals per game, so the opportunities should be there for the Irish. O'Connor's 67.5% faceoff percentage will definitely come into play as he should be able to beat Parks often.
To win, as always, the Irish will have to control the faceoff circle. O'Connor will have to get the ball to the Irish offense and in turn, the Irish attack unit must protect their possessions. Against Penn State and Denver, the Irish got frustrated by the defensive looks and made careless mistakes. That can't happen against Virginia, as their midfield unit will counterattack with effective results.
In addition, I'll make the argument that while the Irish do need to focus on limiting Cockerton and Pannell's scoring chances, they also need to stop Van Arsdale from feeding from X so easily. Cockerton and Pannell are dangerous when given space, so the defense will need to do a much better job at protecting Doss (assuming he starts over Kelly) in net. Marlatt will likely mark up on Emery but after that, it is a crapshoot. Perkovic might see Ryan Tucker, which could be a bit of a mismatch in Tucker's favor. Hopefully Gerry Byrne will get a 4th longstick on the field to take Emery so Marlatt can get Tucker. If that doesn't happen, bad things for the Irish may follow.
The Irish could very easily win this game and since this an ACC game, I expect the Irish to come ready to play. However, since Virginia is such an enigma at this point in the season, it's hard to tell which team may come out on top.