Who: Virginia Cavaliers (5-1, 0-1 ACC)
Where: Klöckner Stadium, Charlottesville, Virginia
When: Noon (ET)
TV?: Y-E-S YES! It'll be on ESPNU and the WatchESPN app!
After snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, the Fighting Irish look to put together four quarters of play on the road in their first ACC contest against Virginia.
The Wahoo's find themselves at 5-1 at the halfway point of their season and will be facing the Irish on short rest, as this will be Virginia's third game in the past week. Their two other games were 1-goal nail biters that fell the Wahoo's way. All of the games were at Virginia's home field in Charlottesville.
Before I get into the nitty gritty of their schedule, let's see who the Irish will be facing.
Virginia's stat leaders are a balanced bunch, led by Sophomore Attackman Ryan Lukacovic (12g, 11a), coming off a 4-goal, 5 assist outing in Virginia's March 10, 15-14 win over St. Joseph's. He is joined by Senior Owen Van Arsdale (12g, 5a) and Junior James Pannell (11g, 4a). Pretty balanced stats among the three, so the only way to pinpoint who the offensive focus is on shots. While Lukacovic and Van Arsdale have 27 shots each over 6 games (surprisingly low), Pannell has 45 shots. Now that's what I'm talking about. Still, a balanced unit that doesn't shoot as much as I would have expected.
It's quite amazing. Outside of Pannell, three of Virginia's top pointgetters have 27 shots, and one has 26. Now that is what I call balanced.
The Irish shouldn't see any platoon players at attack, as Lukacovic, Van Arsdale and Pannell have started and played the duration of essentially every game this season. Literally. These guys never leave the field unless they've committed a penalty, and Van Arsdale and Pennell have only two 30-second technicals between the two of them.
At midfield, the Irish will see the trio of Greg Colohan (14g, 5a), Zed Williams (11g, 10a) and Ryan Tucker (9g, 7a). As I said before, these guys are a balanced bunch and will provide some concern to the Irish midfield, though certainly not as formidable as Denver a week before. However, these three are undoubtably disciplined and the Irish midfield will need to be composed and focused lining up against these three.
The Irish will also see any number of Tyler German, A.J. Fish, Matt Emery, Will McNamara, Michael Howard and Jack Falk as Virginia Head Coach Dom Starsia has played these middies in all 6 games this season.
At Defense, Virginia's back end is entirely brand new, starting a Senior and two Freshmen. Davi Sacco is the Senior and works with Freshmen Logan Greco and Scott Hooper. It's hard to identify which one will have the unfortunate task of marking Matt Kavanagh, but I wager that Sacco will start out on him and Starsia will rotate Greco as needed, as Greco will likely be marking Wynne. Greco is the more disciplined of the three, having not seen the box yet this year on a penalty while Hooper and Sacco have gone in for five penalties between the two of them.
In net is a familiar face. Matt Barrett returns to net for Virginia and has a rather brutal 11.79 GAA. His save percentage is somewhat comparable to Doss at 55%, but he's had a rough go of it so far this season.
Virginia has mainly employed two face-off specialists so far this season, and like Barrett in net, they've struggled. Jeff Kratky (30-84) and Jason Murphy (32-74) are sitting at 36% and 43% respectively, and it gets worse when you dig into the weeds. Virginia was a little better than 50% against Saint Joseph's, but went a devastating 9-32 against Cornell at the beginning of the week and 7-27 in their lone ACC contest against Syracuse. After the way the Irish fared against Denver, this may be a point of emphasis on the Irish to take advantage.
I've combed through the stats and watched the video (including an awesome highlight vid of UVA's win over Drexel in the snow) and I have a very hard time seeing the Irish lose this one. I've been wrong before, but the metrics and talent of Notre Dame are far superior than that of Virginia.
Let's start at Virginia's most glaring weakness: defense. They are incredibly young at D and are all brand new starters. Conversely, the Irish attack is veteran laden with Doyle and Kavanagh and Wynne's sheer talent usurps any concern over his youth. I can easily see the Irish taking advantage in this department. Since a large chunk of the Irish offense is generated from attack, Virginia is going to have a real tough time stopping Notre Dame and given Barrett's propensity for giving up goals, it may be a long afternoon for the Cavaliers.
They're also not as deep as the Irish at midfield. Starsia essentially plays three flat lines of middies and has a couple LSM's to play 4th long stick, where the Irish play anywhere from 3-4 lines of middies complete with a pair of short stick defensive specialists, Sexton at LSM and a couple additional longsticks at defense when needed. Virginia's game at the beginning of the week against Cornell saw the Big Red mount a comeback in the 4th quarter after going down 15-9 only to fall just short. On March 10 against St. Joe's, Virginia was playing a back and forth game and scored with a little over a minute left to win. I just don't see that happening against the Irish. They're just too deep.
Face-offs are also a major problem. While Ossello and Finley struggled against Denver, I actually think that Baptiste may be one of the best in the nation and am reluctant to hinge the Irish's performance on that one game. Sure, they also struggled against Georgetown, but they were outstanding against Michigan and Dartmouth. I can easily see the Irish dominating in this department if Ossello controls his jumps on Saturday.
Virginia's record might be smoke and mirrors, too. The combined record of Virginia's four ACC opponents is 18-2. The rest of their schedule amongst nine teams is 24-31. Ouch. And Virginia has played three of those teams rather close, too, having won three one-goal games against Loyola, Cornell and Saint Joe's. While their RPI currently sits at 8, it's inflated by their ACC slate. It'd probably drop to about 14 or so without the ACC I'd wager.
Fatigue should be a factor too. The Cavaliers are coming off two games so far this week and the Irish have had a week off of resting and participating in a spring break trip to Maryland to visit the Under Armour headquarters and visit families at Walter Reed (slight quibble with the UND.com article as Walter Reed is in Bethesda, Maryland and not DC, but it used to be in DC so I'll round up!). The Irish should be a little looser than Virginia, who has been riding an emotional roller coaster after two back-to-back wins. However, you can't discount those. Good teams win close games, and the Irish just lost theirs, so we'll see.
History is also a factor. The Irish, to put it mildly, destroyed Virginia last year, and some of those players the Irish will be seeing again. In Notre Dame's 18-9 win last season, the Irish defense held Van Arsdale to three assists, Colohan and Williams to one goal apiece and Tucker to a pair of goals. Kratky went 0-3 from the face-off X and Barrett saw 40 shots ripped his way, letting all 18 Irish goals go past him. No doubt that Virginia is vastly improved from last season, but you know what? So is Notre Dame.
If Virginia is to have a chance, they would have to control the ball on offense and keep it out of the hands of the Irish attack. Getting ND in the penalty box would also help. In addition, they could use the weather to their advantage, as rain is predicted for the area today and the game conditions will be sloppy. Virginia has already played in the elements this season while the Irish have not.
I think the sheer amount of talent is too much to overcome though. Notre Dame is on par with Syracuse in the ACC, and 'Cuse beat Virginia to the tune of 15-9. I think the Irish won't score as many because of the weather, but I don't see Virginia scoring that much either. This game might look ugly on account of the rain. That means a lot of turnovers and a lot of one-on-one play, both of which benefit Notre Dame. Notre Dame's face-off duo finds their groove again and Kavanagh and Wynne go to work. Might be close early, but the Irish roll come the second half.
Notre Dame 13 Virginia 7