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Notre Dame Men's Lacrosse: #1 Irish on a roll after wins over Marquette and #2 North Carolina

A dramatic comeback win over the #2 Tar Heels as well as a dominating win over Marquette puts the Irish in the program's best spot, possibly ever.

Rob Carr/Getty Images

When things go your way, they go your way and there is no better example of that than the #1 Notre Dame Men's Lacrosse team.

The Irish faced a rather brief scare against Marquette, who essentially outplayed the Irish in the first half of the first quarter before the Irish unleashed an offensive torrent, winning 14-7 at Arlotta.

And after a week off, the Irish hosted the #2 North Carolina Tar Heels in a conference game with national implications. For all intents and purposes, the Irish and the Tar Heels played the most evenly matched game I've seen this season, even moreso than the ND-Syracuse game earlier in the year.

The game saw a total of 7 lead changes and standout performances from almost all of the top tier players from both teams. Irish attackmen Mikey Wynne and Matt Kavanagh had 4 goal games. Conor Doyle and Sergio Perkovic netted hat tricks. For North Carolina, Jimmy Bitter and Chad Tutton had hat tricks of their own and Luke Goldstock had a 4 goal outing.

But it was the last two minutes of the game that were the most exciting.

With the Tar Heels nursing a two goal lead late, North Carolina launched an errant pass that led to a Kavanagh fast break. More than a full second after the shot, which was saved by UNC goalie Kieran Burke, Kavanagh was leveled by Evan Connell. The referees (correctly, which I'll elaborate below) called Connell for a 2 minute non-releasable Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty. With a minute and a half left, the Irish rallied, with Kavanagh leading the way, scoring the game winner with 7 seconds left to complete the comeback, keeping Grace Hall lit with a 15-14 win.

Some thoughts on both games below:

I need more Jack Nolan calling lacrosse games in my life

Yes. I said it. Sure, when Jack was calling the Marquette game, he called it with the enthusiasm of Donald Trump winning a dollar off a scratch-off lotto ticket, but I chalk that up to his first time. It was clear he didn't know all of the rules, which I am totally fine with! I love listening to him calling basketball and I think if he were to get his sea legs under him with lacrosse, we'd get a lot of "GOT IT" from Jack whenever we'd score some goals.

We learned an important lesson from the Marquette game: The Irish can win with middies

Look, it's pretty obvious to anyone who was watched more than a minute of Notre Dame lacrosse this season that the Irish rely heavily on their attack unit and utilize attackmen (Conor Doyle) in matchup-specific scenarios to generate points. It's worked so far and it is a great strategy. But Marquette, just like last season, tried to shut down the attack and force the Irish to use their middies. It worked. Perkovic and Ossello both had hat tricks and Irish Head Coach Kevin Corrigan played Conor Doyle up top to create mismatches that led to a 4 goal day for him. It showed the rest of the country that Notre Dame isn't just The Matt Kavanagh and Mikey Wynne Show. There is a lot of depth and firepower from the Irish.

Yes, the UNC Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty was deserved

I'm not saying this as an ND-homer. Far from it, as if you read my posts, I can be rather critical of various players, decisions, etc from the Irish. However, the UNC penalty for the late hit on Kavanagh was well-deserved for multiple reasons.

Courtesy of Lacrosse Film Room (@LaxFilmRoom on twitter and LacrosseFilmRoom on Vine...follow him!), lets look at the hit:

So, timing this out, Kavanagh picked up the GB, made a sharp angle close to GLE and tried to duck it past Burke. More than a full second later, Connell goes high on Kavanagh, launching him into the net and knocking his helmet off.

This is a penalty for at least three reasons. It's inexcusable for more than that.

First off, Connell's hit was obviously late. No ref in any lacrosse league, from youth to PoCo, will allow a hit that late. This isn't hockey. You aren't allowed to finish a check, regardless of momentum.

Secondly, the hit was helmet-to-helmet. Watch it again. Connell's helmet clearly makes contact with Kavanagh because he launched his check so high up. That makes the penalty automatically non-releasable.

Thirdly, the check was unnecessary and stupid. As a former youth coach, you always tell your guys to play in the moment. On ground balls, you avoid late hits and illegal pick calls with "ball" and "release" calls. On defense, you stress quality stick checks and communication and when necessary, throw your body around in a controlled fashion that makes the contact legal. In this case, Connell did everything wrong. He led with his head, he went late, and he made a very poor decision. Burke had stopped the shot. Connell needed to be chasing the GB, not headhunting Kavanagh. Maybe Kavanagh ticked him off, I dunno.

I'm an LSM by trade and much shorter, slower and fatter than those longpoles who play D1 lacrosse, including ESPN color commentator Ryan Flanagan, who called the ND game. In a way, I sort of agree with his criticism of not "seeing" a UC call, as almost everything Connell did constituted an Illegal Bodycheck, which would have been a one minute releasable penalty. But Connell lacked constitution with his play, showing recklessness. In addition, the timing and contact location all added up to a penalty that basically led to an Irish win.

The Irish are in the driver's seat but there is a long road ahead

I think the Irish are set for a top-3 seed, regardless of the outcome of the ACC tournament. But the key here is going to be to avoid a bad bracket section. In basketball, you could easily make the argument that the Irish got screwed by being put in Kentucky's bracket. In this case, the Irish are doing their best to avoid any unnecessary entanglements. For the Irish, that means avoiding cinderella teams like Albany and possibly the Ivy Champ (likely Yale). Since it's a selection committee that puts everything together, the Irish can benefit as a top seed because the committee will likely try to keep all 5 ACC teams as far from each other as possible. I think all 5 make it, and if the season ended today, the Irish would be #1, UNC would stay at #2, Syracuse would be #3 and I'd probably put Duke as a #7 or #8 but they could get as high as #5 if they were to upset the Irish in the ACC tourney. I doubt that happening though. Duke's defense will be an issue as it has been all year. I'd also put UVA in the tourney, despite going 0'fer in the ACC but their #7 RPI and #3 SoS per Laxpower cannot be ignored.

Regardless, advancing to the ACC Championship game at minimum for the Irish gives them a likely top-2 seed and winning the whole thing gives them the best path to the Final Four again.