It was never going to be easy for the Notre Dame Men's Lacrosse team, but as the regular season comes to a close (sans one game post-tourney), the Irish come into the ACC Tournament in arguably the best position in the program's history. Only an OT loss to the then top team in Denver kept the Irish from an undefeated record.
And it couldn't be any more different than last season. The 2014 Irish limped into the ACC Tournament with a NCAA seed at-risk (I still think the Irish would've made the tournament regardless). But a major upset of Maryland, combined with the best effort of the season against Syracuse in the Championship Game gave Notre Dame the program's first ACC crown in their first year in the conference.
This year, the roles are flipped. The Irish have already locked up an at-large seed at minimum, likely in the top-3. Despite having played fewer games than their opponents, the faces that Notre Dame will see are nothing new. Let's check out the Irish's first matchup.
#1-seed Notre Dame vs. #4-seed Duke Blue Devils (530pm ET, ESPNU)
There are 5 ACC teams, and only 4 make the tournament. I would've like to see UVA (the #5) in this with ND getting a first round bye, but the conference decided to have the Goat play Penn in the aptly named ACC/Penn Challenge. It sounds more like an eating contest than a lacrosse game but I digress.
Duke! They're finally healthy! And after losing to the Irish 15-10 in Durham, they've ripped off three wins, including the must-win against UVA, a 15-8 beatdown where attackman Jack Bruckner scored 7(!) goals. They then beat Stony Brook 17-11 in a game that was ended early and wrapped up the season with a 15-8 win over Marquette.
For the Irish to win here, it boils down to doing what they did in the regular season. Disrupt Myles Jones and Deemer Class, and keep Duke's attack in check while taking advantage of their rather shaky defense. I fully expect Duke to rely on possessions and forcing shot clocks to keep the Irish attack at bay. Duke will lean heavily on Class, Jones and Keenan and hope that Doss doesn't have another game of his life. P.J Finley will also need to get back to a modicum of consistency and get as close to 50% as possible.
Duke is playing with house money. They're also in the tournament and are playing to avenge their regular season loss as well as trying to get a higher seed. Notre Dame is trying to continue their momentum and get to Sunday, where they'll face either Syracuse or UNC.
Consider for a second that the (likely) top 3 seeds in the NCAA's are all playing in the ACC tournament. If the Irish want to stay #1, they'll keep their head straight this evening.
I think they do. While Duke has gone off in the past three contests, they've done so at the expense of some rather lousy defenses. As UVA has the 44th ranked defense (out of 50), Stony Brook the 35th and Marquette the 29th. Notre Dame's 17th-ranked scoring defense will be a tougher out for the Blue Devils and I still see the Irish winning. It won't be as easy, but I think that Duke Head Coach John Danowski is just trying to keep his players healthy. Irish win again and get to Sunday.
Notre Dame 13 Duke 9