The #1/#1/#1 Fighting Irish set to face the #13/#15/#9 Tar Heels Saturday at noon, ESPNU. We're truly not sure what sort of UNC team the Irish will be facing. The rankings are all over the place, it's been that kind of year.
The game will not carry any significance in the standings. Regardless of who wins, Notre Dame plays Duke in the ACC semifinal, and North Carolina will play Syracuse in the other. Winner only gains the nominal #1 seed. However, this game is of vital importance to the Notre Dame offense as it will be their last opportunity to set things right before the post-season.
Last year's matchup between the then #1 ND and #2 NC was epic. The Irish were down by two with just over a minute to play, and Matt Kavanaugh was on the receiving end of a heavy check that set him crashing into the pipes. In the ensuing 2-minute unreleasable penalty, Notre Dame score three goals in 1:17, including the game winner by Kavanaugh with 7 seconds on the clock.
2015 game highlights:
The penalty that started the comeback (not in ND highlights):
North Carolina enters the game with a 7-5 record, with an excellent win against Johns Hopkins and a bunch of head-scratching losses including getting dump trucked by Syracuse last week. On the offensive side they score a healthy 13.0 goals per game and shoot at a decent 31%. Their scoring leaders are #0 Steve Pontrello (32g, 10a) and #1 Luke Goldstock (19g, 17a). Goalie Brian Balkam has been middling at best with a 9.6 gaa and a .480 save %. Steven Kelly heads their face-off unit at a .602 clip and #7 in the McKewen ratings (once again, ND up against a solid faceoff squad). Frankly, we are just not sure what to expect from them. They have been good at times, but extremely inconsistent. They are very difficult to judge.
Given their inconsistent play, we won't try to analyze UNC, but rather skip straight to the Notre Dame game keys:
*The Irish are coming of a long layoff an simply need to start strong and dial in their offense. The game is meaningless on paper, but it is the last chance to work out the offense before the tournaments. Defense is humming along with the midfield now on equal footing to the close defenders. It will be extremely disappointing if the D gives up double-digit goals for the first time this season. Having said this, a few early UNC goals would not be a big surprise given the layoff.
*Will anyone step up and become a distributor on offense? Probably not. Reflecting on the 2015 vs 2016 offense, it seems the Irish are missing Connor Doyle's assists more than we expected. Defenses are simply taking their chances with the Irish half-field offense by making them score unassisted goals. 3/4 of the way through the season, this may simply be what the ND offense is. If so, the only thing to do is to clean up the sloppy play and make every possession count. If the 6-on-6 offense could simply contribute an extra 2 goals a game, at this point we'd be happy. Garnsey, Kavanaugh, Trolley, and even Perkovic are scoring well enough on the dodge, and Wynne is as reliable a finisher as anyone if he can get the ball on the crease. Again, they just have to stop lolly-popping passes over each others' heads. It's frustrating that we have to write this week after week.
*Look to the face-off unit and Ride to dial up the pressure and look to create more transitional scoring opportunities. The Irish are plenty fine scoring in transition, so the offensive solution may simply be to try to create more unsettled opportunities. UNC clears at a very average .833 rate, so there is a weakness to exploit.
*Avoid injuries. Epple and Kavanaugh are near full-form, Koshansky is out, and we are not sure about Brosco and Collins. Let's hope they leave Chapel Hill as healthy as possible. We'd like to see them score a lot and win, but we want to see them leave uninjured more.
News and notes:
*Notre Dame official pregame notes
*A great write-up by Quint Kessenich on Irish defender Edwin Glazener. In our zeal to advocate for #mattlandistewaaraton, we can't forget to recognize the senior leader on the back line. If you are a lacrosse coach or just a student of the game, you should not forgo the chance to see ND play live just to listen to Glazener call the defense. Every kid learning the game should hear #30 do it. It's as close to perfect communication as you will ever see.
*While we are speaking of the soon-to-graduate Glazener, who will pick up the bagpipes to lead the team onto the field next year? The tradition must continue!
*Lastly, in our research we came across Paul Rigney's 2014 OFD Film Room article on the Notre Dame ride. It's excellent if you haven't read it.
Saturday @ noon, ESPNU