First, congratulations to the five Irish players who were today awarded All-ACC honors: Matt Landis, John Sexton, Shane Doss, Sergio Perkovic and Matt Kavanagh. Well done!
Second, it's playoff time, so we openly admit that we will lose all objectivity moving forward and will reveal ourselves as complete ND homers (not that this is a big secret).
The #3/#4/#4 Fighting Irish will play their ACC semi-final under the lights against #14/#13/#10 Duke at 5/3 Bank Stadium in suburban Atlanta. We at Team ND-Atl did our own field inspection last night and can report the field is flawless. 5/3 Bank Stadium, other than being a few miles from our headquarters, may be the perfect college lacrosse venue with a ~9,000 person capacity all right on top of the field. Notre Dame beat Georgetown at this stadium in February, which was followed by the Duke loss to Denver as the co-main events of the Cobb County Lacrosse Classic.
This game is a rematch of the April 10 game won by Notre Dame 8-6 at Arlotta Stadium. Not much has changed from our preview and recap of that earlier game:
*Stopping Myles Jones and Deemer Class will again be the key. John Sexton, Drew Schantz, Austin Gaiss and crew, despite giving up at least 75 pounds to Jones, must cover him (and Class) one-on-one and make him work for every inch of the field. If the close defense does not need to frequently slide to double, they will be free to abuse the remainder of the Duke offense, which was critical in the last game. Plus, if they all do their part, the hope is that ND will again expose Myles Jones' lack of conditioning and make him less effective in the 4th quarter. This strategy leaves Duke's Justin Gutterding more open that we would like, but it worked well in April. Having said this, ND's defensive midfield is probably coming off its worst quarter of lacrosse in the last frame of the North Carolina game, so let's hope they put it behind them and focus on the many solid performances they had going into that miscue.
*Will Duke's defensive strategy change? Duke's defense has improved a great deal in the last month, including a stellar 16-1 waxing of Marquette last week. In April, their plan seemed to be to contain Kavanagh and Wynne, and to force Perkovic to dodge rather that throw lightning bolts. They did a good job in this regard, but Sergio showed some versatility and put up a hat trick. Again, they held the Irish to 8 goals so it's unlikely they will change the strategy much. Forcing the Irish to play assist-free lacrosse is the plan everyone has for this offense.
*The faceoff situation needs to settle down: In our mid-season report we identified face-offs as an area needing serious improvement. P.J. Finley and John Travisano have indeed improved, helped by a lot of super-aggressive wing play. It was a high-risk strategy that was working well until it all went horribly wrong late in the 4th quarter last week in Chapel Hill. Part of the problem was the repeated faceoff violations which led to a penalty and then being gun-shy at faceoff X. The problem was exacerbated when the poles were either out of position when UNC won clean, or simply wiffed on ground balls. Anyway, what was done is done, so long as they play more like they did the previous few games, ND should at least play to a draw in this department, which is fine.
*Duke is susceptible to the ride. The ride was sub-par last week and against Marquette. It will be a problem if we don't see a return to form this week. The Irish will need more than their fair share of transition opportunities.
The winner will play the winner of the North Carolina-Syracuse semifinal Sunday at noon. If the Irish make it to the final, we like their chances. Their conditioning is excellent for the short rest, and the Irish can score against both teams, with just 7 minutes of bad lacrosse being the only blemish in the 120 minutes played against those two combined.
Other notes for the weekend:
*If the Cobb County Classic was any indicator, it should be a home-away-from-home crowd for the Irish. We look forward to being part of it.
*#MattLandisTewaaraton may be settled on the field this weekend. Three of the four Tewaaraton favorites will be there. Jones vs. Landis on Friday night, and Dylan Molloy will emerge from the shadows as Brown plays Virginia in a showcase game on Saturday. Dylan Molloy has been piling up offensive stats as part of the high-powered offense of #1 ranked Brown. However, there is more footage of Sasquatch than there is of Molloy, as no Brown games seem to be televised (and we maintain they play a cupcake schedule). Molloy will be there for all to see against a decent (albeit 5th place) ACC team.
*The field in Kennesaw is indeed immaculate, especially compared to some of the cow pastures witnessed in recent weeks where the goal creases and faceoff X are embarrassing pieces of chewed-up dirt.
*This is the last year the ACC will have an automatic NCAA tournament bid. It doesn't matter this year as the four semifinal teams should all get bids absent more chaos in the smaller conference tournaments, but it does beg the question if another ACC school will step up and add varsity lacrosse now that Maryland has left for the Big 10. Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Boston College and Florida State all have excellent club programs that compete at a Div. III level if not better. However, it's not as simple as just being good enough, and it seems the ACC will rely on its reputation for a while and hopes it continues to field 4-5 NCAA teams a year until the scholarship landscape changes.
ND v Duke: Friday @ 8:30 pm EDT, ESPNU.