Saturday night, 7:30pm. ESPNU. Prime. Time.
There's not a lot of video available on the Air Force Falcons other than their March 22 weekday win against Duke (10-9 OT). What we know is that they are on a 15-game win streak and got their seat at the NCAA table as winners of the Southern Conference tournament. Yes, Air Force in the Southern Conference makes as much sense and Denver being in the Big East, but that's what western teams need to do schedule games. At least we know the Air Force should have air travel squared away.
The #3 tournament seed Irish scrimmaged against the #13 ranked Falcons immediately prior to the season opener against Georgetown, so there should be some familiarity. They haven't played an actual game against each other since 2009. While any win streak is impressive, Air Force has not exactly played a murderer's row, with the only win of note being the Duke win noted above, and even that is somewhat diminished in that it was a mid-week game during the time of the season where Duke was flailing about and losing a lot.
However, Air Force does have a good defensive reputation and hold the #3 scoring defense giving up an average of 7.29 g/gm. They scored a limited 10.24g/gm. Much like Notre Dame, a lot of their games are very close. It's no secret that Air Force's strategy will be to keep this came slow and low scoring, and they are very good at that. In the faceoff department, Zac Mellilo is comparable in adjusted faceoff % to ND's Finley, so for once the playing field should be level. Goalie Doug Gouchoe save 9.18/game, which is good. Scoring is led by Chris Walsch, Nick Hruby, Christopher Allen and Andrew Tien.
For those interested, the wise guys say ND -2.5, +180.
*It's tournament time so there is only one: Survive and advance. It doesn't matter how. Air Force is similar in many ways to Army, so the plan of scoring early and often remains critical. The longer Air Force hangs around, the more the needle on the upset meter moves. The Irish defense should be able to keep scoring low, and Notre Dame has a much deeper roster, so they should be able to keep pressure on the Falcons for 60 minutes. Like every week, the mystery is who will show up to lead the Irish offense.
*Will try to get a tribute article on the senior captains before the game. There's a lot of good things to say about this group.
*Pay careful attention to the 2:30 Saturday game between North Carolina and Marquette. This one is a toss-up, and winner plays the victor of the ND/AF tilt. Big offense vs. big defense.
*This is obvious, but for lacrosse fans this weekend is like the opening Thursday of March Madness. 4 ESPNU games back-to-back Saturday, and 4 back-to-back Sunday.
*The five Tewaaraton finalists should be announced this weekend. #MattLandisTewaaraton