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Notre Dame MLax v. Army preview: Last game before the #BigBBQ

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#5/#7/#7 Notre Dame host Army at Arlotta Stadium and look to get back on track before the NCAA Tournament

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

In what has become a bit of an end-of-season tradition for the Fighting Irish, Notre Dame will play Army in their final game before the NCAA #BigBBQ.  ND MLax is coming off two difficult losses (North Carolina and Duke) and are looking to adjust course before the tournament begins next weekend.

The Irish took care of business last year at West Point, 17-8, with Matt Kavanagh tallying a hat trick, but the matchup in 2014 at Arlotta was a wild come from behind showdown, with the Irish barely prevailing, 18-17.  Army enters this contest with a record of 10-5 and having made the Patriot League finals before getting smashed by Loyola 6-14.  Army has a big win against #12 Navy, but they will not be receiving many strength-of-schedule awards for their remaining 9 wins.

The Cadets score 11.63/game and only allow 7.69.  Army is let by Nate Jones (4.5 ppg) and  Cole Johnson 2.19 (gpg), with goalie A.J. Baretto saving at a very strong .541.  The really bad news is that, once again, the Irish will be facing an exceptional faceoff unit with Dan Grabher and Alex Daly combining for a .621 win rate at faceoff X.  Finley and Travisano cannot catch a break this year it seems.

These post-finals games can be festive affairs, but the Irish need to come together and take it to the Cadets.  They need the kind of momentum only a good pummeling can provide.  This will be Army's season finale, so we know they won't roll over.

This week's notes will be focused on what needs to get done to prepare for the tournament.  This is not to be dismissive of Army, but the action items for the tournament are more-or-less the same as what will be needed to beat the Cadets.

Game Keys:

*Faceoffs:   After a significant improvement in the second half of the season, the faceoff unit has had five quarters of free-fall, and Army has a unit that will not provide them with an easy opportunity to correct.  ND-Atl 2.0 notes that a close draw will not be enough to change momentum, they need to exceed 50% to be comfortable with their position leading into the #BigBBQ.  To get to this point, they will need to avoid any procedure calls and significantly improve on ground balls.  It makes no sense to not contest the clamp if you're going to let them pick up the ball once you've dislodged it.  Let's see more of this:

*Clean passing:  In addition to the fundamental skill of picking up ground balls, crisp passing is a basic skill necessary to good lacrosse.  For a team of this quality and level of talent, the stick work and passing of this team has been horrible.  We are complete homers here at Team ND-Atl, but we would lose whatever smidge of credibility we may have if we didn't point out their high-school level passing.  We are not talking about being able putting a pass on your teammate's ear while being hammered by a long-pole (which they seem to be able to do).  We are talking about basic, uncontested passes that regularly bounce five feet from their target or go sailing over a player's head.

*Fifth and sixth scoring options:  Kavanagh, Perkovic, Wynne and Garnsey are scoring at rates consistent with a winning team, but to be national champions, Notre Dame needs to add a fifth and sixth name to the list.  There is a huge chasm from the top-4 to everyone else.  Two from the group of Collins, Trolley, Lubowicki, Pridemore, Byrne, Brosco and Riccardi needs to find their scoring touch.  Of these, Trolley has had the most spark in recent weeks.  Our success metric will be four goals from this group.  If we hit that, we'll be ecstatic. Let's see more of this:

*No bad penalties:  The stock defense has been great, but man-down defense has been less of a success.  While it would be easy to look at man-down defense for answers, 2.0 is quick to point out a high percentage of these situations are self-inflicted wounds from undisciplined penalties.

*Return of the Ride:  The ride has been conspicuously absent the past few games.  The Irish have not generated many fast-break opportunities defending clears.  The effort has been there, but is has not shown up in the stats or on the scoreboard.  Army clears at a very good .903 rate, so this will be a good test.   We want to see the Irish force five unsuccessful clears.  That sort of performance will show they are ready for the #BigBBQ.

Folks- contrary to what has been written in many of the lacrosse publications and internet sites, the sky is not falling.  ND's three losses are by a combined 4 goals,  two of them were in overtime, and all of them to ranked teams.  Denver got beat handily by Penn State, Maryland got beat by Notre Dame by 4, Brown got upended by then-unranked Bryant, and Syracuse got wholloped by the Irish (and others).  We think Coach Corrigan is entirely correct in stating that the Irish are only three plays from being unbeaten, a claim that the teams currently ranked above Notre Dame probably can't make.

Other Notes:

*There are other things at stake than simply momentum.  The selection show will follow the game, and a win assures ND a home game to open the tournament.  A loss may put the Irish on the road to start.  We'll post the bracket Sunday night.  Expect a lot of familiar teams in the Irish's end of the draw.

*Congrats again to Matt Landis, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, and Ryder Garnsey, the ACC Freshman of the Year.  Well done!  Also-  Matt Landis, Sergio Perkovic and Matt Kavanagh made the 25 person cut for the Tewaaraton Award.  We are glad to see three of our guys acknowledged.  We're still looking to see Matt Landis make the next cut, and he's in the Inside Lacrosse Top-5,  #MattLandisTewaaraton . A strong performance from Sergio in the tournament will make him the preseason favorite for 2017.

The Fighting Irish play Sunday, May 8 at noon, ESPN3.