We're here. The ACC Tournament. After a riveting, bonkers, and absurdly difficult merry-go-round in the ACC this season, four teams will compete for the tournament title and seal an Automatic Qualifying bid to the NCAA Tournament. The AQ is academic. In all likelihood, if you finished in the top four in this season's ACC, you don't need an AQ. We'll never see a conference like this in college lacrosse again. That's obviously partly because Maryland, the regular season champion, is off to a newly formed Big Ten Lacrosse league in 2015, but lacrosse fans are unlikely to see a collection of programs and teams in one league on such a high point at one time.
Duke and Syracuse played for the National Championship last year while Notre Dame and North Carolina made the NCAA quarter finals. Maryland was ranked #1 in the country for long stretches last season and has the longest streak of consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. Virginia was sure to bounce back after a sub-par 2013 season in which they finished under .500. So we've already seen something special this season, and let's hope to see a special 4 games this weekend.
How to watch
When: April 25th-April 27th
Where: PPL Park, Chester Pa.
How: ESPNU (Semi-Finals, Final), ESPN3 ("ACC Showcase Game")
|Seed||Team||ACC Record||ACC Wins||ACC Losses|
|1.||Maryland||4-1||Syracuse, Duke, Virginia, Notre Dame||North Carolina|
|2.||Duke||4-1||North Carolina, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Virginia||Maryland|
|3.||Syracuse||2-3||Notre Dame, North Carolina||Virginia,|
|4.||Notre Dame||2-3||North Carolina, Virginia||Syracuse, Duke, Maryland|
Semi Final #1: No. 2 Duke vs No. 3 Syracuse: There could be blood. A lot of it.
Duke and Syracuse know each other really well. They've played each other twice in under a year. And both times, well, let's just say it's not gone well for the Orange.
This highlight video is from the 2013 National Championship. As you see, Syracuse got out to a really good start. Chris Daddio negated Brandon Fowler at the faceoff dot early on, and the Orange jumped out to a 5-0 lead. And then......a nosedive. The Blue Devils went on a 12-1 run, and the game was all but over with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. After being negated early, Brandon Fowler turned things around and dominated on FO's, going 20-28, and that's where the "Syracuse face-off struggles" talking point was re-ignited in under an even bigger microscope. That discussion carried on well into March of this year. It was an ugly loss for the Orange, and Duke's dominance in virtually every department was another feather in the cap for John Danowski's "work out the chinks in the armor in February and March and peak just in time for May" approach. Add the fact that production came from both underclassmen and seniors and Danowski's squad showed a balance indicating the Blue Devils would continue to be a power for years to come. That's why they're again in a similar position to one they have had for the last 7 seasons - in line for a spot in the Final Four.
While that game was rough for Syracuse, this year's tilt in Durham was worse. A lot worse.
You read that right. The Blue Devils tore the Orange a new one. And it was like that from the start. Duke outscored SU 8-2 in the first quarter, 5-2 in the second, 3-2 in the third, and 5-1 in the fourth. It was complete and utter domination. Fowler again dominated at the FO dot, the Blue Devils first line midfield started their ascension towards All-American status, and the game showed the gulf between the two teams in March. That was exactly one month ago yesterday. Since then, things have certainly changed for Syracuse.
Syracuse results since March 29
While the Orange have played quite a few close games in that span, they've won all five, and three of those wins have come against top 12 teams with two against top 10 teams. Their play has noticeably improved in every facet of the game. Better clearing, better shot selection, and better play at the faceoff X. Syracuse won the last 8 faceoffs vs UNC en route to an overtime victory. So while Syracuse has a notoriously bad match-up in front of them, they're playing better. The problem is, so is Duke.
Duke results since March 23
There are four very good teams on that list. Syracuse, Notre Dame, and Virginia are all top 10 teams. Harvard is the Ivy League's best. Rutgers is a solid bunch as well. And Duke's goal differential in that span is +39. Against ACC opponents it's + 29. Duke is on a roll. They're a freight train. Perhaps even scarier is that over the last month they've gotten 73 points from their first line midfield of Myles Jones, Deemer Class, and Christian Walsh. That's an average of 14 points per game from just their midfield. And they've got Jordan Wolf and Josh Dionne in attack. Add in an improvement at goalie from last year with Luke Aaron starting in between the pipes, and the Blue Devils are the best team in the nation at the moment.
It's why despite the Orange's undoubted improvement, the Blue Devils should still be a heavy favorite, and likely win this one by a solid margin.
Semi-Final #2: No. 1 Maryland vs No. 4 Notre Dame: Both teams need this one. But for different reasons
This one's intriguing. It would have been far more intriguing had Maryland not beaten the Irish rather comfortably 12-8 on Saturday. But it's intriguing nonetheless. And it's still a very important game. Both teams need this win. Maryland needed that win on Saturday. Notre Dame needs this one even more than the Terps did in South Bend. The Irish are smack dab on the bubble. If the season ended today, Notre Dame would probably be in the NCAA Tournament but it's nowhere close to a guarantee. Lose to Maryland again, and even a win over Army would probably leave them on the outside looking in. This is a position they haven't been in for several years. They'll have to raise their intensity to a level that they haven't reached since February and March.
As for Maryland, they stopped building their resume at this point last year and have to show that they, too, can reach the intensity level needed in tournament play. An ACCT win, and they have a very good chance at being the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament something Maryland hasn't achieved under John Tillman.
The edge is most definitely with Maryland, though. They've got momentum and they're operating with the knowledge that they know they can beat Notre Dame. At this point, the Irish only think they can beat the Terps. And if you watch the highlights for this one, there is much to like from a Maryland perspective. Maryland did nearly everything right in this game. Their offense was cooking, and guys who needed to shine through and have big games did just that. They shot well, their defense was sharp as usual, and their goaltending was superb. If not for a few suspect extra-man opportunities for Notre Dame, the final score might not have been as close as it was. The Irish only had one real stretch of sustained momentum, but in that stretch they did show what they are capable of doing. They have a fantastic 1-2 punch in Matt Kavanagh and Conor Doyle, and the stats certainly show that.
Matt Kavanagh: 23 goals, 23 Assists - 46 points
Conor Doyle: 19 Goals, 8 Assists - 27 points
That one guy, Matt Kavanagh, is as good as anyone in the nation. He can thread the needle, shoot from distance, and is fantastic in tight spaces. Doyle is fantastic behind the net and a predator in front. But Notre Dame also has a lot of dangerous long-range shooters who are absolute snipers. Those were the guys who scored the goals that sparked the Irish run against the Terps. They have the threats. It's about making them come to fruition but they only were able to do that when Maryland played their worst stretch of the game.
Notre Dame faces an uphill task in this one. It's difficult to see Maryland not doing what they did on Saturday. Charlie Raffa had another dominant day on face-offs, tilting the possessions towards Maryland in a huge way. There's a very good chance that happens again. One other issue for the Irish is that the Terps look to have found five different players who are threats to score goals on the offensive end. How the Irish contend with that aspect of the game and with Raffa at the X will go a long way to determining the outcome.
- Mike Chanenchuk - 44 points (28 G, 16 A)
- Matt Rambo - 28 points (23 G, 5 A)
- Connor Cannizzaro - 24 points (18 G, 6 A)
- Henry West - 17 points (14 G, 7 A)
- Joe LoCascio - 17 points (12 G, 5 A)
The Irish have a great defense in their own right. But it's hard to stop that many threats in rhythm without cutting into the possession margin, which is unlikely to happen.
One area which might come back to haunt Maryland and one place Notre Dame could find an advantage is the high number of turnovers the Terrapins tend to commit in big games. They turned it over 16 times in a loss to North Carolina, 17 times in an ugly loss to Johns Hopkins, and 16 times again last Saturday. This could potentially disrupt Maryland's rhythm and let the Irish find one themselves. And playing in rhythm is when Notre Dame's offense is deadly.
Overall, with a likely heavy advantage in possessions again, the edge in goaltending, and a deeper offense, this is a match-up that favors the Terrapins by a multiple goal margin.
Semi-Final #1. No. 2 Duke vs No. 3 Syracuse - 5:00 PM, ESPNU
Semi-Final #2. No. 1 Maryland vs No. 4 Notre Dame - 7:30 PM, ESPNU
ACC Showcase Game. North Carolina vs Virginia - 7:00 PM, ESPN3
ACC Tournament Final. Winner of SF #1 vs Winner of SF #2 - 1:00 PM ESPNU.