NCAA Men's Lacrosse Tournament Final Four preview

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

A preview of the Men's Lacrosse Final Four this weekend in Baltimore

Memorial Day Weekend. Barbecue, pools open, sun is shining, jeans and coats have been ditched, some people even make the trek to the beach. Oh, and Championship Weekend for the NCAA Lacrosse Tournament. That's what we're here to talk about. It's been a lacrosse season chock full of great games, insane goals, offensive shootouts, great defense, and tons of parity. The NCAA Tournament has been exactly the same. While the upper bracket was rather what we expected - Duke vs Denver, the bottom bracket sprung some surprises. The 6 seed Notre Dame, who was the ACC Champion, will face the 7 seed Maryland, the ACC Regular Season Champion. Most expected Loyola-Syracuse, or maybe one of ND/Maryland, but not both. But that's what's summed up this season best. And both games are extremely tight, should be very close, and exciting. Let's check out the times and teams.

National Semifinals

When: Saturday, May 24th, 2014. 1st SF is 1:00 PM ET. 2nd SF is 3:30 ET

Where: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore MD.

TV/Online Streaming: ESPN2/WatchESPN

National Championship

When: Monday, May 26th, 1:00 PM ET

Where: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore MD

TV/Online Streaming: ESPN/ESPNU (SkyCam)//WatchESPN

Teams

Seed Team Record Quality Wins Bad Losses
1 Duke 15-3 Denver, Penn,Carolina, Syracuse, Harvard, Notre Dame, Virginia, Hopkins None
5 Denver 16-2 Notre Dame, Carolina, Drexel None
6 Notre Dame 11-5 Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Syracuse, Army, Harvard, Albany None
7 Maryland 13-3 Syracuse, Duke, Virginia, Notre Dame, Cornell, Bryant None

Match-Ups

No. 1 Duke vs No. 5 Denver - 1:00 PM ET, ESPN2: You like goals? You've got em

Prepare to have your face melted. This one is going to be an absolute shooting bonanza. On one hand you've got Duke. A runnin' n' gunnin' offensive machine who can score from attack, midfield, transition, just about any way possible. They're a freight train. Sometimes they'll run like a turbo charged Ferrari and score. Other teams they'll run like a train and take their time and then kill you. Either way they're nearly always killing you on offense.

Then you have Denver. I'd equate Denver to an Anaconda. They wait, wait, wait, get you scared in your freaking boots, squeeze the life out of you with 2-3 goals in quick succession, and then kill you. The way they get so many slam dunk shots is remarkable. They're nearly always shooting from in front. And they're scoring. Here's some offensive stats for you

Stat Duke Denver
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 39.9 (3) 44.9 (1)
Scoring Offense 14.82 (2) 13.18 (3)
Shooting Percentage .354 (5) .368 (4)

Now those are just a few stats and I'm not big on using raw stats like Scoring Offense for example. But it tells you a story. These teams are offensive machines. They operate in different ways, but they're offensive machines nonetheless. Ultimately it's a matter of who can get more stops. Both teams will do that in different ways.

For Duke it will be through their possession margin. The Blue Devils hold a +6.44 possession margin, good for 2nd in the nation. They are 9th in team FO% at 58% and Brendan Fowler is 11th in the country at 60% from the dot. But Fowler will wear you down and slowly dominate the face-off X. If Duke can hold that possession margin, and look to rattle off goals through their midfield of Deemer Class, Myles Jones, and Christian Walsh - who have reeled off 86 goals and 159 points combined - they'll be in a good spot. They'll also probably have to. Duke's 2nd leading scorer and 4th highest points getter Josh Dionne, a hugely influential Senior, is out for Championship Weekend with a knee injury. He had 55 points off 48 G and 7 A but more importantly was the emotional leader of this Blue Devils squad. He's a big miss.

Denver will look to generate stops in a different manner. They'll look to do it through their goal tending, a 2 goalie system of Jamie Faus and Ryan LaPlante which has helped lead the Pios to back to back Final Fours. The team sv% is a sterling 57%, and they rank 8th in the nation in Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities. While the Pios do yield a high # of shots, and will likely see a ton on Saturday, they still hold a very strong unit which will look to give them a few extra saves that Duke's more shaky duo of  Luke Aaron and Kyle Turri likely won't get.

No matter the final score in this one, we all win. Prepare to have your face melted.

No. 6 Notre Dame vs No. 7 Maryland - 3:30 PM ET, ESPN2: It's time for Part 3.

These two teams have already met twice this year and it's resulted in similar results. But there's ultimately been a few twists that have changed the outcome.

Maryland is a possession generating machine. They rank 1st in the country in Possession Margin per 60 minutes with a +8.19 margin. That's 1.75 better than the 2nd highest ranked team, Duke. They do it in so many ways too. Charlie Raffa is splendid winning 68% of his draws and being regarded as the best FOGO in the nation. Maryland is 5th in clearing at 91%. Maryland is 2nd in the nation at Caused Turnovers per 100 defensive opportunities. They have the best goaltender in Niko Amato. Maryland dominates possessions like no other and it plays right into their hands.

In the first game between these two it worked out well. Charlie Raffa dominated going 20/24 at the X, Maryland forced 13 TO's, and was slightly better in the clearing game. The Terps shot a solid 30% and won by 4 goals. Int he second game Raffa again dominated, going 10-13, but turned it over afterwards multiple times. Maryland also shot a horrendous 13%. But they also again gave ND trouble in the clearing game. The Irish went 16/21, Maryland 15/16. These are all good signs for UMD.

Notre Dame will hope to do what they did in that ACC Tournament Semi-Final and play a high octane type of defense that forces turnovers before Maryland gets their offense revved up, with Chanenchuk creating. They want to force TO's and create transition opportunities. The Irish are 10th in Opponent Turnovers per 100 defensive opportunities and 2nd in Opponent Unforced Turnovers per 100 Defensive Opportunities. Maryland scored only 6 goals in the ACCT Semi, and were burned in transition for the game winning bucket. Maryland's also struggled mightily with transition D.

But that's not necessarily where ND's offense is at their best. They're deadly using multiple options and a very good inside-outside game. John Scioscia is averaging 4 goals per game over his last 3 and he's a deadly inside finisher. Jim Marlatt has only delivered 22 points but is still a dangerous step down shooter. Conor Doyle has used blistering pace behind the cage to the tune of 30 G and 45 points. But they also have dangers on the outside. Matt Kavanagh has 65 points on 35 G and 30 A. Sergio Perkovic has a laser of a shot and can take it to the rack and finish as well. This is a big benefit to the Irish. Maryland likes to give opposing teams shots, relying on a strong goaltender and the quality of shot more than the quantity. But with such good shooters and multiple options, ND could make them pay.

This game is ultimately down to who does what defensively and who tips the balance of tempo and flow in their favor. Both teams have big marks in their favor, and like to play a certain way. It's ultimately down to who can execute to take full advantage of those marks and tilt the balance of power in their direction, and advance to Memorial Monday.

*all stats courtesy of College Crosse. Do check them out

Both these match-ups are so tight and even and all 4 teams have advantages that could see them lift the trophy on Monday. That's what makes this edition of the Final Four so intriguing. There's many ways you can see this one going. But one thing is certain: It's bound to be a thrill ride.

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