Expect Duke to win a second straight national title this weekend

Top-ranked Blue Devils average 15 goals per game, have one of the top faceoff specialists in the country

May 19, 2014|Mike Preston

There will be countless predictions and analysis leading up to the Division I men's lacrosse Final Four this weekend, but the only way Duke won't win a second consecutive championship is if another team can match up with the Blue Devils in faceoffs.

The Blue Devils simply have too much firepower to lose.

Duke beat Johns Hopkins, 19-11, in a quarterfinal game Sunday, and the two Blue Devils goalies contributed just four total saves. That's amazing, especially in the postseason. In the final 24 minutes of the game, Hopkins took only two shots.

Worse yet, Hopkins won only one less faceoff than Duke, and the Blue Jays still lost by eight goals.

The No. 1 Blue Devils (15-3) will meet No. 5 Denver (16-2) at 1 p.m. Saturday in one semifinal, and the Pioneers could be the team to pull off the upset. Denver's Bill Tierney is one of the best defensive coaches in the game, and he'll find some schemes to occasionally slow Duke.

The Pioneers also have a good offense, and they are patient enough to hold possessions for two or three minutes. But again, if Duke wins faceoffs, the Blue Devils will score.

It will take 13 or 14 goals to beat the Blue Devils, and the key will be to control Duke's Brendan Fowler, who has won 273 of 459 faceoffs (59 percent) this season. When Fowler is playing well, Duke is unstoppable. The Blue Devils have scored 271 goals this season, an average of 15 goals per game.

While Duke has the best offense of the four remaining teams, Maryland has the best defense and goalie in Niko Amato. The Terps allow only seven goals per game. Meanwhile, Notre Dame is the most athletic of the four teams, and the Fighting Irish have really aggressive short-stick midfielders who can transition from offense to defense.

Good argument for Notre Dame's Corrigan

Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan made a valid point Saturday when he complained to the officials that they weren't putting the timer on enough when Albany had the ball.

The officials clearly were allowing brothers Miles Thompson and Lyle Thompson to hold the ball too long without going to the goal as they waited for double teams and then attempted to pass. Loyola coach Charley Toomey could have made the same complaint the week before.

Some officials appear to be as mesmerized as the fans when the Thompsons, along with their cousin, Ty Thompson, play.

I admit, they are fun to watch, and they would have helped ticket sales here at the Final Four. Little kids flocked to watch them play, just like they did for the Gait brothers, Syracuse midfielders Paul and Gary, from 1987 to 1990, as well as Johns Hopkins midfielder Paul Rabil from 2005 to 2008.

Terps seek revenge Saturday

One person glad to see the Thompsons not play here this weekend has to be Maryland coach John Tillman. Because of their ball-handling skills and precision passing, the Thompsons force opposing teams to rearrange their defense.

No. 7 Maryland (12-3) will play No. 6 Notre Dame (11-5) at 3:30 p.m. in the other semifinal. The two teams have split a pair of games this season, but because of their familiarity with one another, Tillman won't have to focus exclusively on one or two players like he would have with the Thompsons.

Plus, Maryland has revenge working in its favor. Whenever Atlantic Coast Conference teams have played, the one that lost earlier in the season won the second game. Maryland beat Notre Dame on April 19, 12-8, and then lost to Notre Dame, 6-5, a week later in the conference semifinal.

It's Maryland's turn to win.

Depth key for top teams

Some of the smaller schools have closed the talent gap with the traditional favorites like Syracuse, Virginia and Johns Hopkins, but what still separates them is depth.

It was clearly evident over the weekend, especially in Notre Dame's 14-13 overtime win over Albany. The Great Danes ran out of gas as the Fighting Irish blew by their tired short-stick midfielders in the fourth quarter.

Teams like Albany, Bryant, Towson and UMBC can match the first teams of the major powers, such as Maryland and North Carolina, but they wear down from the depth and pressure. Notre Dame played 12 midfielders Saturday. Albany is lucky to have 12 on the roster.

In a short series like the Final Four, the smaller schools have almost no chance of winning the title.

Future bright for Duke's Jones

Duke's Myles Jones has to resemble what NFL great Jim Brown looked like in a lacrosse uniform when he was at Syracuse in the 1950s.

A year ago as a freshman, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound midfielder had only a right-handed shot and lost his poise when he struggled early. Now, Jones uses both hands to shoot. He also has that quick, explosive first step and has become a good passer.

By the time he is done at Duke, he could become the most dominant force in the game.

An ACC majority this weekend

Three of the four semifinalists come from the ACC, so it has to confirm what most of the lacrosse world already knew.

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