Notre Dame Fighting Irish lacrosse (RPI #10 7-5, 2-2 ACC) will square off against rival Duke (RPI #2 11-3, 2-2 ACC) in Chapel Hill on Saturday at 4:30 ESPNU.

A sunny, 72 degree day awaits the Irish (finally!).

The Opponent

With the possible exception of Denver, the Irish play Duke more frequently than any other team.  As such, there aren’t many secrets between these squads.

Duke pounded the Irish in their regular season matchup on a Durham pumpkin patch masquerading as a lacrosse field.

There are several players to focus on with the Blue Devils.  On the defensive end, the duo of Van Raaphorst and Giles-Harris are a formidable presence, maybe the best in college lacrosse.  On the offense, Brad Smith’s move to midfield, and the continued quality play of Nakeie Montgomery present matchup challenges for the defensive midfield.  On attack, Joe Robertson remains the top scoring threat.  Finally, in goal, Turner Uppgren’s play has been on an upward trajectory for several weeks.

Duke was having a rough period before the regular season game.  They turned it around against the Irish and smashed Virginia the following week.  Duke had a OT win over Marquette last week that hopefully signals that their recent gains have plateaued.

The Questions

We hope we can drill-down the key points a bit better this week:

  1. Adjusting to Brad Smith: In the regular season game, Duke had the Irish defense uncharacteristically confused all game.  Much of this, we suspect, was caused by the move of Brad Smith from attack to midfield, which muddled slide responsibilities and left players wide open behind the defense and on the crease.  Notre Dame can’t make it this easy for Duke to score.  The defensive midfield has to hold a fraction longer with this combination on offense to avoid the need for a quick slide that will be exploited.
  2. Know Van Raaphorst’s responsibilities:  Duke has a formidable duo in Van Raaphorst and Giles-Harris.  If we had to guess, Giles-Harris will be focused on locking down Gleason again.  However, while Van Raaphorst will likely spend a lot of time worrying about Costabile, he’ll also have a lot of responsibilities in the slide packages.  Morin had a lot of success last game not having the attention of these two, and last week Willets rediscovered his talents as a passer.  If these two can figure out where Van Raaphorst is going, or more importantly, where he is not, they may have career days.  The “one more pass” speech may be a helpful theme for this game.
  3. Be closers: A particularly noticeable problem in the regular season game, and a reoccurring theme throughout the season, was that Notre Dame missed layup after layup.  In a game like this where there is little margin for error, there is no way around the simple reality that the boys have to put their close-range shots in the back of the net.  They will get the looks, they just need to convert!

Other notes

We approach this game with a lot of optimism.  The Irish have a very good track record of learning from regular season setbacks against Duke, and converting those lessons into wins.  The boys also play well in the ACC Tournament and very well in nice weather.  They will have all these advantages.

Leonard continues to play well and was selected as the All-ACC faceoff specialist.  The Irish need to utilize the possession advantage he gives them.  Also, last week seemed to be a turning point in Notre Dame’s turnover struggles.  If they can take care of the ball, combined with Leonard’s play, the boys should have a huge possession advantage.

Neither team played well man-up a few weeks ago.  At the time, we noted anything less than 40% for the Irish would be points left off the board.  We reaffirm this data point as a goal for this game.

Gleason was inspired by the #40 last week.  A similar performance against the attention of Giles-Harris, and the rest won’t matter.  The boys shouldn’t try to put this on his back, but if Gleason wins his matchup, it will be a much easier day for the rest of the guys.

The ACC Tournament usually inspires the managers to mix it up with the uniforms.   We look forward to seeing which mix-and-match they go with.

Whoever is in the crease, we are confident a warm, sunny day on a nice field will be reflected in quality goalie play.  We love our goalies.  #GoaliesForever