Notre Dame Fighting Irish lacrosse (#13/#14/#15, 6-4, 1-2 ACC) travel to Chapel Hill to take on North Carolina (NR, 6-7, 1-2 ACC) this Saturday at noon, ESPNU.

What’s at stake

The Irish have a whole lot to lose, but not much to gain.  A win doesn’t likely change their seeding in the ACC Tournament next week, and North Carolina’s struggles probably keep a win from improving Notre Dame’s NCAA standing, but a loss would seriously harm their chances for an NCAA at-large bid.  North Carolina, however, is desperate to salvage a disappointing season filled with close losses.

The Tar Heels have played the Irish five times in the past three years, and are probably the only team in the country that can say they have regularly put up big numbers against the Irish defense, scoring 14, 13, 13, 17, and 14 goals in those games.  The Tar Heels eliminated the Irish from the ACC Tournament last year and the NCAA Tournament the year before.  For reasons that are not evident to us, this is always an exceedingly hard game for the typically excellent Irish defense.

The Tar Heels can still score well and have kept all their games close.  They also play a zone defense a good portion of the time, a style that frustrated the Irish when they saw it against Syracuse.  North Carolina is also a good man-up team, and they ride reasonably well.

Chris Cloutier leads the offense again with 29 goals and 10 assists.  He’s a special player that the defense can’t allow to get into the middle of the field.  Andy Matthews, Timmy Kelly and William Perry are not far back in production.  Alex Bassil has taken most of the recent goalkeeping reps from Pezzulla, and has been appreciably better statistically.  Charles Kelly has been taking most of the faceoffs and hovers around 50%, and the team at 45%.  We like watching Ryan Macri and Jack Halpert on defense, although we have to admit we don’t like watching zone that much.

It should also be noted that this is UNC’s lacrosse alumni weekend.  Many players from the great teams in UNC’s history are expected to be in attendance.  We may be getting ahead of ourselves a bit, but we hope the Irish treat this weekend like they did Syracuse’s celebration in 2016.

Thing to look for

  1. Four quarters of energy.  The Irish should know from experience that UNC is not a team against whom you can relax at all.  They can make a run in a hurry.  We recall specifically the 2016 game in Chapel Hill where the Irish were winning comfortably and let their foot off the gas in the second half and lost.  No third quarter naps!
  2. Injuries.  The team had ten days since their last game.  It will be interesting how much we see of players like Costabile, Gleason, Hyland, etc.
  3. Outside shooting.  If the Tar Heels stay in a tight zone, who will have the hammer from the outside to loosen things up?  Costabile is the obvious answer, but he will need some help.

Nice, 60 degree, sunny weather predicted.

A reminder of one of the great comebacks in Notre Dame lacrosse history was 2015 against the Tar Heels:

For those interested in this sort of thing, Notre Dame -1.5, 18 o/u.

Don’t forget to take a look at ND-Atl 2.0’s interview of John Sexton.