The Final Four is set for D1 men’s lax and it is an absolutely BIZARRE cast of characters. All 4 ACC teams made the tourney, and now 3 of them, Duke, Virginia and Maryland, are in the Final Four. All of them got there by beating either a 1 (MD over Cuse), 2 (UVA over Cornell), or 4 seed (Duke over ND). The fourth team in the Final Four is Denver, and they were already the first team West of the Mississippi to host an NCAA game, and now they are also the first team West of that great river to make a Final Four. They really are the future of college lacrosse!
The first game of the day features Virginia and Denver at 4pm. Virignia had high expectations coming into the season and everyone was talking about the Brattons. Well, that is simply no longer the story in Charlottesville. The story is a TEAM coming together and playing their best lacrosse late in the season. Steele Stanwick has looked like a man amongst boys lately and seriously made me reconsider my nomination of Rob Pannell as the best attackman in the game. Goaltending has been solid and there when the ‘Hoos needed it. Their D has really come together and guys like Malphrus have stepped their game up to the next level.
Virginia has been Bratton-less, yet their midfield has been excellent. With a number of players filling roles and running hard, UVA has somehow become more dangerous. The goals can come from a lot of places, and everyone is getting a lot of good looks. Virginia is definitely playing their best lacrosse of the season.
The same can be said about Denver though. The Pioneers have been incredibly composed in their games against Villanova and Hopkins, and they run middies the old-fashioned way: all day long. These guys play O, D, run the wing on face offs and for the most part, they can really move. This is Denver’s strength, as they are just as dangerous on the break or off a face off as they are in settled 6 on 6. Maybe even more so. If the opportunity to get a good shot is there, Denver will take it. This allows them to score in bunches and never feel “out” of a game.
However, this approach to the midfield could also be the Pioneer’s weakness. Denver doesn’t run a ton of guys through the midfield although they do have some depth, and they will definitely need to go to their bench a bit on Memorial Day Weekend. The temperatures will be high, and Baltimore is often muggy. If they have confidence in their second string guys, and those guys show up, Denver will be fine. But if they don’t, and Denver is forced to go to a more specialized set of players, I think they might be in some trouble. They’d be getting away from what they’ve done all year, and to me, that’s too risky. But this is Tierney’s team, so we can only guess at what they’ll actually do, and then enjoy watching it unfold on Saturday.
I like Denver to win this game, but it might just take everything they’ve got. Viriginia is talented, but more importantly, they have gelled and are focused. This makes them extremely dangerous. Denver has been close to peaking, but they will really need to pull out the stops to top a UVA team that can seemingly do no wrong. I’ll take Tierney over Starsia in this one. It might just come down to that.
At 630pm, we get the Duke – Maryland game that people are dying to see. Their regular season match up? Not Bad. Their ACC game? I’ll take it. THIS GAME? Oh, THANK THE GOOD LORD! It should be awesome. Maryland is finally playing enthusiastic playoff lacrosse, Ryan Young is playing inspired lax, and Coach Tillman has these guys tight and loose. It’s a tough balance to achieve, but the Terps are playing Terp lax, and loving every minute of it. We’ve been waiting for this for years!
Duke is a totally different story. They started a little slow and then just came out like gangbusters for the majority of the rest of the year. New names were popping up on the attack and in the midfield. The D is talented and experienced and the goalkeeping seems to have leveled out really well. Wigrizer as a sophomore, who won a NC as a freshman, has been very solid in net. Zack Howell didn’t just repeat last year’s performance, he topped it, and his leadership, along with guys like Costabile and Montelli has been a huge difference maker.
These two teams know each other very well, and both will be able to find PLENTY of motivation for this game, as if being in the Final Four wasn’t enough. Goals will come in this game and although both teams have great defenses, I don’t think we’ll see a ton of slow down lacrosse. Both teams might try it, but I don’t think it will stick. They’ll both score at least 10 here. In the end, Duke may be the better team, but Maryland just has that it factor right now. And I like them to advance in a dogfight. Should be a good one either way!