It all comes down to this. Back on February 1, Vermont beat Furman, 12-6, to officially begin the 2018 NCAA Men’s DI season. Aside from the DIII women’s bracket, every other group has a champion decided. MCLA, DII, DIII Men, DI Women, NJCAA, NAIA, and the WCLA. That is a lot of lacrosse. Given that the DIII women’s game is played at 10AM Eastern, the DI men’s final is truly the last college lacrosse game of the year. Duke. Yale.
The men’s final four was comprised entirely of teams that had at some point been voted as the #1 team in the country by way of the Inside Lacrosse Media Poll. So, it’s hard to say neither of these teams had a drastically different path to this point. Both have 3 losses. Neither won their conference tournament. But let’s take a quick look at what got them here.
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For Duke, they were the preseason number one team, and played like it early. They averaged just over 18 points in their first three games against Air Force, High Point, and Jacksonville. They followed that up with a three point win over Denver and looked unbeatable.
So of course, they lost by a goal to Penn.
They did not play another Ivy League team, and never faced a Big Ten team until the NCAA tournament where they went through Hopkins and Maryland in consecutive weeks. So 1 loss out of conference, 2 in conference, and all three were by a grand total of just five goals.
For Yale, they lost their opener by just a goal to Villanova. That made everyone collectively pump the brakes on Yale. While they never achieved rout status over anyone except for maybe Princeton, they rolled off seven straight wins before losing in overtime once again to Bucknell.
So, you have a 7-2 team with no huge (at the time) wins.
But that Bucknell loss woke this team up. Their next six wins were by: 10, 12, 10, 8, 8, and 15 goals. That included an eight win goal over Albany. They would lose to Cornell by six in the Ivy tournament, but rebounded well in the NCAAs by winning close over UMass and Loyola before pummeling Albany again.
For common opponents, this is a little tougher. They both have played Villanova, Loyola, and Penn. Yale lost to Penn in the first game of the year in overtime while Duke saw them in the NCAAs. Villanova was a very different team by then and Duke won a solid 17-11 game. For Loyola, Duke played them in March and won by four while Yale saw them in the NCAAs and won by three. Both were good wins over a strong Loyola squad.
Penn was a one point loss for Duke on the road in late February for their fifth game of the year. It was Penn’s third. For Yale, they saw the Quakers a month later, at home, and won by six. They would see them once again in the Ivy tournament and win by 15. Looking at these as an aggregate, I think the slight edge goes to Yale, but common opponents is hardly a scientific comparison.
Now what I really feel that this game will come down to is execution. Both teams played in a hot, physical game on Saturday. Sure, Yale’s win was huge, but it was still super physical, and they made it that way. While Duke had a strong win over a very good Maryland team, their win was due more to good defense, a great ride, and ability to jump on Maryland’s mistakes.
For Yale, their win was textbook fundamentals and it was beautiful to watch. Players were in the rights spots at the right times. Their ground balls were picked up for the time each time and it led to good clears and quick offense. In terms of individual matchups, Yale will have an answer for everything Duke puts out there. Duke will also have an answer back.
When Duke made mistakes on Monday, Maryland would give them second chances. If Yale plays like they did on Saturday, those second chances will be non-existent. Being as crisp as possible will win this game. If Yale still has the same energy, they could run away with this. But I doubt that will happen. If they are just a little bit off, Duke will be able to take advantage and create quick strike goals before Yale sets up their 6v6 defense. They also will need an answers at the faceoff X. Yale’s runs were fueled by make-it/take-it lacrosse. Score, get the ball back, score, get the ball back, score…etc. Duke cannot let that happen.
Looking to the Past for Guidance
I always like to look to past big games in situations like this for some guidance on what to expect. For me there are echoes of 2009 ringing in my ears. In 2009, Syracuse demolished the Blue Devils 17-7 and Cornell routed Virginia 15-6. It was set in the exact same stadium that we’re in now as well. After those semifinal games in ’09, picking a winner was impossible. Both teams looked just so good, there was no clear favorite.
What we got was a game that had one of the best finishes in sports. I think we could follow that pattern again. Whoever wins this game will do so in dramatic fashion. This game should be close. It should be exciting. And it will definitely be worth the watch.
1pm eastern. ESPN 2. Don’t miss it.