NCAA lacrosse semifinal, Duke vs. Denver: keys to the game

Posted by Laura Keeley on May 23, 2014 

It's Final Four time again in men's lacrosse, and Duke is looking to repeat as national champions.

CHUCK LIDDY

For the past eight years, on Memorial Day weekend, this sentence has been valid: Duke lacrosse is going to the Final Four.

This year’s championship weekend begins Saturday, when Duke, the top seed, takes on No. 5 Denver at 1 p.m. in Baltimore (also on ESPN2).

The main talking point will be how Duke replaces all-American attakman Josh Dionne—the answer is with Moose, also known as Kyle Keenan. That trade-off is detailed in this story here. But beyond the obvious, here are three other keys to the game. Impress your friends with your lacrosse knowledge! And when you see a hyperlink on a player’s name, give it a click for a more in-depth profile.

*There will be goals. Lots of goals.

In Duke and Denver, you have the nation’s second and third-highest scoring offenses, respectively. Both excel in different ways.

"Denver is just masterful in the 6-on-6 set," ESPN analyst Paul Carcaterra said. "They’re not going to fly up and down the field, but they’re going to put so much pressure on you. And they don’t have the big outside-type perimeter shooters that are slinging it, outside of Wesley Berg, but they’re super efficient and tight, and they put so much pressure on you with great angles and high percentage shots, which just allows them to put up big numbers. It’s just a fact. If you look at the way that they’re shooting, their end shot is typically at a great angle, and it’s not from too far out."

Duke, in contrast, will score in transition, running up and down the field. And midfielder Myles Jones’s picture would be in the dictionary next to "big outside-type perimeter shooters."

"You look at Duke’s offense, who has been able to stop the combination of Myles Jones up top, along with those two other midfielders, and Jordan Wolf behind," Carcaterra said. "There are just too much pressure. It’s like pick your poison. If you want to slide early to Jordan Wolf behind, then you’re leaving those middies. If you’re leaving the middies, you saw what Myles Jones did last week (three goals, four assists in the 19-11 win over Johns Hopkins)." 

*The X will be an X-factor

Face-off X, that is. Denver is an admittedly weak face-off team, though the Pioneers have shown improvement in that area of late. On the year, Denver wins just 47.3 percent (194-of-410) on its draws. Prehaps that’s why Denver’s legendary coach, Bill Tierney, had this to say on a conference call earlier this week.

"We’re going to prepare the exact same way we prepared for Rutgers, North Carolina and Drexel," he said. We’re going to assume that we’re going to lose every face-off and then go from there."

That was a little bit of hyperbole, as Tierney later said the goal all year has been to win 40 percent, which is still a low threshold. For comparison’s sake, Duke’s face-off specialist, Brendan Fowler, is winning 59.5 percent of his draws this season (down from last year’s 64.4 percent mark).

When asked about his potential advantage Tuesday, Fowler was quick to point out that the Pioneers have been improving in that department. And that numbers back that up—sophomore Chris Hampton is winning 63.8 percent (67-of-105) of his face-offs that he has taken in the past month. Still, last year’s Most Outstanding Player from Duke’s championship game could be a major determining factor in the outcome of the game. It is, after all, hard to win without possession of the ball.

*The last line of defense

Denver uses a two-goalie rotation, with Ryan LaPlante (.557 save percentage) playing the first half and Jamie Faus (.567) coming in for the second. You would give the Pioneers the edge over Duke’s typical goalie, Luke Aaron (.518). However, in last week’s win over Johns Hopkins, Kyle Turri, who was 14-1 last season as the primary goalie for Duke’s national title run, came on in relief and played well, allowing just one goal in the final 24:16 of game time (Aaron allowed 10 in 35:44 minutes). For the season, though, Turri’s save percentage is just .453.

Danowski isn’t a big fan of goalie rotation questions—the past few weeks, he has insisted that Duke has two capable goaltenders, and Aaron was playing well, so the Blue Devils just stuck with him because they didn’t have the "courage" to switch back to Turri.

It’s hard to say exactly what that means for tomorrow’s game, but, if Denver gets on a roll, don’t be surprised to see a switch made.

If you want to read even MORE about lacrosse, here is a profile on the unsung hero for the Blue Devils, defensive midfielder Will Haus, and a story on defenseman Casey Carroll—a 29 year-old Army Ranger veteran who has quite the story to tell.

Postseason game coverage from this year (most provided by lacrosse expert Patrick Stevens) includes Duke’s ACC semifinal loss to Syracuse, NCAA first-round win over Air Force and quarterfinal win over Johns Hopkins.

For all the latest Duke news, like Duke NOW on Facebook and follow me on Twitter.

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