NCAA Lacrosse National Championship, Duke vs. Notre Dame: keys to the game

Posted by Laura Keeley on May 26, 2014 

Brendan Fowler and the Duke face-off game will square off against Notre Dame Monday at 1 p.m.


For the third time in five years, Duke is playing for the NCAA lacrosse national championship. And this year will end with a matchup against Mar—I mean Notre Dame (1 p.m., ESPN2). Yes, the Irish pulled off the mildly stunning upset of the Terps in Baltimore on Saturday.

"Hey, quite honestly, it's kind of funny, I read the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun (Saturday), and neither one of them, I think they talked more about the Duke‑Maryland match‑up than they did the Maryland‑Notre Dame match‑up," Notre Dame head coach Kevin Corrigan said after the Irish win. "And I said, okay, that's fine with us. We like being those guys."

The Blue Devils have won the last three postseason meetings with the Irish: the 2010 national championship game (6-5, OT), 2011 quarterfinals (7-5) and 2013 quarterfinals (12-11). Expect a score more like the most recent postseason meeting, as the Irish have transformed from a slow-it-down, defensive grinder-type play to a more fast-paced, full-field offensive force. With that, here are three keys to a Duke victory.

Don’t let the Irish run out in transition

Notre Dame is one of the most effective teams in transition, and against Duke, playing to its strength would come with an added benefit. The Blue Devils prefer to play their first midfield line— Deemer Class, Myles Jones and Christian Walsh—as much as possible. And with Kyle Keenan sliding off the second midfield line and into Josh Dionne’s attack spot (due to Dionne’s knee injury), there is even less incentive for Duke to run out a patchwork second middie line.

So if Notre Dame can run out in transition, forcing Duke’s midfielders to run all the way into the defensive end to defend (the idea being there isn’t time when a team is running out in transition to sub on the defensive midfielders), the Irish will wear down the Blue Devils.

Corrigan said as much yesterday.

"You have to make the game a little bit more of a full‑field game so that they can't just run that first midfield to death and keep those guys out there," he said. "Every six‑on‑six possession you have to defend their first midfield, so that's going to be us turning our stops to possessions and maybe keeping some guys on the field a little bit and making them play a full‑field game of lacrosse, so I think those two things will certainly be important."

Henry Lobb has to limit Matt Kavanagh’s touches

Duke preaches team defense, and, quite frankly, doesn’t have the talent to shut down a second-team all-American attackman with just one person. But it’s a man-to-man system at heart, and Henry Lobb will draw the assignment of the red-hot Matt Kavanagh, who played lights-out in Notre Dame’s 11-6 semifinal win over Maryland (five goals, two assists).

Lobb has a few things going for him in this matchup. First, he is considerably bigger, measuring 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, while Kavanagh stands 5-foot-8, 170 pounds.

"He can try to play physical with me," Kavanagh pointed out.

Secondly, Lobb played great against Kavanagh in Duke’s April 5th, 15-7 win at Notre Dame, holding the attackman scoreless, limiting him to two shots and forcing him into four turnovers. That was much improved over their 2013 match-up, which Notre Dame won 13-5, thanks in large part to Kavanagh’s four goals and one assist.

For Duke to be able to successfully play team defense on Kavanagh, they will have to have the defense already set as Notre Dame goes into its offense. That also means…

"You can't let their team run," Duke head coach John Danowski said. "You want to get in the hole and defend what we call in the box as opposed to letting them run half field, whether that's from the defensive end out or off the face‑offs or in any kind of scramble situations."

Limit turnovers

In the semifinal game against Notre Dame, Maryland managed to win 71.4 percent of all face-offs…and lose. That’s not easy to do. But while the Terps normally controlled the ball from the start of the possession, they did an awful job holding onto it, recording a season-worst 19 turnovers.

"Defensively they seem to be a little more aggressive, checking, and they seem to be a little more active with their sticks," Danowski said, when asked about the difference between Notre Dame on April 5 and now. "They want to get the ball to the ground, they want to be able to push and play in transition."

Noticing a trend here? Stop Notre Dame’s transition game, stop the Irish.

Want more Duke lacrosse knowledge to impress your friends? Check out this post from Saturday, with plenty of links to more in-depth player profiles.

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