May 23, 2014

Final Four Breakdown: Deer Hunting and the Ninth Quarter

by Eamon McAnaney | | Twitter | McAnaney Archive

"They're deer hunting," one coach says of Erik Adamson (pictured) and the Denver offense. "Think about it. They're sitting in a tree, they're up there for about four hours and they are not going to settle for anything other than the kill shot, because they don't want to sit around for another four hours."
(Trevor Brown)

There was plenty of Mayhem in the first round of the NCAA Division I men's lacrosse tournament, as the No. 2, 3 and 4 seeds were all knocked off by unseeded opponents. But it was back to the status quo in the quarterfinals. There will be no unseeded teams wearing the glass slipper in Baltimore this weekend, no first timers basking in the glow of just making it to the final four.

Top-seeded Duke has made it this far for the eighth straight straight year and seventh-seeded Maryland, fifth-seeded Denver and sixth-seeded Notre Dame have been to championship weekend for a combined nine times since 2010.

This is a business trip with one goal in mind for all four teams.

Duke vs. Denver

Saturday, 1 p.m. Eastern (ESPN2)

If you like pitchers' duels, head to Camden Yards instead, because it will be a challenge for both defenses with the Nos. 2 and 3 scoring offenses on the same field. Denver has a ridiculous combination of scheme and skill that keeps opposing coaches up at night. "Any one of their guys can score five on a given day," Duke coach John Danowski said.

Another opposing coach I spoke to had a more vivid description to explain why the Pioneers are shooting 37 percent this season, third-best in Division I. "They're deer hunting," he said. "Think about it. They're sitting in a tree, they're up there for about four hours and they are not going to settle for anything other than the kill shot, because they don't want to sit around for another four hours."

That is not a good mix for the way Duke likes to play defense with its aggressive athletes. If Denver is allowed to have long, sustained possession that forces Duke's big boys to run around, chase and get tired, get ready to hear, "That sets up another opportunity for the Denver extra-man," over and over Saturday.

What's the one way to make sure your defense does not get tired? Don't let Denver get the ball.

Brendan Fowler created quite a legacy last year in Philadelphia by winning 20 of 28 faceoffs against Syracuse on his way to becoming the Most Outstanding Player ofchampionship weekend. He is always the x-factor for Duke, and while it may appear that the champs have a decided edge on faceoffs, keep in mind that Chris Hampton went 16-for-23 against Nick Saputo and Drexel last week, so don't expect Bill Tierney to wave the white flag in that matchup.

The goalie edge has to go the Pioneers. Both Jamie Faus and Ryan LaPlante have experience playing on the sport's biggest stage and are more than used to their roles and rotation. Luke Aaron, interestingly enough, won the job with his performance against Denver when Duke beat the Pioneers in February. And while he had been solid, he was pulled last week in the second half against Johns Hopkins, so his confidence now has to be a question mark.

Notre Dame vs. Maryland

Will Notre Dame be emboldened or drained from its emotional comeback win over Albany in the NCAA quarterfinals? The Irish will play Maryland for the third time this season.
(Lee Weissman)

Saturday, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

After meeting just five times between 1995 and 2010, the Irish and Terps get ready for their third matchup of the season. Maryland scored four unanswered goals in the fourth quarter to win 12-8 in South Bend, and then Matt Kavanagh delivered payback by giving the Domers their first lead of the game with :07 left for a 6-5 Notre Dame win in the ACC semifinals.

Both coaches played it close to the vest this week as far as adjustments for round three. Maryland's John Tillman said you try not to overthink it, and Notre Dame's Kevin Corrigan boiled it down to "getting ready to play the ninth quarter."

Maryland's freshmen have had extremely productive seasons, but as senior midfielder Mike Chanenchuk goes, so go the Terps. That has been the case in two postseason games, as Chanenchuk delivered the game winner in the final seconds against Cornell and then had a homecoming for the ages. The Long Island native dropped  five goals and four assists on Bryavnt in the NCAA quarterfinals at Hofstra.

Chanenchuk lit up the Irish with three goals and an assist in the teams' regular-season encounter. A week later, he limped off the field with an ankle injury, and the Terps offense sputtered without him. The Irish don't like to be matchup-conscious, but you have to figure they want to see Stephen O'Hara on Chanenchuk in a matchup of first-team All-Americans.

Notre Dame is the only team that really had to gut one out last week, coming back from five goals down against Albany to win in overtime. Are the Irish an emotionally drained team or one riding a magic wave of karma? Maryland has the home crowd advantage to go along with the advantages in the faceoff game (Charlie Raffa) and in goal (Niko Amato), so I don't think we'll find out the answer until the 12th quarter.

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