2014 NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Championship Preview: (6) Notre Dame v. (1) Duke

Rob Carr

This is it: There's only one more "Go time!" left in 2014.

Everything that's worth knowing about Notre Dame-Duke in the championship of the NCAA Tournament.

From 10,000 Feet

Date and Time: Monday, May 26, 2014 at 1:00 ET
Location: Baltimore, M.D. (M&T Bank Stadium)
Television/Internet: ESPN2 and WatchESPN have a traditional broadcast; ESPNU has a Spider Cam feed
Game "Fun Factor": 6.23 ("Excellent")
log5 Victory Probabilities:

log5 PROBABILITIES (AS OF MAY 25, 2014)
HIGHER SEED LOWER SEED FAVORITE UNDERDOG
(1) Duke (6) Notre Dame (1) Duke // 58.71% (6) Notre Dame // 41.29%

These are the longest odds that the Irish have faced since the team's eight-goal setback to Duke at the sunrise of April. (In fact, Notre Dame's dates with Duke are the longest odds that the Irish have faced all season.) Notre Dame, however, has found ways to win in their last six games, pulling out four one-goal victories and eviscerating Maryland in the national semifinals. If the Irish can find a way to keep pace with Duke -- and much of that may turn on Notre Dame working in a possession deficit -- the Irish could end 2014 with a notable upset, one that many would have predicted as "You're drunk!" before the start of the ACC Tournament. Duke isn't a super team -- the era of that kind of team likely died after Virginia's run in 2006 -- but the Blue Devils are as solid as any in Division I, and if Duke approaches its potential it is going to take an incredible effort from Notre Dame to throw the Devils to the side.

What's Your Deal?

Notre Dame
NCAA Tournament First Round: Beat Harvard, 13-5
NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals: Beat Albany, 14-13 (OT)
NCAA Tournament Semifinals: Beat (7) Maryland, 11-6
Spirit Animal: A bald eagle -- quietly majestic and frighteningly efficient at opportunistic carnivorous feeding

Duke
NCAA Tournament First Round: Beat Air Force, 20-9
NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals: Beat Johns Hopkins, 19-11
NCAA Tournament Semifinals: Beat (5) Denver, 15-12
Spirit Animal: A robotic great white shark -- an alpha predator with an emotionless ruthlessness seemingly made in an evil laboratory

Truncated Tempo-Free Profiles

NOTRE DAME v. DUKE (AS OF MAY 25, 2014)
METRIC NOTRE DAME DUKE
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 38.25 (8) 39.51 (4)
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 26.05 (9) 25.82 (7)
Possession Margin per 60 Minutes of Play +0.70 (29) +4.31 (4)
Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 77.45% (6) 83.00% (2)
Downloadable Tempo-Free Profile (.pdf) Notre Dame Duke

There were 131,072 ways that the NCAA Tournament could went before the start of the play-in games. It isn't likely that the Irish were picked on many brackets to faceoff against Duke in the national title game, yet here we are: Two of Division I's best teams -- and it's clear that Notre Dame is, despite the rhetoric that seems to surround the Irish, one of the nation's strongest teams -- will decide the recipient of this year's gold trophy. Both teams feature strong offensive and defensive units, but Duke and Notre Dame make their money in different ways at each end of the field. This game has the smell of one that could feature elite play for 60 minutes, an interesting matchup where the combatants are outfitted with capable weapons and depth in assets. Possession margin is likely to play a factor in the outcome, but that doesn't erode the fact that these two ACC rivals have the potential to unleash an explosive display of lacrosse acumen.

Two Things

  • Notre Dame has received increased production from the net in its last six games (starting with the Irish's meeting against Maryland in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament). Conor Kelly has emerged as a leveraged tool for Notre Dame's already-solid defense, a keeper that has made more saves -- many of them dramatic -- and increased his save percentage at the apex of the season. Kelly's play between the pipes against Duke's deadly offense is a big key to the Irish's hopes on Memorial Monday, and if the junior keeper can maintain his inspired play he could significantly help Notre Dame's efforts against the Devils:
    NOTRE DAME'S GOALKEEPING: LAST SIX GAMES v. SEASON TOTALS (AS OF MAY 25, 2014)
    METRIC LAST SIX GAMES TOTAL SEASON
    Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 33.33 28.23 (60)
    Team Save Percentage 52.38% 49.53% (51)
    Shots per Defensive Opportunity 1.15 1.01 (12)
    Shots on Goal per Defensive Opportunity 0.64 0.58 (12)
    Shots on Goal to Total Shots per Defensive Opportunity Ratio 55.51% 57.48% (24)
    Raw Defensive Shooting Rate 26.43% 29.01% (41)
    Raw Defensive Shots on Goal Shooting Rate 47.62% 50.47% (51)
    Kelly is seeing a higher volume of shots on goal per defensive opportunity in Notre Dame's last six games -- the ratio of shots taken per defensive opportunity to shots on goal taken per defensive opportunity is similar -- and is turning away a significantly higher rate of those attempts while also carrying a heavier load on the defensive end of the field. Duke will test Kelly in unique ways -- against Albany and Syracuse (comparable offenses to the Devils' sociopathic group), Kelly did not string together performances that stood squarely with his efforts in Notre Dame's last six dates -- but the Irish still have a goaltender playing his best ball of the season at the year's conclusion.
  • There are few teams that both outwork Duke and value the ball better than the Devils. That may seem odd given that Duke is often characterized as a cosmopolitan team that simply drubs opponents with large possession margins, but few teams are as workman-like and careful as the Devils. This isn't the defining nature to Duke's success, but it does help build into how the Blue Devils are able to race past the opposition:
    DUKE'S HIDDEN VALUE (AS OF MAY 25, 2014)
    METRIC VALUE NT'L RANK
    Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 36.58 7
    Turnover Margin +4.71 19
    Unforced Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 22.25 25
    Opponent Caused Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 14.33 3
    Team Run-of-Play Groundball Rate 25.81 49
    Opponent Run-of-Play Groundball Rate 17.18 1
    Run-of-Play Groundball Rate Margin +8.63 6
    The table provides clarity: Duke isn't giving the ball away (nobody is actively dispossessing Duke) and when the ball is loose in run of play postures (non-faceoff situations), the Devils are beating their opponents to the bean. Maintaining possession of the ball and pouncing on groundballs helps drive Duke's overall offensive and defensive efficiency. These are possession-generating and possession-maximizing activities, ones that make an already destructive team all that more potent. These are seemingly simple plot points that teams often fail to excel at, but the Blue Devils have had premium performances in all of these metrics.
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