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2014 College Lacrosse Preview: ACC Outlook

The conference realignment ninja -- John Swofford -- may not have intended it when he put Syracuse and Notre Dame on the league's roster, but he created an unmatched lacrosse product for 2014.


The Plot

There hasn't ever been anything like this. The ACC's lacrosse concern in 2014 -- the first and only season in this exact Voltron-like form -- stands alone as a monolith of unified power. There is no weakness in the ACC; the conference's assumed bottom-feeders are still among the top 15 to 20 percent of teams in the nation. SEC football -- the standard for many with respect to overall league influence -- doesn't hold a candle to what the ACC is going to roll out on the lacrosse field this spring. The consolidation of power in the ACC in 2014 -- the league's members claim 24 of the NCAA's 43 issued national titles since the organization started awarding championships in lacrosse in 1971 (among current ACC members, only Notre Dame doesn't hold a title; all other members have won at least two) -- is incomparable in college sports. All of this leads to an important question: In an atmosphere of unexplored circumstances, who can possibly survive?


Underlying background information -- team and league storylines -- that structures the plot.


Duke 72.91% 2
Maryland 72.29% 3
Syracuse 71.97% 4
Notre Dame 71.68% 5
Virginia 71.06% 6
North Carolina 67.79% 9


  • Duke's existence in 2014 turns on two items: (1) The recalibration of the Devils' offensive midfield; and (2) John Danowski remaining a sorcerer. With respect to the first item, Duke losses two first-line options from 2013 (David Lawson and Jake Tripucka), two cats that were timely performers and senior contributors that combined for 101 points last season and generated value in both their goal-scoring ability and their penchant for finding opportunities to move the ball. Josh Offit has also departed from Duke's second-line midfield, a steadying factor that kept Deemer Class and Myles Jones on track in their development. Consequently, Duke is facing a situation where it is building a midfield rotation around a converted attackman (Christian Walsh), two sophomores that will carry a heavier load in 2014, and a host of options that haven't been put in a position -- at Duke -- to contribute at an elevated level. Icky. With respect to the second item: Danowski practices black magic and will probably find a way to not only make this work, but make it work perfectly.


  • The story of the Terps in 2014 is the volume of freshman that will be asked to sustain Maryland's offensive efforts, but those freshmen will not operate in a vacuum. Thanks to a defense that should rank among the nation's best -- few teams will return a defensive unit that will feature elite individual talents like Niko Amato (G), Goran Murray (D), Casey Ikeda (D), and Michael Ehrhardt (D) -- the Terrapins' offense shouldn't have crushing pressure put upon them to generate buckets of goals in order to keep the margin on the scoreboard manageable. The luxury of having a capable defense -- and Charlie Raffa tilting the possession margin in Maryland's favor due to his competence at the dot -- provides a level of structure for Maryland to work within. As long as the Terps' defense maintains its form from last year, that unit could drag Maryland toward success even if the team's offense sputters (much like it did in the sunset of the 2013 season). Relying on freshman is always dangerous, but the team's veteran leadership on the back end could mitigate some of those concerns.

North Carolina

  • It all came together for the Tar Heels in 2013: A team that had trouble finding a defensive identity and connected execution accelerated its performance in that area of play and showed tremendous improvement; a team with a history of making the scoreboard blink uncontrollably carried forward that level of play and assaulted the competition. The only thing that was missing for North Carolina last season was what has been eluding the program since 1993: A trip to Championship Weekend. The decade-long drought that the 'Heels have experienced relative to college lacrosse's biggest event is, to paraphrase former Boston mayor Thomas Menino, an Alcatraz around North Carolina's neck. The Tar Heels will enter 2014 with only minimal important losses -- Marcus Holman (A); Davey Emala (M); and Kieran McDonald (D) -- and are positioned well to replicate the team's performance from a season ago. The issue for the 'Heels, though, is whether the team can bust through the wall that has prevented them from holding a place among the national elite and finally chase down the team's fifth championship.

Notre Dame

  • Is this the season that the Irish finally -- finally! -- feature an offense that complements Gerry Byrne's soul-crushing defense? Notre Dame, almost impossibly, has found success over the last four seasons despite putting together an average offensive performance since 2010 that ranks just 27th in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency. The gap between the team's offensive and defensive performances has bitten the Irish in spots, and without a focused offensive effort in 2014 the team could struggle to discover wins in a stacked ACC (not to mention the team's overall schedule, an agenda that should finish the year ranked among the nation's strongest). Important assets are in place for Notre Dame -- Matt Kavanagh is an elite talent; Jim Marlatt is an undervalued midfielder; and Conor Doyle came into his own in 2013 -- but the team needs stronger supporting efforts from those in those three players' orbits. A major factor in the Irish's offensive efforts this coming spring may turn on how well Notre Dame shoots -- the team shot just 27.13 percent last season, 33rd nationally. It's not a catastrophic situation for Notre Dame, but improvement on the offensive end is a major factor in the Irish's pursuit for continued success in 2014.


  • The Orange are as deep and talented as any in the nation, but John Desko and his assistants may be facing a crisis of decision on the offensive end: With a battalion of potential starters, how will Syracuse organize its midfield and attack? It's kind of like the difference between living in the sticks and living in the big city: The former only has about two pizza joints that will deliver on a Friday night; the latter allows you to choose between about 50 pizza places and 10,000 other restaurants that will deliver a live cow with a party hat to your house if you tip enough. Finding the right chemistry among the dozen or so offensive players that Syracuse will work with this season is the biggest issue that the Orange will face in 2014, despite the fact that Syracuse maintains elite offensive talent at attack and in the midfield.


  • For the Cavaliers, much of the team's ceiling could be dictated by the play Virginia gets from the crease. A solid case can be made that the 'Hoos' struggles in the crease -- primarily between Rhody Heller and Dan Marino -- was the biggest reason that the Cavaliers couldn't reach their potential in 2013. Heller and Marino return this spring for Virginia, but the Cavs also could throw Matt Barrett -- according to Inside Lacrosse, the top-rated incoming goalie recruit for 2014 -- into the fire to try and stabilize Virginia's situation in the circle. Regardless, goaltending play remains a pressing concern for the Wahoos this year, and the team's ceiling could remain limited if Virginia can't improve on its 2013 efforts between the pipes:
    Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 27.50 59
    Team Save Percentage 48.03% 53
    Shots per Defensive Opportunity 0.95 7
    Raw Defensive Shooting Rate 31.23% 55
    Defensive Assist Rate 16.76 30
    Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 27.65 17
    Strength of Schedule: Opposing Offenses Faced 33.10 1


Four important conference games that will define the discussion.

  • GAME I: Syracuse at Duke -- March 23rd

  • GAME II: North Carolina at Duke -- March 15th

  • GAME III: Virginia at Maryland -- March 30th

  • GAME IV: Maryland at Notre Dame -- April 19th


Illustrating the landscape of the universe.

Due to the fact that the league maintains leveraged competitiveness throughout, it's hard to predict what the conference will look like in late-April. The ability to move from the bottom of the table to the top in just a few games is pronounced. Consequently, any faith around a prediction disappears immediately.

1. Duke
2. Syracuse
3. North Carolina
4. Virginia
5. Maryland
6. Notre Dame