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The Weekend in Stick: Tougher Than It Is (Part I)

"The Weekend in Stick": It's exactly what it sounds like -- a recapitulation of this weekend's most notable. No doink.

Jim McIsaac

The more you try to qualify,
The more it all will pass you by.
-CAKE, "Tougher Than It Is"

Let's get to the big stories from the weekend.

The Ends of the Spectrum
Duke 15, Notre Dame 7
North Carolina 11, Virginia 10

With each of the ACC's six teams having one league date remaining on their schedules before the ACC Tournament, here's how the conference standings look *righthisverysecond*:

Maryland 3-1 Syracuse, Duke, Virginia North Carolina
Duke 3-1 North Carolina, Syracuse, Notre Dame Duke
North Carolina 2-2 Maryland, Virginia Duke, Notre Dame
Notre Dame 2-2 North Carolina, Virginia Syracuse, Duke
Syracuse 1-3 Notre Dame Maryland, Virginia, Duke
Virginia 1-3 Syracuse Notre Dame, Maryland, North Carolina

This league is leaking blood but in a good way: Every team has wounds, but none of these wounds are deadly to the degree that a coroner is necessary. Only Duke and Maryland are locked into the ACC Tournament at this point, which should accelerate the conference's possibilities as the league enters its final round of conference games.

  • Notre Dame at Duke: The most surprising result of the weekend was also the one that had the least doubt for most of the game. Duke, surging at the right time of the year, absolutely destroyed the Irish at Koskinen Stadium, building a seemingly insurmountable 6-2 lead at the half and stretching their advantage to 12-3 before the start of the fourth quarter. The Devils stymied an aggressive Notre Dame offense and did terrible, horrific things to the Irish's vaunted defense, slicing through Notre Dame's prestigious unit as if it were road cones signaling construction. What's scary about what Duke did to Notre Dame wasn't necessarily the complete effort that the Blue Devils put together but rather the monster that Duke is becoming: The team's starting midfield combined for 13 points against the Irish and has combined for 49 points in their last three games. A solid argument can be made that no team in the country is playing better ball than the Devils right now, and given John Danowski's track record in Durham, Duke's trajectory isn't likely to level at this point in the season. The Blue Devils are a brutal, complete team with all the assets necessary to embarrass some of the country's best teams, and Duke remains a legitimate threat for a deep and prosperous May adventure.
  • Virginia at North Carolina: Eight ties. Eight lead changes. The biggest lead that any team held on the day was only two goals (it happened twice). It was as close as a game could be without an overtime period:
    Offensive Opportunities 39 37
    Raw Offensive Efficiency 25.64 29.73
    Raw Offensive Shooting Rate 24.39% 30.56%
    Shots per Offensive Opportunity 1.05 0.97
    Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 43.59 35.14
    Run-of-Play Groundballs per 100 Total Possessions 28.95 25.00
    Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 35.14 28.21
    Team Save Percentage 54.17% 52.38%
    The story of the game will be Virginia's giveaway with a handful of seconds remaining in regulation on a failed clear, but it was Carolina's push with the clock ticking perilously close to triple zeros that ultimately dictated the outcome of the game. Down one with under three minutes to play, Steve Pontrello took a pass from Pat Foster -- who served in the role of a distributor against the Cavaliers -- and canned the bean to knot the game at 10 with 2:33 left in regulation. On the ensuing face-off, R.G. Keenan won the draw to himself, charged through the teeth of Virginia's defense, and put the ball past Matt Barrett -- who had 13 stops against the Heels' multi-dimensional offense -- to give North Carolina the 11-10 lead that it would not relinquish. Keenan's goal took only five seconds to generate and left a mere 2:28 on the clock to respond. The loss shrinks Virginia's opportunity to make the ACC Tournament to the point of virtual nothingness while the Tar Heels remain squarely in the discussion to earn a position in the field-proper.

Towson 6, Massachusetts 5
Drexel 13, Penn State 12 (3OT)

There's nothing pretty about THUNDERDOME!: Slashing throat gestures are necessarily gruesome. The league has sustained its character as the meanest league in the nation not because it lacks refinement but rather that it supports an angry tone that permeates the conference's games.

  • Towson at Massachusetts: It was a 40-possession land war that featured no goals in the fourth quarter, 11 total tallies, almost eight minutes of combined penalty time on eight total infractions, and stifling goalie play that rendered offensive output bare academic theory. This game created scars -- physical and emotional -- that are in-line with the predispositions of the two combatants, but the ones that each team's offenses incurred are the most notable given how Tyler White and Zach Oliveri played:

    Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 80.00 65.00
    Team Save Percentage 76.19% 68.42%
    A Michael Bay production this was not. It is, however, the epitome of THUNDERDOME!'s reality.
  • Penn State at Drexel: Mitch de Snoo's unassisted goal with 46 seconds remaining in the third overtime gave Drexel the win (the Dragons' third in a row as Drexel prepares for Massachusetts and Towson in consecutive weeks), but his goal did more than propel the Dragons up the THUNDERDOME! standings: It potentially crushed the Nittany Lions' hopes for postseason participation in 2014. After the loss to Drexel, Penn State is 4-6 and must win out -- the Lions have remaining games against Towson, Delaware, and Hofstra -- in order to maintain eligibility for NCAA Tournament consideration. Even if Penn State does run the table in its last three games, though, the Nittany Lions don't have much of a profile compared to other teams in the at-large pool: The team's RPI ranking is decidedly "meh," Penn State's strength of schedule isn't all that impressive, and there's only one real solid win the team can claim -- against Notre Dame. Otherwise, the Nittany Lions look like fungible drywall, a team with incredible potential that hasn't quite met its ceiling in 2014. There is no safety net for Penn State, and they're soaring through the air with the assumption that a hard landing will occur.

With Mutiny for All
Loyola 7, Navy 6 (2OT)
Lehigh 11, Colgate 7

One wasn't supposed to be as close as it was; the other was supposed to have an itty-bitty difference in the outcome.

Offensive Opportunities 34 36
Raw Offensive Efficiency 20.59 30.56
Raw Offensive Shooting Rate 33.33% 31.43%
Shots per Offensive Opportunity 0.62 0.97
Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 70.59 47.22
Run-of-Play Groundballs per 100 Total Possessions 32.86 31.43
Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 38.89 17.65
Team Save Percentage 56.00% 46.15%

Offensive Opportunities 31 28
Raw Offensive Efficiency 22.58 21.43
Raw Offensive Shooting Rate 19.44% 19.35%
Shots per Offensive Opportunity 1.16 1.11
Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities 35.48 50.00
Run-of-Play Groundballs per 100 Total Possessions 37.29 23.73
Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 32.14 45.16
Team Save Percentage 60.00% 66.67%

Conference play, everyone! Important notes about these two games:

  • Graham Savio won the opening face-off of the second overtime thanks to a Brian Sherlock groundball pick-up. Sherlock raced down the field, found Justin Ward on the left side, and Ward fed Brian Schultz across the crease to give Loyola its far-too-close win over the Midshipmen. The winner was Schultz's only goal of the game.
  • Navy held three two-goal leads against the Greyhounds, but after Loyola pulled square with the Midshipmen at five, the Midshipmen never again led the 'Hounds.
  • John Connors had big save after big save against Loyola's explosive offense, buoying Navy's defensive efforts against the nation's number one team.
  • It was a game of halves in Bethlehem. In the first, the Mountain Hawks built a small 5-4 advantage, basically trading goals with the Raiders from the opening whistle. In the second half, however, Lehigh exploded: A third quarter that saw the Hawks build a 9-5 advantage featured two Kurtis Kaunas tallies; the final period reflected alternating scoring with Colgate unable to eat into the cushion that Lehigh built in the penultimate quarter.
  • Lehigh held Ryan Walsh -- The Dumptruck -- to no points on just three shots. It's the second consecutive game that an opponent has shut Walsh out.

There is Only Zuul
St. Joseph's 9, Bryant 7
Harvard 14, Cornell 9

It's hard to look at these games and definitively say that these were "upsets." Cornell entered their date with Harvard undefeated, but the Big Red weren't the super team that college lacrosse has seen in the past, capable of running the table regardless of opponent or particular performance. St. Joseph's hasn't had a lot of heat around their efforts this season, but the Hawks have been fairly average -- that isn't a backhanded compliment; given the history of St. Joe's lacrosse, moving toward the middle of the country is an impressive display of development -- and were positioned fairly well to snap Bryant's seven-game winning streak. These results aren't proof that the Bulldogs or Red are frauds -- far from it, actually -- nor are these results proof that the Crimson or Hawks are elite teams. They are, in function, indicia that Division I lacrosse is a bonkers place where opportunity often breeds dissonance in expectations.

Both the Hawks and Crimson needed to overcome long-ish odds to earn their wins, but both teams were more than capable of coming away with wins before the games started. The national landscape is volatile, and the isolated nature of these outcomes must be considered in the whole. In other words, poo falling from the sky is a reasonable weather pattern these days.