Welcome to...April. For now.
There’s 10 conferences and 10 conference tournaments. Nine of them will get started next weekend, when the calendar turns to May. The lone one that gets an early start is the ACC Championship, which introduces a new format this year.
All five teams make it, with the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds playing in the opening round Thursday night before playing the top seed Saturday afternoon. The winners of the two semifinal matchups will meet the following Saturday at the site of the higher seed. Weird, but we’re gonna have to deal with it. And since there’s only five teams, the winner of the ACC Tournament doesn’t receive an automatic qualifier. It doesn’t hurt them, but it does hurt potential teams that are on the bubble.
Below is what the bracket looks like, followed by short previews of the teams.
No. 1: Virginia Cavaliers
Virginia has the luxury of not only being the top seed in the conference tournament and a chance of hosting the ACC title game at Klöckner Stadium, but also don’t have to play an extra game along with Duke and Notre Dame. However, is it an advantage or disadvantage that they have to wait a few more days to find out their opponent in the semifinal? Probably would be much nicer to know who your opponent is the week of rather than two days before the game. But they’re both conference foes so it shouldn’t be a huge problem.
- OFFENSIVE PLAYER TO WATCH: With a move down from midfield to attack, Matt Moore has had a huge breakthrough season with the Cavaliers. While Ian Laviano is the known finisher at attack, Moore is another balanced threat that joins Michael Kraus as a talented 1-2 combo.
- DEFENSIVE PLAYER TO WATCH: UVA’s defense isn’t the most talented unit, but one guy that will have a big task this tournament is LSM Jared Conners. The junior leads the Cavaliers with 21 caused turnovers and is one of the top long poles in the country. Look for him to be paired up against either Jamie Trimboli of Syracuse or Timmy Kelly of North Carolina, depending on who wins.
- VIRGINIA WINS IF: Alex Rode can provide two outstanding performances in goal. He’s definitely capable of keeping the Cavaliers in high-scoring affairs, but will also need some support from his close defensemen. Also, UVA could get a big boost if Petey LaSalla continues to dominate at the faceoff X and guys like Ryan Conrad can win 50-50 ground balls.
No. 2: Duke Blue Devils
Looking at nearly playing in the opening round a week ago, the Blue Devils can thank their opponents for giving them one less game to play in. After falling to North Carolina, Duke made a change to their starting lineup, moving Brad Smith back up to midfield and putting Sean Lowrie at attack. The Blue Devils have won their last three games, scored 10 or more goals in each of the wins, and it’s opened up Nakeie Montgomery more with the short stick defender on him.
- OFFENSIVE PLAYER TO WATCH: Smith is now their best option, with Joe Robertson also a threat at attack. But I would keep my eye on Montgomery and see how he does, even with playing Notre Dame for the second time in three weeks. Could he see a pole again with the Fighting Irish potentially double poling?
- DEFENSIVE PLAYER TO WATCH: I don’t like to cheat, and even though Duke has two really good defensemen, the temptation to cheat is high. But I won’t. So I’m going with Cade Van Raaphorst. Van Raaphorst and JT Giles-Harris compliment each other very well, but Van Raaphorst has the ability to cover some of the best players on offense and limit their production.
- DUKE WINS IF: Smith can free up the rest of his offensive players who can then contribute on offense. The Duke offense has looked different in a positive way with Smith moving up to midfield. He looks like the Brad Smith of old. This is one of the more complete teams in college lacrosse, and John Danowski knows what it takes to get to Championship Weekend.
No. 3: Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Despite being in the top 20 for most of the season, Notre Dame is 7-5 on the year and is a bubble team. They do have some good wins against Maryland and Syracuse, and their losses outside of Richmond are also good in terms of RPI. But the Fighting Irish haven’t looked very convincing with the exception of Bryan Costabile and probably Brendan Gleason (who wore No. 40 last game against UNC). Notre Dame is probably safely in with a win, but could be in some trouble if they lose to Duke.
- OFFENSIVE PLAYER TO WATCH: The most obvious answer is Costabile. He’s taken hold of the Irish offense with Ryder Garnsey academically ineligible for the season and leads the team with 31 goals. Him and Gleason are Notre Dame’s two biggest threats.
- DEFENSIVE PLAYER TO WATCH: He was the top incoming defenseman last year and now Arden Cohen has taken over as the top defensive option for the Fighting Irish. For a team that’s known for their defense, Cohen looks to become the next great Notre Dame defender with Gerry Byrne leading that unit.
- NOTRE DAME WINS IF: The offense explodes and whoever is in goal (Matt Schmidt or John Zullo) can put together two good outings. Last year, Notre Dame’s offense looked nearly unstoppable after beating Duke and Virginia. It will take a lot more to replicate that performance this year.
No. 4 : Syracuse Orange
After a tough start to their season, Syracuse has rebounded in a thunderous way. They’re winners of four straight and the defense has emerged as one of the team’s strengths. A healthy Stephen Rehfuss has helped bolster the attack unit, while Nick Mellen, Brett Kennedy, Peter Dearth, and Drake Porter are the focal points of the strong Orange d.
- OFFENSIVE PLAYER TO WATCH: Syracuse has four players with at least 30 points and a fifth with 29. I’d say that’s a very balanced offense. And they share the ball as well. Since the Virginia game, Rehfuss has scored a point in every game and had multi-point efforts in all but one (the Notre Dame loss). 18 points in the last four games is a great sign of what could come from the Orange.
- DEFENSIVE PLAYER TO WATCH: There are many guys that could be picked. Mellen is one of the best cover defenders in the country. Kennedy and Dearth are part of an exciting “rope” unit that can also add a punch on transition. But I’ll focus in on Porter, the goalie. He’s recorded double-digit save figures in every game except the Notre Dame loss and is able to stop some tremendous shots on cage. I also like how he’s a vocal leader in front of the net and has a passion to learn more about the sport.
- SYRACUSE WINS IF: The defense continues their stellar play all-around. They’ve limited their opponents to under 10 goals in five of their last six games and it’s easily the best defense the program has had in a while. As for offense, keep up the balanced production. The starting six is making big contributions and a seventh in nearly Jacob Buttermore is close to 20 points while on the second midfield line.
No. 5: North Carolina Tar Heels
Outside of an upset win over Duke, North Carolina hasn’t been that impressive this season. It took them most of the season to find a goaltender in front of a senior close defense trio, while the attack and midfield have plenty of young talent. Their tournament chances are very slim, but a run in the conference tournament could change everything for them.
- OFFENSIVE PLAYER TO WATCH: There’s only one 30-point scorer and that’s senior midfielder Timmy Kelly. Similar to Notre Dame, I don’t see multiple threats on offense outside of Kelly and probably Nicky Solomon. UNC has talented players, but Kelly will have to step up if North Carolina wants to play into May.
- DEFENSIVE PLAYER TO WATCH: The best player on UNC besides the late surge of Caton Johnson has been defenseman Jack Rowlett. North Carolina’s only PLL draft pick, he leads the team with 22 caused turnovers, 12 more than his fellow close defensemen counterparts Jake Peden and Michael Nathan. With Van Raaphorst, Giles-Harris, and Mellen getting the credit and spotlight, the senior is the one that often is forgotten.
- NORTH CAROLINA WINS IF: Johnson stands on his head for three straight games and some of their offensive guys get going. Can Tanner Cook get on a hot streak on the second midfield line? Can players like Matt Gavin and Brian Cameron step up and help out the starting six? Can Zac Tucci get an edge in faceoff draws?
2019 All-ACC Men’s Lacrosse Team
A – Michael Kraus, Virginia
A – Brendan Gleason, Notre Dame
A – Matt Moore, Virginia
A – Nate Solomon, Syracuse
M – Bryan Costabile, Notre Dame
M – Brad Smith, Duke
M – Ryan Conrad, Virginia
M – Brendan Curry, Syracuse
M – Dox Aitken, Virginia
D – Nick Mellen, Syracuse
D – JT Giles-Harris, Duke
D – Jack Rowlett, North Carolina
D – Cade Van Raaphorst, Duke
SSDM – John Prendergast, Duke
SSDM – Peter Dearth, Syracuse
LSM – Brett Kennedy, Syracuse
FOGO – Charlie Leonard, Notre Dame
G – Drake Porter, Syracuse