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The Most Important Matchups of the NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals

What are the matchups that will decide who plays on Memorial Day Weekend? Check them out here

NCAA LACROSSE: MAY 27 NCAA Lacrosse Championships Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last week we took at three of the biggest matchups of the first round - Georgetown defense vs Syracuse offense, Denver offensive midfield vs Loyola defensive midfield, Lehigh clear vs Rutgers ride - with each matchup having varying degrees of impact - from extremely important in Georgetown vs Cuse to not so much in Lehigh vs Rutgers - in terms of the final outcome of the game. Today we’re going to look at one big matchup for each of the four Quarterfinal matchups to see how they could impact who is going to East Hartford for Championship Weekend

Georgetown Clear vs Virginia Ride

  • The Hoyas clear it at an 89.7% clip, a sterling mark that is good for 5th in the country and 2nd best amongst teams remaining in the NCAA Tournament. However we have seen them struggle with more of a ferocious and challenging ride this season. In one of their only two losses on the year, against Denver back in March, they blew four clears and struggled against Denver’s 10-man ride, often resorting to chucking shots against the empty cage. In the second matchup against the Pios they cut it down to only two, but had a whopping *seven* in the Big East Championship game. Virginia will ride in a different manner, with relentlessness from their attack, but they have athletes in the middle of the field that the Hoyas just haven’t seen this year. How that athleticism impacts the Georgetown clear and their usual failsafes of a Zach Geddes or Dylan Hess punt return clear will be fascinating to watch. As we brought up on the Crossecast, Virginia’s ability to cause failed clears and create second chance opportunities often leads to goals, and often to “hidden goals”, that turn what otherwise should be a three to four goal deficit based on how the Cavs are playing into just a one to two goal one (this was perfectly illustrated in the Bryant game on Saturday), which is a big part in so many of Virginia’s comeback wins in recent years. If the Hoyas clear successfully, they have the advantage in the settled six-on-six and will win this game. But if Virginia finds those hidden goals and builds an extended possession advantage, that’s where their athletes grind you down in the fourth quarter.

Chris Gray vs Jaryd Jean-Felix

  • Rutgers defense is a very, very underrated unit. We’ve said it all year long here. The Knights have hovered around the Top 10 in adjusted defensive efficiency all year long, currently settling in 7th. They dominated Lehigh in the first game of the tournament, holding them to a meager five goals and winning all of the one-on-one matchups. They’re very much a greater than the sum of their parts unit, with a solid group of poles in Jean-Felix, Bobby Russo, and Garrett Bullitt who don’t make mistakes and then a group of very athletic short stick defensive midfielders in Brennan Kamish and Cole Daninger. This has served them well in many of their games this year; there’s only been two games this year where they were above 30% in adjusted defensive efficiency. One of those? A 42% showing by Maryland in College Park. The Terps fleeced Rutgers offensively in that one. How did they do it? Well one way was that while Jean-Felix is a really good defender - he dominated Cole Kirst in their matchup last week - he’s not an elite cover man and when pressed against other elite attackmen, he can struggle. That’s what happened that afternoon against Jared Bernhardt, who toasted Jean-Felix for a whopping six goals and an assist. There’s only one Bernhardt, but Chris Gray is as close as it gets. The Tar Heels like the Terps will move the ball a lot and seek to find open shooters or cutters inside for great shots, but Gray will isolate on his man and dodge and create mismatches, as well as nail outside shots to keep his man honest as well. If he does to Jean-Felix what Bernhardt did, that’s where Rutgers defense being better than the sum of it’s parts falls off. The matchups will get tougher because of overextended slides to Gray that lead to bad recoveries and tons of open shooters for UNC. Jean-Felix needs to have the game of his life on Saturday. He’s not going to shut down Gray, but hold him to a modest day - a couple of goals and an assist - and keep everyone else more secure in their match-ups, and Rutgers will hold UNC to a total that with their offense they feel they can match. But if you check the box score on Saturday evening and see a big crooked number in the “G” or “P” column next to Gray’s name; the Heels likely won big

Duke and Loyola Between the Lines

  • I felt tempted to go with the Blue Devils offensive midfield which I’ve had questions about all year and which had a tendency to go quiet in ACC play; but thought that cheating considering we addressed the Denver midfield vs the Hounds d middie group last week. So here we’re focusing on the matchup between the lines. Duke’s weakness this year has been a mundane clearing unit at just 85%, a curiously low ground ball total for a dominant faceoff team, a lack of riding, and as Quint Kessenich has pointed out this past week, a tendency to sub off tons of players on the offensive and defensive sides and try to play as much 6-on-6 settled lacrosse as possible. This is not a team with a great short stick defensive midfield group or the athletes in the middle of the field that UNC or Virginia or Maryland have. Loyola meanwhile excels in these areas. They clear it at 91%, the best clip in the country. They will ride. In Payton Razanka and Matt Higgins they have two great shorties. Loyola needs to make this a track meet. They have to push transition and they have to cause havoc in the middle of the field on Duke’s clear. Trap the Blue Devils offensive midfielders on defense. Don’t let them sub off the way they want. If this is a settled 6-on-6 game the way Duke wants it, they’ll win. They have the better offense and close defense. But the more this game comes down to transition chances and failed clears and ground balls in the middle of the field, the more Loyola has a chance. Loyola has dictate the terms of engagement in between the lines to give themselves their shot to win

Pat Kavanagh vs Brett Makar

  • It doesn’t get much better than this. First Team All-American vs First Team All-American. Tewaaraton nominee vs possible Schmeisser Award winner. Kavanagh is as electrifying as anyone when he gets going, with his tremendous blend of vision and freewheeling creativity around the cage. He’s 3rd in the country in points per game. Makar is the best pure cover man in the country alongside Kavanagh’s teammate Jack Kielty. He erases X attackmen such as Kieran Mullins (0 goals and 1 assist in the Terps rematch with Rutgers in Piscataway) and Connor DeSimone (0 goals, 0 assists, 0 shots, 2 turnovers) in the Big Ten Championship Game. Kavanagh will be his toughest assignment. When Kavanagh has six point games and is making incredible plays around the cage for goals it sets everything up for his teammates with his tremendous vision. However when he is held in check the way Sean Quinn of Drexel - plus the rest of the Dragons defense - did on Saturday, the Irish offense can go quiet. They don’t have another dodger who can unbalance a defense in the same way. They’re not going to draw slides consistently outside of Kavanagh. And they become much easier to defend. Compare that to the flip side matchup of Bernhardt and Kielty. Even if Kielty can manage on Bernhardt; Kyle Long can be extremely dangerous as a dodger and passer with his speed. Bubba Fairman still commands attention due to his athleticism and Logan Wisnauskas will punish any short stick with his size. There’s more options for Maryland. For Notre Dame, Kavanagh is the hub. They feed off his creativity and the juice he can create. If Makar keeps him quiet, the rest of that elite Terps defense will feel comfortable. If he’s having a big day, the game will be right where the Irish want it.