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NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Tournament Quarterfinal Preview: (1) North Carolina vs Rutgers

It’s the long awaited first ACC-Big Ten matchup of the year. Can the Tar Heels get to their first Final Four since winning it all in 2016, or can Rutgers keep their memorable season going all the way?

Sydney Schwartz/Rutgers Athletics

The 10,000 Foot View

Date and Time: 2:30 PM ET

Location: James M. Shuart Stadium, Hempstead, New York

Network: ESPNU

LaxRef Win Probability: 61.0% North Carolina

Your Anticipation Level: Palpable

The Nitty-Gritty Numbers

North Carolina vs Rutgers

THE STATS North Carolina Rutgers
THE STATS North Carolina Rutgers
Adjusted Offensive Eff. 42.5% (1st) 37.1% (3rd)
Adjusted Defensive Eff. 27.8% (25th) 24.7% (7th)
Adjusted FO% 60.1% (13th) 42.2% (49th)
Clearing Percentage 88.9% (9th) 89.2% (7th)
Ground Balls Per Game 35.64 (6th) 29.67 (40th)

The Key Match-Ups

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

Carolina Ride vs Rutgers Clear

  • The Tar Heels ride is the most ferocious and dangerous in the country. Rutgers hasn’t seen anything like the Carolina ride because there is nothing like the Carolina ride. Their attack is relentless and in the middle of the field they have Will Bowen and Matt Wright and Connor Maher who can cause you a host of problems and throw some ferocious checks. The Rutgers clear though is brilliant. Colin Kirst throws the best outlet passes in the country, and RU’s ability to move the ball out of their end in two to three passes or fewer should be put on a DVD clip for college and high school teams at all levels. It’s a real power on power matchup. However from the Rutgers perspective it may be the most important matchup of the entire game and decide the outcome completely. The pressure is on them in this regard. Carolina is almost assuredly going to dominate faceoffs. They win it at 60% to Rutgers 42%, and Rutgers, unlike their Big Ten counterpart Maryland who has hovered around 50% but finds extra possessions throughout the game, has a -22 possession margin total on the year. So it is imperative that the Scarlet Knights don’t give up any more possessions than they already will off the faceoffs. They have to protect the ball and get as many chances and don’t give UNC’s high powered offense any second chances. But on the flip side, if Rutgers can break through the UNC ride and clear it as efficiently as they usually do...that could lead to some real transition opportunities for them. We know how deadly the Knights transition game can be, they scored about half of their goals in the transition and early offense vs Lehigh. But it’s an earlier game this year I go back too. In their first meeting with Maryland in College Park, the Terps tried to ride Rutgers hard in the first half. They pressed out and defended to midfield. Rutgers broke it. And when they broke it, they had numerous odd man rushes and fast break opportunities where they out numbered the Terps and executed with deadly efficiency. If Carolina rides as hard as usual, and Rutgers can break it, there will be those same opportunities for the Scarlet Knights. And if they can rack up three to four transition goals in that way, or five to six like they did vs Lehigh, those could go a long way to seeing Rutgers have their hands raised in celebration on Saturday evening in Hempstead.