Saturday features two games that will determine who will play in the ACC championship game. Unlike other conferences, the ACC does not have an AQ, but the conference will still place at least three teams in the NCAA tournament. North Carolina will face Virginia and then Duke will square off with Notre Dame:
#5 North Carolina (8-6) vs. #1 Virginia (11-3)
The fifth-seeded Tar heels stunned Syracuse with a furious comeback on Thursday night, extending North Carolina’s hopes at reaching the NCAA tournament. The Carolina freshmen dazzled against the Orange, with Nicky Solomon (19,9) and Jacob Kelly (10,6) both posting behind the back goals. Will Perry (22,4) and Matt Gavin (5,2) also posted solid performances for the Heels. Heading into their game against Virginia, Joe Breschi will need stellar goaltending from freshman Caton Johnson (58%) against the talented Virginia offense. An unknown going into this game is the status of Virginia star Michael Kraus (29,22), who has not played since last time these two teams met on April 6th. If Kraus does not play, Virginia will have to rely on All-ACC selections Matt Moore (34,25) and Dox Aitken (31,6) to break down the inconsistent North Carolina defense. North Carolina does counter with the experienced senior LSM Jack Rowlett, but they have tended to struggle against high quality opponents in the ACC. North Carolina is playing for its season, and a loss will pretty much end their season. A win however would solidly put them in contention for an at-large bid, with wins already over Duke and Syracuse. Virginia is already a lock for an at-large, and loss would only effect their seeding in the NCAA tournament. The winner will play in the ACC Championship game on May 4th.
#3 Notre Dame (7-5) vs. #2 Duke (11-3)
The second semifinal game features a similar narrative as the first, with one team safe in the NCAA tournament and the other solidly on the bubble. John Danowski has once again proven himself to be one of the best at maximizing his team’s potential, and despite losses to Syracuse and North Carolina, Duke is always dangerous in a tournament field. The Blue Devils are led offensively by Joe Robertson (33,15) and Brad Smith (22,21), but their true stars are the defensive duo of Cade Van Raaphorst and JT Giles-Harris. These two have proven to be amongst the best in nation, evidenced by both of them receiving All-ACC honors. They will prove a tough test for Notre Dame’s Brendan Gleason (23,10) and Bryan Costabile (31,3), and the Fighting Irish will need a whole team effort to beat Duke. Notre Dame has been plagued by inconsistency this season, and they haven’t won consecutive games since the beginning of March. They have a solid cast of role players like SSDM Drew Schantz and freshman Griffin Westlin (3,6), and they can rely on a solid defensive scheme from defensive coordinator Gerry Byrne. If Notre Dame shows up to play, they can beat Duke and prolong their season, but a loss would probably keep them out of the NCAA tournament. Duke is solidly in the field, and a loss would likely drop them out of the conversation for a top 3 seed in the NCAA bracket. The winner will play the victor of the North Carolina-Virginia game next weekend in the ACC Championship game.