We’re at the stage of the college lacrosse season where every game has huge conference tournament and NCAA tournament implications. While #3 Duke hosting #2 Virginia only plays into NCAA tournament seeding, as both of these teams have done enough to lock up their spots, it should still be a must watch game on Saturday.

The rest of the field has a lot more to play for than just seeding and bragging rights. Boston University’s tilt against #20 Loyola is huge for both teams as Loyola is currently on the bubble, and Boston University could position themselves on the bubble if they can win out. Army hosting Cornell is the last non-conference matchup for both teams and represents each teams last chance at picking up a high RPI win. North Carolina just about “punches their ticket” for an at large bid if they can beat Syracuse on Saturday, and for the Orange, their only hope of staying a live and getting a potential at large bid will require a W on Saturday against the Heels.

Moral of the story, there are a lot of very important lacrosse games being played this weekend, but I’ll dive a bit more into the games I’m featuring in this episode.

#2 Virginia vs #3 Duke

There aren’t any playoff implications in this one.  No must win scenarios in order to get either of these teams an at large.  Duke and Virginia have as solid of resumes as anyone in the country, and both are guaranteed tournament bids at this point.

So in this one, it comes down to being a conference rivalry.  Duke beat Virginia a couple of weeks ago in Charlottesville.  Duke has owned Virginia since 2014 as the Blue Devils are 9-0 against the Cavs over the last 10 seasons.  VIRGINIA’S ONLY WIN came in the NCAA tournament where Virginia took Duke down by a goal on their way to winning the national title over Yale.

It comes down to Brennan O’Neill and Connor Shellenberger.  Brower held Shellenberger to no goals in their last meeting.  Shellenberger had 3 assists, but they all came in extra man play, so Brower was technically perfect against Shelly. On the flip side, Brennan O’Neill put up 6 goals and 3 assists against UVA in the win.

I think that Virginia has the slightly deeper defense, but you can’t argue with what Brower did against Shellenberger so let’s call that a wash.  Both teams have capable goalies and both Naso and LaSalla are killers at the dot.  Petey got the better of Naso last time, so that will be a matchup to watch.  Duke picked up the win despite LaSalla getting the better of Naso.  If Naso flips the script on LaSalla in this matchup, things could be tough for Virginia.

Prediction:  Duke (by 1 or 2 goals)

#6 Cornell @ #7 Army

For this matchup, it’s going to be CJ Kirst and company doing battle on the road against Army an Army team that was expected by many to hang somewhere around #17 to #23 or so in terms of national ranking, but has nicely overachieved, picking up some solid wins in the process.

After the Black Knights lost to (then unranked) UMass in their season opener, I was thinking, OK, I was correct, Army will probably be one of the first teams to fall out of the top 20 and maybe not return.  But they followed that loss up with a win over #9 Rutgers and later in the season beat now #20 Loyola.  Lehigh is a top-25 team in terms of RPI sitting at #22, so that win is also solid.

What I’m saying is at 9-1, Army is slowly but surely looking like a legit Patriot League contender with matchups against Navy and Boston U. looming.

For Army, they are currently sitting at #19 in terms of RPIs they are officially on the bubble.  A win over Cornell would certainly raise that RPI quite a bit.  A loss to Cornell wouldn’t actually hurt Army all that badly so long as they handle their business and beat Navy and Boston U. in the upcoming weeks.  But at the moment, even at 9-1 Army isn’t guaranteed anything.  If they lose to Cornell and then turn around and lose to Navy and Boston U, the Black Knights are probably one of the first teams left out of the NCAA tournament.

For Cornell, their resume is a bit more solid and unlike Army, they don’t have anymore games against foes that would count as “bad losses” in terms of RPI.

With that said, The Ivy League teams aren’t enjoying the same RPI advantage they had a season ago, so every game still counts.  I think so long as the Big Red go 2-and-3 over these next 3 games, they will guarantee their ticket is punched as they have an RPI of 7 at the moment and they are playing well enough that I feel pretty confident they are capable of winning out.

CJ Kirst has been on an absolute war path this season leading the nation in points per game (5.78) and goals per game (4.78). He’s only been below 5 points on 3 occasions this season and he’s had quality outings against some solid teams, 4g, 1a against Ohio State, 5g against Yale, 7g against Penn, 4g, 1a against Harvard.  The kid shows up game in and game out.

Beyond Cornell claiming the best player on the field, they also have the better goaltender in Chayse Ierlan and their faceoff duo of Angelo Petrakis and Jack Cascadden should fair well enough against Army’s Will Colletti that Army doesn’t have a gross possession advantage.

Prediction:  Cornell (by 3 to 5 goals)

#18 Ohio State vs #7 Johns Hopkins

Johns Hopkins has been as good as anyone this season.  Their three losses are all to solid teams, and they’ve picked up a slew of quality wins to help bolster their resume.  That loss last weekend to Penn State is going to sting and the Jay’s will likely be looking for blood against Ohio State this weekend in the friendly confines of Homewood field.

Ohio State is feeling pretty desperate at this stage after losing a heartbreaker at home to Maryland that included the now famous “shit move” out of Tillman.  Myers didn’t react well, looked like a big baby and blew a chance to take the high road (as Tillman did a few years ago vs Virginia when the goal that was not a goal sunk the Terps in the NCAA tournament).

So that is two losses in a row for the Buckeyes (Penn State and Maryland back to back) and they have Hopkins and Michigan on the road to close out their regular season.

An at large bid isn’t out of the question for OSU.  Win these last two games and pick up another quality win in the Big Ten tournament and they may have themselves a solid resume.  Right now they are one of Chris Jast’s “first four out”, but that could change if they can pick up a win this weekend and handle business against Michigan next week.

Hopkins is sitting on a #4 RPI ranking at the moment so I’d imagine their ticket is pretty much punched.  Nothing would please the Jay’s more than winning out and then winning the Big Ten making sure they close as many doors on the post season as they possibly can for their conference foes.

For this one, both teams goalies are streaky.  I give a slight edge to Hopkins and Tim Marcille because he’s been a touch more consistent and Skylar Wahlund is coming off two rough outings.

Big edge goes to Ohio State’s faceoff crew of Drew Blanchard and Matthew Fritz who have been splitting time at the dot making it tough for teams to get into a groove.

But it’s the Johns Hopkins offense that I like in this one and I think that the way Jacob Angelus, Russell Melendez and Garrett Degnon have been playing should be enough to help Hopkins pull out a victory at home.

Prediction:  Johns Hopkins (by 2 to 4 goals)

#20 Loyola vs Boston U.

Boston U. was my pre-season favorite to win the Patriot, and despite losing to Vermont in their season opener, they had put together a resume that made me believe that was probably still a very good possibility.

They beat Bryant, UMass and Harvard en route to a 7-1 start.  But losses to Navy and now Yale have the Terriers reeling a little bit heading into this tilt versus #20 Loyola on Saturday.  Those two losses have dragged the Boston U RPI enough that an at large bid isn’t likely without winning their last 3 games.  Their RPI is currently 29th.  With Loyola (#20), Lehigh (#22) and Army (#19) all boasting higher RPI’s than Boston U, they have three shots at improving that number and improving their chance of an at-large bid.

For Loyola, they are sitting at #20 in the nation and #20 in RPI.  The Patriot League tournament can go to anyone at this point so both of these teams are likely viewing this game as a near must win for both confidence, for improving their conference tournament seed, and for trying to eek that RPI up high enough they could potentially get an at large bid if they fail to win their tournament.

The issue, with all of the top Patriot League contenders hanging out with an RPI of 19 or greater, there aren’t a whole lot of chances left to greatly boost that number.

Chris Jastrzembski did a great job putting together the current state of the playoffs (if the season were to end today) and Loyola was one of the last two teams in.  It was them and North Carolina, so at the moment, they are walking the razors edge.

I think Loyola’s experience on defense is going to help them against an equally experienced offense on the Boston U side. So long as Matthew Minicus is in the lineup for the Greyhounds, this should be an absolute dogfight between two teams that have dog breeds as their mascots.

Loyola boasts the more effective goaltender in Luke Staudt (56% between the pipes to Matt Garbers 46%).  Boston U has an edge at the faceoff dot as Conor Calderone has been pretty solid this season hanging at 56%.

Even if Boston U gets the better of Loyola at the dot, I think the Loyola rope unit will help keep the possessions even with their play between the boxes, maybe even win some turnovers on lost draws.

Prediction:  Loyola (by 1 to 3 goals)

#11 North Carolina vs Syracuse

This game is a must win for both of these teams.  North Carolina is “seemingly” sitting pretty at the moment ranked #11 in the country and holding the #9 RPI ranking, HOWEVER, if they lose this game to Syracuse and Syracuse gets crazy and wins another game or two as selection Sunday approaches, that could put the selection committee in an odd spot where UNC could have an RPI worthy of a bid, but they have to pick between Syracuse and UNC.

MAKE NO MISTAKE, the odds are favoring UNC at the moment, both in this game, and in terms of tournament selection.  My point is simply, UNC’s fate is in their own hands.  Beat Syracuse on Saturday and they PRETTY MUCH LOCK UP AN AT LARGE.  With their final two games being against Notre Dame, even two losses probably won’t be enough to keep the Heels from dancing.

In cage, the advantage goes to Will Mark and Syracuse.  Collin Krieg is very good between the pipes, but Mark has been better on average this season with a 58% stop rate. Worth mentioning however, Mark has only been below 50% twice this season.  One of those games was in the loss to UNC.

Faceoff advantage would go to Andrew Tyeryar of Carolina, however, Jack Fine looked great for Syracuse last weekend, and the Orange faithful are hoping that maybe the uptick in reps for Fine could be what he needed to find a groove.  If Fine can win the bulk of the draws for Cuse as he did a week ago against Princeton, this game should look a lot different than their last meeting.

The Syracuse offense and defense have been more “efficient” overall than Carolina’s, but the Heel’s scrap and fight and had Syracuse’s number in the Dome in their first meeting.  But Syracuse’s backs are against the wall.  If they win, their hope for an at large bid is still alive.  If they lose, they’ll have to upset Virginia and Duke in back to back weekends to even have a shot, and it would still be a long shot at that.

As I said for Carolina, win this one, and you’re more than likely in.  So while Cuse will lean on the “injured dog” storyline for inspiration, Carolina has incentive enough in this one to come out and play both angry and fast as well.

Prediction:  Syracuse (by a goal in OT)

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