We have a bunch of incredible games popping off this weekend, starting with big time conference rivalry games on Friday with Michigan vs Rutgers, Virginia vs North Carolina, Navy vs Loyola and Maryland vs Ohio State. On Saturday the solid in-conference matchups continue. The big one of the weekend, #1 Duke vs #2 Notre Dame in South Bend. Penn State hosts Hopkins and many more.

#1 Duke vs #2 Notre Dame (Saturday)

I didn’t talk about the Duke/Virginia game from last Friday because I’m an idiot, but if I did, what I would have said was the following…

Kenny Brower is very, very good at playing close defense.

This has been apparent all season, but in Duke’s matchup with Virginia last Friday, Brower played one of the best attackmen in the country, Connor Shellenberger, to no goals.  Shellenberger had 3 assists on the day, but they were all on extra man goals, so they don’t count against Brower.  In one-on-one situations, Brower held Shelly to a big fat goose egg. He held Levi Anderson of Saint Joseph’s to 0 points the week prior (and only 2 shots).

Brower as good of a cover guy as there is in the country.  He’s strong.  He can cover ground.  He literally didn’t factor in the scorebook on Friday against UVA outside of a 1-minute penalty.  What he did was better.  He stopped a 1st-team All American from scoring any points every time his number was called upon.

How does that factor for Notre Dame?

Browser will almost for sure be covering Pat Kavanagh on Saturday and Brower and the Duke defense are going to want revenge.  Duke lost to Notre Dame twice a season ago by a combined 3 goals.  Pat Kavanagh had 7 points (3g, 4a) in their first meeting and 5 points (1g, 4a) in their second.  Browser is playing the best lacrosse of his career at the moment which is saying something, so the Blue Devils will hope that continues on Saturday against the Irish.

For Notre Dame, They’re The King Of Runs.

Down 12-11 against Syracuse early in the 4th quarter, Notre Dame went on a monster run. The run consisted of 9 goals, 7 faceoff wins and only one Liam Entenmann save.  It was the epitome of “make it, take it” lacrosse.

The Irish had a 7-goal run against Michigan and a 9-goal run against Ohio State.  That’s pretty impressive.

Enter Duke’s Jake Naso.

The issue on Saturday for Notre Dame is a dude named Jake Naso.  Naso is winning 62% at the faceoff dot and has 4 goals and 2 assists to go with 92 groundballs.  Runs are going to be hard for Notre Dame to come by because Naso will make it so.

Prediction: Duke (by 2-4 goals)

I think Notre Dame could absolutely win this game, but when you look how good Duke’s offense is playing mixed with how well Jake Naso is playing in terms of winning them extra possessions, it’s hard to pick against the Blue Devils.

For Notre Dame to pull out a W, I think Lynch has to be able to keep level with Naso, or Notre Dame will have to force some turnovers between the boxes in the riding game.

#3 Virginia vs #9 North Carolina (Friday)

Connor Shellenberger won’t have a lockdown defender beating him up hanging at the same caliber as Brower, although the UNC defense is fairly capable.

Shellenberger Should Have a Big Game.

In two meetings against UNC last season, Shellenberger produced a mixed bag.  In their first meeting, a closer game that UVA one, Shellenberger put up 7 points (4g, 3a).  In their second meeting, an 11-4 Virginia win, Shellenberger only had 2 points (1g, 1a), but the scoring was fairly spread out in that one other than Cormier going off for 4 goals.

I don’t think Carolina will be as capable of quieting Shellenberger and I think he’ll go for somewhere in the area of 4 or 5 points on the day.

Edge Goes To Virginia At The Dot.

Andrew Tyeryar hasn’t been bad for Carolina at times, but no question, Petey LaSalla is the man, winning 59% of his draws on the year with 81 groundballs and 6 goals.  If UNC is going to win this game they’ll need to do a good job mixing it up at the dot with Petey.  Turn a couple of his wins into turnovers and you’re in the ballgame.

Edge Goes To Carolina In Cage.

Nunes was very good against Maryland and Notre Dame leading into Virginia’s loss to Duke where he finished below 47% between the pipes. Krieg is the reverse.  He had back to back rough outings against Duke and Dartmouth, but has been lights out in their last two games against High Point and Providence (61% and 69% respectively).  So Krieg is coming into this game with a fair bit of confidence after some solid outings.

Prediction:  Virginia (by 4 to 6 goals)

I like what Carolina has done so far this season, but the UVA offense has a marked advantage over the less deep UNC group.  Couple that with the fact that Virginia is loaded almost everywhere else as well and I think that is a recipe for a Cav’s win.  I think the fact the Heel’s have been here a million times will allow them to hang, but Virginia’s depth will win out.

#5 Maryland vs #17 Ohio State (Friday)

Maryland is coming off a loss to Michigan (who earned themselves a #16 ranking for the effort), and Ohio State got embarrassed by Penn State on the road.  Both teams badly need this win to improve their NCAA tournament resume because the Big Ten is anyone’s tournament.

Goaltending Edge To Maryland

Ohio State’s Skylar Wahlund has been in the 30’s three of the last four games. Ohio State was 1-2 in the three games he was below 40 percent.

For the Terps, Brian Ruppel has been far more consistent. He’s been below 50 percent over his last two outings, but was above 50 percent the prior two. Ruppel is 3-1 over his last four with the loss coming last weekend to Michigan. 

Ohio State Needs Jack Meyers To Show Up

Jack Meyers has been quiet compared to a season ago. Meyers dropped 83 points over 16 games in 2022, 5.18 points per game. This season he has 31 points over 10 games, just 3.1 points per game. In the preseason all of my thoughts on how good Ohio State could be hinged on Myers having a near Tewaaraton finalist season, and he hasn’t delivered at that level.

Doesn’t mean he won’t drop 6 points on Maryland on Saturday, but averages are what we have and his average points per game at the moment is too average if Ohio State wants to win the B1G.

If Ohio State is going to have any chance at winning against the Terps, he’ll need to put up more than 3 points. He’s been above 3 points only twice all season and he’ll draw either Brett Makar or Ajax Zappitello. Going to be rough.

The Elephant In The Room, Luke Wierman

As always, how will Ohio State’s Matthew Fritz do against Luke Wierman? Wierman has only had two off games, 46% against Albany (in a win) and 46% against Michigan (in a loss).  Drew Blanchard was having a solid season for the Buckeyes but hasn’t played since 3/14.  His numbers would indicate a guy that could hang with Wierman.  Fritz, not so much. I couldn’t see what Blanchard’s injury is that has kept him out since 3/14, but assuming he’s not suiting up, Wierman is almost certain to be a problem for Fritz and company.

Prediction: Maryland (by 3 to 5 goals)

#6 Johns Hopkins vs #8 Penn State

Hopkins was back, then they weren’t, and now they are again.  But the same could be said for Penn State, just not to the same degree.

Hopkins started 2-0 with wins over Jacksonville and Georgetown.  Then they lost to UNC and Loyola and dropped to 2-2.  They beat Utah and Saint Joseph’s to get back to 4-2 and then lost to Virgina, 4-3.  Maybe Hopkins wasn’t back after all?

The Jay’s are now winners of 5 straight games over pretty solid competition.  They beat Syracuse, Navy, Delaware, Michigan and Rutgers.  That is a legit “Hopkins is back” win streak.

Penn State proved to be the Ivy killer with wins over Yale, Penn and Cornell over a 3-game stretch.  They also have a win over Villanova.  However, they lost to Marquette, that one wasn’t great, and then Maryland in back to back weeks before beating Ohio State at home.

Both of these teams have capable goalies, albeit both are a bit streaky.  Each team has a solid crew of guys handling their faceoffs, each winning roughly 50% on the season. Both are playing a bit better than expected defensively, and both are getting offensive production out of guys you knew were good, but that at times play far better than expected.

Both teams are pleasant surprises so far in 2023.  I think that is more than fair.

Prediction:  Hopkins (by 1 or 2 goals)

I think Hopkins may have drank a bit of the Cinderella Kool Aid.  They are a bit more battle tested and they are on a roll at the moment.  They are looking to be more healthy than they were over the middle part of their current schedule and I think with guys like Brendan Grimes and Matt Collison playing well, that gives them a bit more offensive depth than Penn State.

#16 Michigan vs #12 Rutgers (Friday)

The best part about the next couple of weeks of Big Ten play is every game feels huge.  We have Michigan and Rutgers doing battle, and once again it feels like a must win for both teams.  Michigan coming off of the high of beating Maryland for the first time and Rutgers is a loser of two straight B1G foes now sitting at 0-2 in conference play, the only team in the B1G without a conference win.

Dante Kulas and Ross Scott Have To Factor.

In Rutgers loss to Ohio State, Kulas was held to a single goal on 4 shots, and Scott was held scoreless, a victim of the now infamous Bobby Van Buren virus. Same story in their loss to Hopkins, Kulas and Scott each had a goal off 12 combined shots.  They are the Scarlet Knights leading scorers and they need to actually do some scoring if Rutgers is going to avoid being in the Big Ten basement alone.

What Will Rutgers Look Like In Cage?

Kyle Mullin appeared to be a very solid addition in the preseason, but he’s been streaky, and after a terrible 39% outing between the pipes in the Rutgers loss to Ohio State, he was benched in favor of Anthony Palma who stopped 50% of his shots in the loss to Hopkins.  If Palma can provide a more steady hand in net, that will help Rutgers keep pace against the Wolverines.  If he can’t figure it out in his second start, there could be issues as the Michigan offense may be hitting their stride at the right time.

I’m not pretending Michigan has been the picture of health in net.  Their issues are similar to the point that Shane Carr is splitting time with Hunter Taylor.  So both teams are looking to find some stability in cage.

Faceoff Battle Key To This Games Flow

I expect a real battle at the dot in this one between Rutgers Jonathan Dugenio (59%) against Michigan’s duo of Nick Rowlett (56%) and Justin Wietfeldt (64%).  Michigan has been a bit better overall, and for once you can’t say it’s because they’ve played a cupcake schedule.  They haven’t necessarily played a bunch of fogo killers, but Petey LaSalla and Luke Wierman are on the list of guys Michigan has done battle with at the dot, and they got the better of Wierman last weekend, so that’s saying something.  So watch how this battle plays out.  Dugenio is capable of getting hot.  But Michigan can throw both guys at him and probably screw up his mojo a bit.

Prediction:  Rutgers (by 1 goal in OT)

I think Ross Scott and Dante Kulas will in fact show up, one of the two will score the game winning goal in OT (hot take), I think the battle’s in cage and at the dot will end up being somewhat of a wash and Rutgers is going to rebound and avoid being in the dark and scary Big Ten basement all alone.

Syracuse vs #15 Princeton (Saturday)

This one is a must win for both teams in terms of keeping their at large bid hopes alive.  Princeton at 4-4 is lacking a resume that smells of a team that will be dancing. While Syracuse is a game above .500 (where Princeton isn’t), the wins they’ve picked up aren’t great.

Syracuse Offense, Slight Edge

In terms of Offensive Efficiency from LacrosseReference.com’s data, Syracuse is 4th, Princeton is 6th.  Both offenses have been very good with limited possessions. Neither teams has been able to win much at the faceoff dot, yet their offenses are still putting up points and keeping them in games at times.  Slight edge to Syracuse here.

Princeton Defense, Slight Edge

Despite each of these teams sucking at taking draws, both have played pretty solid on the defensive end of the field.  Syracuse ranks 14th and Princeton 9th. That’s largely thanks to each teams goalie.  Will Mark for Syracuse has had an All-American caliber season with a 58% save percentage starting every game for the Orange.

Since taking over as the starter for Princeton, Michael Gianforcaro has been pretty solid as well stopping 57% of the shots he’s faced.  Both goalies see a lot of action and both have stood tall for their teams thus far this season.

But despite Mark being the better goalie in this matchup, the Princeton defense has more quality in depth than Syracuse who’s been missing their top two defenders for the bulk of the season now.  If Landon Clary is back in the lineup, the defensive matchups are a wash, especially if he’s properly healed up.  If he’s still out, or not back to form, Princeton looks much better on paper in terms of defensive personnel.

Prediction:  Syracuse (by 1 or 2 goals)

I think with both teams backs against the wall, the ignorant youth factor, mixed with some Syracuse magic comes into play in this one and Cuse keeps the faithfuls hopes of a potential at large bid alive by winning in Dirty Jersey. MAKE NO MISTAKE, this is a game Princeton SHOULD WIN.  I’m just thinking they won’t.

Navy vs #13 Loyola (Friday)

Navy is coming off two straight wins, one of them a big win that bumped Boston U. from the IL Media Poll. Both beat Holy Cross in back to back weeks with Navy taking them down 13-8 and Loyola 15-8.  Edge Loyola if that matters (which it probably doesn’t).

Loyola has the better keeper in Luke Staudt, but Navy is likely to win a lot more draws with Anthony Ghobriel who merked Boston U winning 67% on the day in Navy’s upset.

I think that Loyola has the depth necessary on defense to keep Max Hewitt from jacking them up as he has Boston U and Holy Cross.

I like Loyola in this game, but they are young on offense and Navy’s defense just limited a Boston U attack group that is one of the best in the country.

But still, Loyola has played well enough this season that I don’t want to pick against them.  Not against Navy who thus far has been disappointing other than this win against Boston U.

Prediction:  Loyola (by 2 or 3 goals)

#11 Villanova vs #19 Denver

Despite the fact Villanova looks like they are playing much better than Denver in terms of wins and losses (Villanova is 8-2, Denver is 4-4), only a single game separates them in conference play with Villanova at 1-0 and Denver at 0-1.  It’s a new season for the Pio’s after playing poorly in their non-conference schedule.

Yep, Denver lost to Georgetown last weekend, and it wasn’t all that close.  But if Alec Stathakis can get back on track (he played poorly against Georgetown) and win the Pio’s a bunch of extra possessions, this should be a ballgame.

The question ends up being, what will Denver get out of their goaltenders?  Villanova can fill it up with guys like Matt Campbell (28g, 21a) running all over LSM’s from the midfield.  Patrick Daly (32g, 3a) and Austin Fraser (14g, 16a) have been solid compliments and help keep a bit of pressure off of Campbell.

Prediction:  Villanova (by 2 to 4 goals)

Campbell is going to feast.  He’s been getting more and more comfortable putting up 5 points (vs Monmouth), 8 points (vs Navy), 5 points (vs Brown) and 8 points (vs St. Johns).  I don’t think that Denver has the depth on the defensive end to limit him without opening things up too much for everyone else, and the Pio’s have been bad enough in cage that I don’t see a scenario where Campbell is under 4 points in this one and that should be enough against a reeling Denver.

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