In our final college lacrosse weekend preview episode of the year, we’re going to talk the NCAA College Lacrosse Final 4 matchups with Penn State taking on Duke, and Notre Dame taking on Virginia. This will be the third time UVA and ND have faced each other this season with Virginia taking both regular season matchups. Penn State and Duke have not played yet, but they match up well so long as Penn State can keep Brennan O’Neill from carving them up. All American goaltender Jack Fracyon may be able to help the Nittany Lions defense with that. We’ll also talk about the DII and DIII matchups between Mercyhurst and Lenoir-Rhyne and Salisbury and Tufts.
Penn State vs Duke
VS Like Opponents
Penn: Duke (W +2), Penn State (W +6)
Michigan: Duke (W +7), Penn State (W +2 & L -2)
Penn State has a lot of guys that can play, and they’ve been playing well together, but Duke has a whole different thing going on the offensive side of the ball.
For Duke, Brennan O’Neill (51g, 40a, 91p), Dyson Williams (57g, 4a, 61p) and Andrew McAdorey (36g, 23a, 59p) are a far better group both on paper and in terms of skills than Penn State’s TJ Malone (33g, 31a, 64p), Jack Traynor (31p, 16a, 47p) and Matt Traynor (30g, 7a, 37p).
I don’t make the rules. I’m just stating facts. When you weigh Duke’s top three offensive guys against Penn State’s, it’s not really close. That isn’t a knock on the PSU guys. That’s just how good Duke’s gunslingers are.
Now when we start comparing their role players, yes, I’d take Garrett Leadmon over Kevin Winkoff, but the difference isn’t nearly as deep. Nittany Lions like Ethan Long and Jake Morin can hang with Aidan Danenza and Charles Balsamo.
Numbers don’t lie. Duke holds the nations 5th best offensive efficiency score, they score on 36.8% of their offensive possessions. Penn State is 26th in the land scoring goals on 31.7% of their possessions.
All of this is to say, Duke has a definite edge on offense, but Penn State is still a very capable team.
Penn State has the statistical advantage over Duke. The Nittany Lions boast the 3rd best defense in the country giving up goals on only 22% of their possessions. Duke isn’t far behind sitting at 8th giving up goals on 25% of their defensive possessions.
I like Duke’s long poles better overall, Kenny Brower, a 2nd-Team All American is a legit lockdown defender. Honorable-Mention All Americans Wilson Stephenson (D) has had a great year, and Tyler Carpenter is a very capable LSM. Penn State boasts 2nd-Team All American Jack Fracyon in cage and Honorable-Mention All Americans Jack Posey (D) and Grant Haus (SSDM).
But despite the fact Penn State’s defense is more efficient in terms of getting stops, Duke has the #1 Strength Of Record score per LacrosseReference.com whereas Penn State comes in at #8.
That was a really long and drawn out way to say, both of these teams can play defense and can take solid players off their game. I think Penn State did a great job of keeping both Army and Princeton out of the middle of the field, that is where Duke will want to get, so that could play well for Penn State.
However, Army and Princeton are not Duke. Neither of those teams have Brennan O’Neill. Michigan wasn’t ready for him. I don’t expect Posey and company to be ready either.
Penn State’s only real hope in my opinion is Jack Fracyon going off and picking up somewhere in the area of 17 to 22 saves. If he stops 17 shots, I think Penn State will be in this game. If he stops 19 or more, I think Penn State is probably the victor in a nail biter. Will Helm has been pretty good for Duke stopping 64% of his shots last weekend against Michigan, but he struggled in ACC play towards the end of the season and has only started playing well again over his last three games. A huge edge goes to Penn State in this case. Fracyon is a 2nd-Team All American for a good reason.
No question, Duke’s Jake Naso holds an enormous edge of the crew Penn State will throw out there. Chase Mullins is not built to handle a guy like Naso. With that said, Penn State has won their last two games over Princeton and Army despite losing 60% of the draws across those two games. But once again, neither of those teams are Duke offensively.
To make it worse for Penn State, Naso is HOT. In his last six games he’s gone 69% (vs Notre Dame), 66% (vs Virginia), 63% (vs Syracuse), 79% (vs Merrimack), 60% (vs Delaware) and 52% (vs Michigan). Mullin has not been nearly that good, in his last five outings he’s won 43% (vs Michigan), 35% (vs Rutgers), 29% vs Michigan), 40% (vs Princeton) and 39% (vs Army.
Prediction: Duke by 3 to 5 goals. I think Penn State is good enough to keep this interesting, but I think Duke will more than likely stretch their lead to as many as 6 to 8 goals before allowing Penn State to claw back into it late to make it a bit more respectful.
Notre Dame vs Virginia
Head To Head
Virginia won both meetings this season. They won the first matchup 15-10 and the second 12-8. Connor Shellenberger scored 6 goals and 6 assists in each of those wins. Xander Dickson scored 10 goals and 2 assists. The Kavanagh brothers combined for 5 goals and 6 assists. Just like Duke has had Virginia’s number, Virginia has had Notre Dames.
VS Like Opponents
Georgetown: Virginia (W +3), Notre Dame (W +7)
Maryland: Virginia (L -1), Notre Dame (W +1)
Johns Hopkins: Virginia (W +5), Notre Dame (W +3)
Ohio State: Virginia (W +11), Notre Dame (W +13)
Syracuse: Virginia (W +7), Notre Dame (W +8)
Duke: Virginia (L -2), Notre Dame (W +5)
North Carolina: Virginia (W +7), Notre Dame (W +7 & W +9)
These teams are both good enough we have to start with the data. Virginia has an offensive efficiency of 41.7% and Notre Dame comes in at 39.8%. They are #1 and #2 in the country with Syracuse and Duke sitting at #3 and #4. The ACC was a very good offensive conference in 2023.
The difference to me seems to be that Virginia is playing a little bit better offensively lately. UVA scored goals on 46.9% of their possessions last weekend against Georgetown.
I think in terms of overall team chemistry, I’d give Virginia (with a healthy Shellenberger) a very slight edge over the Kavanagh’s and Notre Dame.
While Notre Dame may not be coming in quite as hot offensively, defensively is a totally different story. They held a very good Utah team to only scoring on 15.8% of their looks in the NCAA tournament’s opening round and Johns Hopkins only scored on 22% of their looks a weekend ago.
So even if they aren’t connecting fully on offensively, coming into this game against Virginia they seem to have figured some things out defensively.
In their first meeting it was Shellenberger giving Chris Fake fits as he dished his way to 5 assists (a 2 goal, 5 assist effort) and Dickson put up 6 goals. In game two, Shellenberger was quieter, just 1 goal and 3 helpers, but Dickson went off for 4 goals and a dish. The Cavalier’s dynamic duo has gotten the better of the Brothers Kavanagh in 2023.
One thing that was apparent was Notre Dame’s biggest strengths, their quickness on attack both on the doge and off ball hasn’t been as big of an advantage against Virginia that has veteran talent mixed with size, length and speed. Virginia’s long poles simply match up better with Notre Dame’s attack than most teams do.
Definite edge to Liam Entenmann and Notre Dame. Entenmann has both experience and numbers he can hold over Matthew Nunes’s head. Entenmann’s save percentage is 57%. Nunes’s is 53%. Both can be very good, but Entenmann is more consistent and he’s got a lot more to prove at this stage as Notre Dame has never won a national championship. Neither has Nunes, but he’s at least played in a finals (albeit in a loss).
Petey Fucking LaSalla has a huge edge over Will Lynch and Colin Hagstrom. Notre Dame wins about 45% or so of their draw’s while Petey has won 56% and has taken more drops than Hagstrom and Lynch (458-407).
Virginia by 1 to 3 goals. I think that the way these two teams match up gives Virginia a slight advantage overall. They’ve been playing well defensively, Nunes has been above 50% in each of his last 6 games leading into a 48% performance against a very good offensive team in Georgetown last weekend. If he can stay at or above 50% between the pipes, and Petey can stay above 55% at the faceoff dot, I think UVA wins in a close game.
Lenoir-Rhyne vs Mercyhurst
We have an unexpected final for Division II. I think that Lenoir-Rhyne has the advantage overall because Myles Moffat (47g, 33a) and Toron Eccleston (54g, 26a) are a better top scoring duo as compared to Myles Hamm (53g, 14a) and Ethan Landymore (50g, 15a).
I think Lenoir-Rhyne shares the ball a lot better
VS Like Opponents
Maryville: Mercyhurst (W +4), LR (W +15)
Wingate: Mercyhurst (W +3), LR (L -6)
Adj Off%: LR (40.1%, #1), Mercyhurst (33.2%, #18)
Adj Def%: LR (18.1%, #1), Mercyhurst (18.8%, #3)
Strength Of Record: Mercyhurst (0.84, #4), LR (0.28, #5)
Lenoir-Rhyne by 1 to 3 goals. They’ve been better offensively and Mercyhurst has a tendency to rely a bit too heavily on the dodge and will need to win a lot of 1v1 matchups. Against a solid defensive team like Lenoir-Rhyne, that may not play well.
Salisbury vs Tufts
Both of these teams have two players with more than 100 points. Jack Boyden (68g, 86a, 154p) and Kurth Bruun (57g, 46a, 103p) lead a Jumbo’s offense that also has Tommy Swank coming in with 93 points (72g, 21a).
For Salisbury, it’s Cross Ferrara (85g, 33a, 118p) and Jude Brown (36g, 65a, 101p) that sit at the top, and while the Gulls third leading scorer doesn’t have 90+ points (as is the case with Tufts), they do boast three players at or above 60 points.
VS Like Opponents
Lynchburg: Tufts (W +15 & W +8), Salisbury (W +1)
Cabrini: Tufts (W +17), Salisbury (W +7)
York: Tufts (W +15), Salisbury (W +4)
Amherst: Tufts (W +2), Salisbury (W +4)
Adj Off%: Salisbury (43.2, #1), Tufts (39%, #2)
Adj Def%: Tufts (15,8%, #5), Salisbury (16.7%, #8)
Tufts by 3 to 5 goals. I think this Jumbo’s team is built to win a championship. They’ve only played 6 games this season where they didn’t win by more than 4 goals. They handled RIT last weekend. While I think I could be off on that margin of 3 or more goals, I think it’s going to be very tough for Salisbury to take Tufts down.
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