The Fighting Irish are making their second appearance in an NCAA tournament final and their first since 2010, when they fell to the Blue Devils, 6-5, in overtime. Duke is 2-2 in title games and is making its third appearance since 2010.
Sixth-seeded Notre Dame (12-5) has won six straight games, which began with a run to the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title in late April. The program can join the 2010 Blue Devils and 2012 Loyola as first-time champions in the past five years. Junior goalkeeper Conor Kelly has surrendered just 24 goals and made 37 saves in three postseason games.
Top-seeded Duke (16-3) is 12-1 since a two-game losing streak to Maryland and Loyola in March. The team has a chance to become the first repeat champion since Syracuse won back-to-back titles in 2008 and 2009 and capture three NCAA titles in five seasons.
Sophomore midfielder Myles Jones’ 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) in the NCAA tournament are tied for the fifth-most by a Blue Devils player in a postseason since Ned Crotty recorded 18 points in 2010.
Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at M&T Bank Stadium on Monday at 1 p.m.
1) Wearing out Duke’s offense. The Blue Devils have averaged 18.0 goals in three tournament games and did not appear to skip a beat with junior attackman Kyle Keenan replacing injured senior Josh Dionne (right knee) in Saturday’s 15-12 win against fifth-seeded Denver in the semifinals. Duke’s earlier win against Notre Dame was keyed by the starting midfield of sophomores Deemer Class (Loyola Blakefield) and Myles Jones and senior Christian Walsh (Boys’ Latin), which combined for eight goals and five assists. Fighting Irish coach Kevin Corrigan said part of the team’s strategy will involve tiring that first unit.
“I think you have to make the game a little bit more of a full-field game so that they can’t just run that first midfield to death and keep those guys out there,” he said. “Every six-on-six possession, you have to defend their first midfield. So that’s going to be us turning our stops to possessions and maybe keeping some guys on the field a little bit and making them play a full-field game of lacrosse.”
2) Containing Notre Dame’s Matt Kavanagh. The Fighting Irish have thrived off contributions from, among others, junior attackman Conor Doyle (Gilman), freshman midfielder Sergio Perkovic and junior short-stick defensive midfielder Jack Near. But the main cog has been Kavanagh. The sophomore attackman has posted 10 goals and five assists in the NCAA tournament, including a five-goal, two-assist effort in Saturday’s 11-6 victory over seventh-seeded Maryland. Defending Notre Dame’s entire offense is obviously a priority, but Duke coach John Danowski knows Kavanagh deserves extra attention.
“You want to reduce his touches where you can,” Danowski said. “That makes sense. You can’t let their team run. You want to get in the hole and defend what we call in the box as opposed to letting them run half field – whether that’s from the defensive end or off the faceoffs or in any kind of scramble situations. And while you want to defend him individually, you want to make sure that you’re sliding to him, that you’re driving him to certain areas on the field and that you’re ready to help – whether that’s from the inside or from the perimeter.”
3) Get the advantage on faceoffs. Duke senior Brendan Fowler, last year’s Most Outstanding Player in the team’s run to the national championship, is regarded as the game’s top faceoff specialist at 59.0 percent (288-of-488). But he won just 40 percent (10-of-25) against Notre Dame junior Nick Ossello, who has won 44.3 percent (39-of-88) thus far. Even if the Fighting Irish initially lose the draw, they can get the ball back by applying pressure with two long-stick players on the wings – which they did against Maryland, causing at least three turnovers.
“We’re just trying to battle,” Corrigan said. “If we don’t feel like we can kind of win that one-on-one faceoff match-up cleanly, then we just want to try to tie it up and turn it into a three-on-three, and [freshman] Garrett Epple does a great job up there, is a ground ball guy. And [junior] Henry Williams and [senior] Chris Prevoznik are doing a great job for us on that other wing. Yeah, we’re just trying to muck it up a little bit.”