These two teams will meet for the 18th time, but for the first time since 2010. Loyola owns a 12-5 lead in the series, but Notre Dame has won the last four meetings. These teams faced each other in the NCAA tournament just once with the Greyhounds enjoying a 21-5 thumping in the first round on May 11, 1997. The No. 4 seed Fighting Irish (13-2) defeated Yale, 13-7, in the first round and No. 5 seed Virginia, 12-10, in the quarterfinals. No. 1 seed Loyola (16-1) beat Canisius, 17-5, in the first round and Denver, 10-9, in the quarterfinals. Here are a few factors that could influence the outcome of this NCAA tournament semifinal at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., Saturday afternoon.
1) Loyola’s shooting proficiency. Only Colgate (230 goals) and Robert Morris (215) have torched the nets as frequently as the Greyhounds (213) have done. Loyola is just outside of the top 20 in shooting percentage, but the offense is still scoring at a 30.2 percent clip. That success will be tested by Notre Dame junior goalie John Kemp, who ranks first in Division I in both save percentage (.641) and goals-against average (5.96). “He is as good as any goalie in the tournament, probably the best,” Greyhounds coach Charley Toomey said. “We don’t want to over-think our shots. We feel like we’ve got pretty talented shooters on the corners. But we do talk to our guys about, ‘If you shoot a bad shot, it’s going in the other direction.’ We haven’t really been able to pinpoint where he’s weak at this point, but I do know that Notre Dame plays such good defense that they really force you into some low-angled shots, and it seems that if you’re able to get back to the middle of the field, you have a chance with some more success.”
2) Special teams. A penalty on Notre Dame could pit two of the best special-teams units on the field. The Fighting Irish boast the nation’s stingiest man-down defense, surrendering just four extra-man goals and successfully killing 87.9 percent of opponents’ chances. On the flipside, Loyola ranks fifth in the country in man-up offense, converting on 48 percent of its opportunities, including going 4-of-10 against Denver. “They’re a great man-up team,” Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan noted. “Hopefully, we don’t foul a lot, and I hope that doesn’t become too much of an issue. You can’t give them easy goals from their man up and transition and those kinds of things. And that starts all the way down on the offensive end. You’ve got to be smart and selective with your shots so that you’re not getting bad turnovers that lead to transition or bad shots that lead to transition. So it’s a little bit of a full-field, full-team approach to keeping them out of those situations where you think they’re very difficult to handle.”
3) Loyola’s midfield. Exploiting the Fighting Irish’s defense has been an arduous task with only Penn State and St. John’s doing enough to escape with one-goal victories. Notre Dame’s unit is fundamentally sound and well-versed against dangerous attackmen like the Greyhounds’ Mike Sawyer and Eric Lusby. A key will be their midfielders, according to ESPN analyst and former Syracuse All-American midfielder Paul Carcaterra. “If their midfield dodgers are having success, it’s going to force so much uncertainty with Notre Dame’s defense,” he said. “They’re going to have to question, ‘Do we slide or do we not?’ So I think their midfield dodgers open up opportunities for Sawyer and Lusby.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun