Reason to watch: North Carolina has learned to play hard. Lehigh isn't afraid of a fight. How do you react when you get punched in the mouth? Background checks: Carolina hasn't been to Championship Weekend since 1993. The Tar Heels won titles in 1981, 1982 and 1986 for then-coach Willie Scroggs with rosters brimming with Baltimoreans. This rendition has won nine straight games. The Atlantic Coast Conference is 22-4 against the Patriot League since 2009. Lehigh has won seven straight and is 26-7 over the past two years with two Patriot League titles for coach Kevin Cassese. Cassese played at Duke, so he understands this challenge. Lehigh, making its second NCAA appearance, has never won a playoff game. Star power: Gilman grad Marcus Holman averages 4.9 points per game. The attack trio of Holman, Jimmy Bitter and Joey Sankey play at a frenetic pace. Lehigh goalie Matt Poillon (pictured) is 11-2 as a starter this year for a squad tied for second in the country in scoring defense. Ty Souders is Lehigh's most accomplished cover man, and Mike Noone calls the signals. What could make the difference? The Heels are faster. Carolina is a difficult matchup for Lehigh's defense, which usually doubles the ball-carrier quickly. Defenders must run hip-to-hip with the Carolina jitterbugs, take away the interior and funnel dodgers into savable shots for Poillon. Lehigh has 14 seniors, and 10 play a lot. Cassese tweaked the offense after a loss to Massachusetts on March 20, and now everybody is contributing. Carolina's defense has the tendency to run out of gas. It doesn't substitute much and has trouble completing the last 10 minutes. Both teams had a bye week, so look for a slow start and a fantastic finish. I think this is the best game of the bunch.
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Abby Drey, MCT
Reason to watch: These teams make a habit of playing in one-goal games. Both squads have lost four games in 2013 by a combined five goals. This one is guaranteed to be low-scoring and tension-filled. Background checks: Making its third NCAA tournament appearance — and first in eight years — Penn State is still looking for its first win. Yale has won back-to-back Ivy tournament championships for coach Andy Shay. Eleven players scored a point in the Ivy League final win over Princeton. The Bulldogs sell out on every play, and Penn State must duplicate that effort. Star power: Yale's Brandon Mangan (35 goals, 25 assists) is a productive attackman who hasn't gotten the national respect his deserves. Penn State's Jack Forster (40, 16, pictured) is a sixth-year senior whose career has often been interrupted by injury. He sets the tone. Goalie Austin Kaut triggered the Nittany Lions' 10-game winning streak. This is their biggest game. What could make the difference? The Nittany Lions will use both man-to-man and zone defenses to keep Yale off balance. The faceoff battle is a good one with Danny Henneghan squaring off with Dylan Levings. Penn State's attack is legit with Forster, Shane Sturgis and rookie TJ Sanders (42 goals). But what midfielders not named Tom LaCrosse (23 goals) will step up? Yale's defense is impressive. Senior four-year starters Michael McCormack and Peter Johnson are superb. They fly around and create in transition. Yale doubles from the crease and keeps its defense compact. This game appears to be low-scoring with long possessions.
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For 16 teams, a national championship is only four wins away. The beauty of the NCAA men's lacrosse tournament is its diversity, a range even greater this season with the absence of usual powerhouses Johns Hopkins and Virginia. Among those 16 are newcomers Detroit and Bryant, which started the season a combined 0-13 but played their best when it mattered most. Teams such as Towson, Penn State and Albany have returned to contention after long absences, and the old guard is well-represented, too (Maryland, Duke and Cornell). The first round, which will be held Saturday and Sunday, is filled with matchups you wouldn't normally expect to see until much later in May. Here's a breakdown of each (order based on game times): —Quint Kessenich, For The Baltimore Sun
By Quint Kessenich, For The Baltimore Sun