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Atlantic Coast Conference men's lacrosse outlook for 2015

Team on top: Only two schools have advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals in each of the past five years. One is Duke, and the other is Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish fell to the Blue Devils, 11-9, in last spring's title game, but a rosy future appears to be in store for the program. Notre Dame returns eight starters, including its entire first midfield. And the team welcomes five freshmen who were Under Armour All-Americans in 2014 and could make an immediate impact.

Team on the rise: Almost annually, North Carolina is tabbed as a Final Four contender but then falls in either the opening round or the quarterfinals, extending its 21-year drought from championship weekend. It's easy to dismiss the Tar Heels this season, but the potential is so tantalizing. North Carolina returns eight starters, including senior attackmen Joey Sankey (33 goals and 24 assists) and Jimmy Bitter (30, 7). But turning that potential into actual results will be the challenge.

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Team on the decline: The word "decline" is relative considering that all five teams in the league will be ranked among at least the top 15 in The Sun's rankings. But Duke figures to be a shell of the program that has captured three of the past five national championships, including the past two. The Blue Devils lost six starters, including all three close defensemen and attackman Jordan Wolf (64, 39). Perhaps the saving grace is that junior Myles Jones (37, 26) is poised to become the most dynamic midfielder in the country.

Prime-time player: Albany senior attackman Lyle Thompson is the favorite to retain the Tewaaraton Award that he shared with elder brother Miles last season, but his stiffest competition could come from Notre Dame's Matt Kavanagh. The junior attackman set a school single-season record for points with 75 last spring, and he had 12 goals and six assists in the postseason. His ability to change direction and break down defenses will serve him well again this spring.

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Underrated player: Syracuse's reputation has been built on its offense, but defenseman Brandon Mullins is arguably the league's top lockdown defender. The redshirt junior was named a second-team All American after a 2014 campaign that included shutting out Kavanagh and Cornell senior attackman Matt Donovan in regular-season meetings and giving up just one goal to Sankey. Expect more of the same from Mullins, who ranks sixth in school history with 31 career caused turnovers.


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