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Preston: Yale has the look of a champion heading into Monday's NCAA men's lacrosse title game

Duke has the big star potential to pull it off, but it will be hard for any team to beat Yale in the Division I men’s lacrosse national championship game Monday.

Fourth-seeded Duke (16-3) and third-seeded Yale (16-3) have been the two best teams from start to finish during the 2018 season, but the Bulldogs are the most-balanced team. It has one real weakness — a freshman goalie.

Yale has the most-disciplined and selfless offense in the country, paced by attackman Ben Reeves (61 goals) and midfielder Jack Tigh (32). The Bulldogs have a stellar, hustling defense led by Jerry O’Connor, Christopher Keating and Chris Fake.

Duke will counter with one of the game’s top attackmen in Justin Guterding (64 goals), and the Blue Devils have a trio of good midfielders in Nakeie Montgomery (14), Brad Smith (28) and Peter Conley (26).

If the Blue Devils can get their fair number of shots they might win because goalie Jack Starr is a weak link for Yale. Another area to keep an eye on is faceoffs. The Bulldogs have one of the best in Conor Mackie, but there is speculation he suffered an injury against Albany in the semifinal Saturday.

Something happened because Mackie dominated Albany’s TD Ierlan early in the game but struggled after the first quarter.

Another key is Duke goalie Danny Fowler. He has had periods of inconsistency throughout his career, but he has played well during the postseason. If he remains hot, he can slow Yale’s offense.

“I thought this was Danny’s best game of his career,” Duke coach John Danowski said after Fowler had 12 saves in the Blue Devils’ 13-8 win over Maryland on Saturday. “This is not easy, and Connor Kelly is a great shooter, and [so is] Jared Bernhardt. They've got tremendous amounts of weapons. I thought Danny was relaxed and comfortable.

“Not only did he make saves that we needed but cleared the ball really effectively. A combination of those two things — we'd like to see him get better for Monday, to continue to work, but the idea is that I thought this was the best game of his career.”

It’s hard to slow Yale’s offense. No team dodges, passes, stays in constant motion and gets better spacing than the Bulldogs.

Yale is a physical, dominating bunch. The Bulldogs look good getting off the bus. It’s even harder beating them on the field.

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