What to Watch in The NCAA Semifinals

(Photo Courtesy of Virginia Athletics)

Four teams enter the weekend. Just two will come out with a chance to play for the national title on Memorial Day.

Saturday will see Duke play Penn State at noon while Virginia faces Notre Dame at 2:30.

Here’s a look at some of the most intriguing storylines to watch during Sunday’s contests.

Duke vs Penn State

Top-seeded Duke will face No. 5 Penn State at noon on Saturday with a chance to advance to Memorial Day on the line. For Duke, it is the program’s 12th trip to Championship Weekend under John Danowski. Penn State is back playing on Championship Weekend for the second time in program history.

Brennan O’Neill vs The Penn State D

One of the biggest questions coming into the weekend is exactly how Penn State will handle Duke’s Brennan O’Neill. The Tewaaraton finalist is second nationally in points per game (5.35) and leads the nation in both points (91), is 10th in goals (51), and ninth in assists (40). O’Neill is coming off a quarterfinal performance versus Michigan where he led the way for the Blue Devils with six goals off eight shots. He also had two assists for a total of eight points.

Saturday will see O’Neill and the Duke offense go up against a Penn State defense that lost its top defenseman, Jack Posey, during its win over Army last week. However, the Nittany Lions saw goalie Jack Fracyon make 11 saves (55%) and held Army’s top scorer Reese Burek to just one goal. It will be very interesting to see how the Nittany Lion matchup up against O’Neill and the Duke offense.

Goalie Duel

Penn State’s Jack Fracyon ranks fourth nationally in save percentage in DI lacrosse as he has made 210 saves with a 57% save percentage this season. Duke’s William Helm has made 176 saves with a 52% save percentage, good for 20th nationally. Fracyon made 16 saves in the Nittany Lions’ first round game versus Princeton and 11 last week against Army. Helm, on the other hand, made 11 saves versus Delaware in the first round and 14 against Michigan in the quarterfinals. With both of these goalies having had big performances throughout the season and in recent weeks, it will be worth watching what these two do on Saturday.

Virginia vs Notre Dame

No. 2 Virginia plays No. 3 Notre Dame in the second semifinal game on Saturday to determine the final spot in Monday’s national title game. Saturday marks the third meeting between these ACC foes this season. Virginia won the first meeting 15-10 in late March and the second 12-8 in late April. Saturday’s battle, however, is the most high-stakes meeting of these two this spring.

Can The Virginia Defense Do it Again?

Each of Notre Dame’s two lowest-scoring games of the season have come against the Virginia Cavaliers. In the last meeting between theses two, Matthew Nunes made 19 saves. In front of the cage, the duo of Cole Kastner and Cade Saustad held Chris Kavanagh to just two assists and Pat Kavanagh to one goal and two assists. In the first meeting, the Cavaliers caused 10 of Notre Dame’s 16 turnovers. That effort was anchored by a 14-save day from Nunes.

Notre Dame is averaging 24.64 points (second behind Virginia) and 15.86 goals per game (third behind Virginia and Utah) this season. Virginia, however, has come up successful against this offense, which is led by the Kavanagh brothers and also has big time options in Jake Taylor and Eric Dobson, before. The question coming into Saturday is if they can indeed do it one more time or not.

Can Notre Dame Handle Schellenberger, Dickson?

In the first meeting between the Cavaliers and Irish, Connor Shellenberger went off for seven points with two goals and five assists. Xander Dickson also had seven points off six goals and one assist. In the second game, Shellenberger was held to one goal and had three assists. Xander Dickson had four goals and one assist. How this Notre Dame defense of Chris Fake, Chris Conlin, and Marco Napolitano handle the fierce and deep Virginia offenses headlined by Schellenberger and Dickson will be interesting to watch. The Irish played much better the second time around. Can they improve further during the third meeting?


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