Previewing No. 6 men’s lacrosse’s road to the ACC Championship

Cavaliers enter the ACC Tournament as the top seed

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Virginia has plenty of difference makers on the team but will need each one of them to step up to win the ACC Tournament. 

Courtesy Virginia Athletics

The No. 6 Virginia men’s lacrosse team will play in the ACC Tournament this weekend. The Cavaliers are the top seed and will start off play in the semifinal game Saturday in Chapel Hill, N.C. 

Virginia (11-3, 3-1 ACC) enters the tournament in good form, winning nine of its last 10 games. With an excellent combination of experience, youth and star power, the Cavaliers will look to prove their legitimacy against the ACC’s elite.

As the No. 1 seed, the Cavaliers will play the winner of No. 4 Syracuse and No. 5 North Carolina — who face off Thursday — in the semifinals. If Virginia wins Saturday, the team will face either No. 2 Duke or No. 3 Notre Dame in the ACC finals.

Let’s take a deeper look at the teams Virginia might face on its road to a seventh conference tournament championship.

No. 5 seed North Carolina (7-6, 1-3 ACC)

North Carolina has had its fair share of struggles this season, including finishing the regular season on a three-game losing streak. 

That said, the Tar Heels’ trio of ACC losses were by a combined margin of just six goals. Moreover, North Carolina impressed with a statement victory over Duke — the third-ranked team in the whole country — in late March.

The Tar Heels have a tendency of keeping games close, even against more talented teams, which means they are always an upset threat. 

Key Player:

Senior attackman Timmy Kelly has been a pivotal player for North Carolina all season, leading the team with 20 goals. While Kelly has struggled at times against strong defensive teams, if the Tar Heels’ chief playmaker gets hot at the right time, North Carolina could string together a few wins in the tournament. 

How to Beat Them:

It’s no secret that North Carolina isn’t the most dynamic team on offense. The Tar Heels have never scored more than 10 goals in conference play this season, while the Cavaliers have done so three times. If Virginia controls the tempo of the game and pushes the pace, North Carolina will have a hard time keeping up.

No. 4 seed Syracuse (9-3, 2-2 ACC)

While Syracuse may be the No. 4 seed in the upcoming ACC Tournament, the Orange are unlucky to be seeded so low, considering they share the same conference record as Duke and Notre Dame. 

On offense, Syracuse is a highly accurate shooting team, leading the ACC with 26.5 shots on goal per game, while also scoring 12 goals per game — second only to Virginia. Led by senior attackmen Bradley Voigt and Nate Solomon, the Orange want to push the pace and take a lot of shots, which could be lethal if they convert at a high rate.

Defensively, Syracuse has allowed just 107 goals — least in the ACC — all season thanks to a combination of strong defending and excellent goalkeeping.

Key Player:

Junior goalkeeper Drake Porter has been excellent in cage for the Orange this season. He leads the conference with 12.36 saves per game and can single-handedly stop the opposing team’s attack. If Porter is playing phenomenally, Syracuse can beat any team in the conference.

How to Beat Them:

Virginia has struggled at times with shooting accuracy and against a good defensive team like Syracuse, bad shots could be fatal. If Virginia meets Syracuse, the Cavaliers will need junior attackman Michael Kraus and sophomore attackman Ian Laviano to be clinical on offense and not waste any scoring opportunities.

No. 3 seed Notre Dame (7-5, 2-2 ACC)

With a victory over North Carolina in its regular season finale, Notre Dame leapfrogged into third place in the ACC standings.

Notre Dame is one of the least productive ACC teams offensively, ranking last in the conference in goals and shots per game. However, the Fighting Irish have the ability to be more explosive, as proven by their 11-goal first half against Syracuse earlier in the year.

The biggest concern for Notre Dame is inconsistency. The Fighting Irish haven’t won back-to-back games since early March, meaning they’ll have to do so for the first time in nearly two months to win the ACC Tournament.

Key Player:

Junior midfielder Charles Leonard leads the ACC with 162 faceoff wins and is third in the conference with a 59.1 percent winning percentage. Virginia freshman midfielder Petey LaSalla will have his work cut out for him to secure Virginia more possessions.

How to Beat Them: 

One of Notre Dame’s most troubling weaknesses is its turnover rate. The Fighting Irish lead the ACC in turnovers with 17.08 per game and tend to give up the ball often, especially when under pressure. Virginia, on the other hand, leads the conference in caused turnovers with 9.64 per game, which will be important to limit Notre Dame’s maligned attack. If Virginia dominates the turnover battle, Notre Dame will have a difficult time keeping up with the Cavaliers’ offense.

No. 2 seed Duke (11-3, 2-2 ACC)

While Duke is only the second seed, the Blue Devils may be the best team in the conference, if not the country. Top to bottom, Duke has an incredible amount of talent and will look to rely on that in its pursuit of ACC glory.

On offense, Duke has one of the highest shooting percentage at 0.313 in the conference, scoring on nearly a third of its shots. Sophomore attackman Joe Robertson is the Blue Devils’ leader in attack and ranks in the top 10 in the ACC in virtually every offensive statistical category.

On defense, Duke has an ACC-best goals against average of 8.79 due, in large part, to senior goalkeeper Turner Uppgren, who has a saves percentage of 51.7 percent.

Key Player:

As important as Robertson is to Duke’s offense, senior midfielder Brad Smith is the more well-rounded playmaker. Second on the team in goals with 22 and first in assists with 21, Smith is the player that Virginia will need to keep under control should the Cavaliers meet the Blue Devils in the championship game.

How to Beat Them:

When Duke handed Virginia its only ACC loss of the season, the Blue Devils used a 7-2 second-half surge to secure a comfortable win. Duke outshot the Cavaliers 21-10 in the final 30 minutes of that game. The Cavaliers’ attacking quartet — Kraus, Laviano, sophomore midfielder Matt Moore and junior midfielder Dox Aitken — cannot let Virginia fall into a scoring slump against Duke. In losses to High Point, Syracuse and North Carolina, Duke has demonstrated its vulnerability to high-scoring teams. The Cavaliers, who lead the ACC in goals per game, just need to score like they usually do to win. 

Virginia will play either North Carolina or Syracuse Saturday in Chapel Hill, N.C. If the Cavaliers win the semifinal game, they will return home to Klӧckner Stadium to host the ACC Championship game Saturday, May 4.

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