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Ravens Insider: Mike Preston: Predicting the NCAA men’s lacrosse tournament game-by-game | COMMENTARY

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As the NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse tournament begins this weekend, top-ranked Notre Dame should win its second straight national championship.

The Fighting Irish (12-1) are without question the best team in the country, and it’s their title to lose. Notre Dame has beaten the best teams in the nation, including Ohio State, Michigan, Syracuse, Maryland, Virginia and Duke.

Duke and Virginia have each lost twice to Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish beat the Blue Devils, 15-12, on April 7, and took down the Cavaliers, 11-9, 20 days later. Last week, Notre Dame beat Virginia, 18-9, and then Duke, 16-6, in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament semifinals and championship game.


It’s going to take a super effort to beat the Fighting Irish because they have no weaknesses. They average 16 goals per game and allow only 9.31. Their specialty units are dominant, scoring on 26 of 37 extra-man opportunities and winning 204 of 368 faceoffs (.554) led by specialist Will Lynch (139 of 233).

The offense is paced by attackmen Jake Taylor (35 goals, three assists), Pat Kavanagh (22 G, 38 A) and Chris Kavanagh (30 G, 29 A) and midfielders Devon McLane (27 G, 8 A), Jordan Faison (18 G, 8 A) and Eric Dobson (14 G, 10 A).

Notre Dame also has the best goalie in the country in 6-foot-3, 203-pound Liam Entenmann, who has a .563 save percentage and a 9.34 goals-against average.

Duke, Virginia and possibly Johns Hopkins could knock off Notre Dame, but those teams have to make it through the first round.

Here are The Baltimore Sun’s game-by-game predictions for the NCAA Tournament:

First round

No. 3 seed Johns Hopkins vs. Lehigh (Sunday, noon)

This game is more about the Blue Jays than the Mountain Hawks.

Lehigh has played well under first-year coach Will Scudder and is solid in almost every area. The Mountain Hawks won’t give up 18 goals, but it’s not certain that they can score more than 10, either. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays need to get their offense in gear, having scored only 14 goals over the past two games.

That’s strange because Hopkins coach Peter Milliman usually has his teams peaking at the end of the season. On Sunday, the Blue Jays are going to need more out of attackmen Garrett Degnon (42 G, 5 A), Jacob Angelus (22 G, 37 A) and Russell Melendez (15 G, 8 A), midfielder Dylan Bauer (9 G, 12 A) and goalie Chayse Ierlan (.563 save percentage).

The Blue Jays should win, but if they are as lethargic as they were against Michigan last week in the Big Ten Tournament and allow Lehigh to hang around, they could get upset, even though that’s very unlikely. Prediction: Johns Hopkins 12, Lehigh 8

Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse celebrate winning the crab trophy after defeating Maryland 7-5 at Homewood Field. (Kim Hairston/Staff)
Johns Hopkins, the No. 3 seed, will face Lehigh on Sunday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. (Kim Hairston/Staff)

No. 4 Syracuse vs. Towson (Sunday, 7:30 p.m.)

The selection committee didn’t do Syracuse any favors.

The Tigers know their identity and how to win. They use a lot of ball movement and hustle on rides and clears, especially in the middle of the field. Towson goalie Luke Downs (8.65 goals-against average) is decent and will hold his own. The Tigers also have Matt Constantinides, who has won 197 of 338 faceoffs (.583) and should be the great equalizer.

Towson has enough offensive talent to rattle the Orange with sophomore midfielder Mikey Weisshaar (39 G, 19 A) and senior attackman Nick DeMaio (32 G, 48 A). The Tigers have some outstanding short-stick midfielders so they don’t have to slide as hard or as much against Syracuse.

The Orange have some outstanding young offensive talent, especially in sophomore attackman Joey Spallina (33 G, 47 A), but this offense can get caught up in too much one-on-one play. The crowd at the Carrier Dome will help Syracuse, but the Tigers will pull off the upset. Prediction: Towson 14, Syracuse 10

No. 7 Maryland vs. Princeton (Saturday, 7:30 p.m.)

Maryland has no offensive studs like former star attackman Matt Rambo, and the Terps got embarrassed last week in a 19-9 loss to Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals.

Maryland beat Princeton, 13-7, on Feb. 24, but the Tigers have gotten better. Can the same thing be said about Maryland?

The Terps will play good defense built around long pole Ajax Zappitello and faceoff specialist Luke Wierman should keep them in the game, but goalie Logan McNaney has been shaky lately, along with the entire offense.

It wouldn’t be surprising if Maryland lost. Prediction: Maryland 8, Princeton 7

The Maryland men's lacrosse team celebrates after scoring a goal against Ohio State on April 6, 2024, at SECU Stadium in College Park. (Terps Athletics/Handout)
No. 7 seed Maryland beat Princeton, its first-round opponent, earlier this season. (Maryland Athletics)

No. 2 Duke vs. Utah (Saturday, 2:30 p.m.)

Duke is the great enigma of the tournament. The Blue Devils can play as well as any team on any given day, but they can also be just as bad.

There are times when they have one of the best offenses in college lacrosse, and then games in which they disappear, like the four goals they put up against Syracuse earlier this year and six last week against Notre Dame.

There is something missing from this team as far as chemistry, but at least the Blue Devils have the right coach in John Danowski to figure it out. Duke should handle Utah and its high-octane offense, especially with attackmen Brennan O’Neill (49 G, 25 A) and Josh Zawada (29 G, 40 A). Prediction: Duke 12, Utah 7

No. 8 Georgetown vs. Penn State (Sunday, 2:30 p.m.)

The Nittany Lions don’t change much during the season so there won’t be many surprises, but that also means Hoyas coach Kevin Warne should come up with a good game plan to slow them down.

Penn State has a great scorer in attackman T.J. Malone (40 G, 34 A), and goalie Jack Fracyon is excellent and can take over a game. The Hoyas, though, are a gritty bunch and they don’t mind playing tough and grinding out a victory. It will be interesting to see whether Georgetown can take advantage of some of the injuries to Penn State’s midfield throughout the season.

This might be the best game in the first round. Prediction: Penn State 10, Georgetown 8

No. 6 Virginia vs Saint Joseph’s (Saturday, noon)

Saint Joseph’s deserves credit for having a good season, but they aren’t in the same class as Virginia despite the Cavaliers having lost four straight games.

Virginia’s short-stick middies, though, have become a liability and goalie Matthew Nunes has lost some confidence. The Cavaliers need attackmen Payton Cormier (55 G, 12 A) and Connor Shellenberger (26 G, 45 A) to take over games again, and coach Lars Tiffany might need to change up his defense and start playing more zone.

Regardless, Virginia moves on to the second round. Prediction: Virginia 13, Saint Joseph’s 7

No. 5 Denver vs. Michigan (Saturday, 5 p.m.)

This will be one of the better faceoff matchups of the year with the Wolverines’ Justin Wietfeldt (228 of 368) going against the Pioneers’ Alex Stathakis (204 of 329).

Denver has a good coach in Matt Brown, showing discipline and execution on the field. Plus, the Pioneers are at home and have had some big wins over Johns Hopkins, Cornell, Ohio State and Georgetown this season.

Take Denver, which will be playing at home. Prediction: Denver 9, Michigan 7

No. 1 Notre Dame versus Albany (Sunday, 5 p.m.)

This is not the Albany team that had the Thompson brothers, Lyle and Kyle, a decade ago. Enough said. Prediction: Notre Dame 14, Albany 6

Quarterfinals (May 18-19)

No. 1 Notre Dame 13, Penn State 8: The Nittany Lions have enough versatility to slow the pace of the game, but Notre Dame has great depth and the Fighting Irish are relentless.

Towson 14, No. 5 Denver 11: The Tigers will be on a roll having won 10 straight. They’ll get another victory versus the Pioneers.

No. 6 Virginia 12, No. 3 Johns Hopkins 8: This will be a tough one to pick. The Blue Jays can slow down Virginia’s offense with ball control, but the Cavaliers have been here before and that experience will carry them to victory.

No. 2 Duke 12, No. 7 Maryland 8: The Terps can’t match the Blue Devils’ firepower on offense but they can slow them down enough to keep the game interesting for a while.

Semifinals (May 25)

No. 1 Notre Dame 14, Towson 9: The Cinderella season ends for Towson as Duke advances to the title game.

No. 2 Duke 16, No. 6 Virginia 10: This game might resemble Duke’s 18-12 victory over the Cavaliers in their first meeting April 14. The Blue Devils win again in the rematch.

Championship (May 27)

No. 1 Notre Dame 16, No. 2 Duke 11: Notre Dame has too much talent, especially in the middle of the field, and the Fighting Irish defend their national title.

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