Battle of the Bests
Notre Dame has the best defense in the country, and is facing one of the best offenses in the country. The old adage, “Defense wins championships” is usually true for most sports, but in lacrosse, more champions have been crowned that have high octane offenses and average to mediocre defenses than the other way around.
John Kemp – Kemp is the best goalie in the tournament, and arguably the best in the country. Notre Dame’s defense is of course legendary, but Kemp is there to stop anything that gets through. He has a save percentage of 63.6% including numerous good shooting teams. I’ve watched him play. I see no weakness. Loyola’s coach Toomey commented on Kemp. “We don’t want to over think our shots. We feel like we’ve got pretty talented shooters on the corners. But we do talk to our guys and tell them if you have a bad shot, it’s going the other direction. We haven’t really been able to pinpoint where he’s weak at this point”. That’s because he’s NOT weak anywhere.
Ryan Foley – I have not heard about his status but will edit once known. After suffering a concussion last week, and the focus on protecting concussed athletes, he probably won’t play. This would be a blow to a Notre Dame team whose midfielders have come on the scene recently.
Eric Lusby/Mike Sawyer – Most teams would be happy with one player who scored 45+ goals. Loyola has two of them. A left right combo (literally) that is difficult for most defenses to stop. How Notre Dame decides to play defense on them will be an interesting key to the game. Coach Toomey’s take is that Notre Dame will try to clamp down on Lusby & Sawyer and that others will need to chip in. “It’s not like we haven’t seen teams shut two guys off or really pressed out and gotten a hand. I think the second time we played Denver, of our first 11 goals, 11 of them were scored by different people. So that’s the type of effort we really believe we’re going to need this Saturday”.
What was interesting to hear is Notre Dame might go in the opposite direction, as long as they stop any unsettled transition by the duo. Corrigan said “I’ll be honest with you, it’s a little bit of concentrating on everything else, because when those guys get the ball in certain situations, there’s little you can do, you’re hoping for your goalie to make a play. So I think one of the keys to defending them is keeping them out of the transition,”. Usually the focus is on the star, where defenses slide early, or try to lock them down. I have seen the counter-intuitive defense work where a defense instead focuses on shutting down the star’s teammates. Make him carry the whole team and watch him crumble. With two studs on offense, I am not sure this will work.
JP Dalton – The Face-off specialist for Loyola is as flukey as Duke’s Wigrizer. On the year he is above average (55%). He looked phenomenal in last week’s performance against Denver (17 of 22=77.3%)…however in the first two matchups against Denver he got SMOKED. Also in the 1st round against Canisius, Dalton struggled (5 of 14=35.7%), before Brendan Donovan picked up the slack (4 of 5).
Scott Ratliff – He could be Loyola’s surprise player of the tournament. He is a true Long Stick Middie. Not only can he play offense with a pole (12 goals, 7 assists), but he can play defense too (79 Ground balls and 34 caused turnovers). So far in the two games of the tournament he has 3goals, 11 Ground balls, 2 caused turnovers, and has won 3 of 6 face offs.
Notre Dame’s defense is #1 for a reason. As Loyola coach Toomey points out, “They’re a slide-and-recover team. They play a scheme that gives people fits.” This style of Defense could actually hurt them. The one thing that can kill this type of defense is quick skip passes. With Loyola’s Lusby/Sawyer cobmo, and fast offense, they just might have the tools to puncture this stifling defense. Playing defense, especially a slide heavy defense, can get tiring if the offense is able to thread the needle and you are dealing with sunny day air temp of 88 (95+ on the field?)
The Irish Offense is not known for putting up big numbers (less than 9 goals per game). Late in the season, Notre Dame shooters have started to increase their shooting% and find the back of the net more. They are especially on a tear right now in the tournament. In their past 2 games they have scored a total of 25 goals. Against Yale, they had 13 goals by 9 different players, and 12 goals by 8 different players against UVA. Particularly of note was the emergence of the Irish midfield. Against UVA, 8 of their 12 goals were from middies, and all 6 assists were from middies.
Late bloomers. Notre Dame has been trailing at the half in 5 of their games and has rallied in 4 of them for wins. With the heat, and up tempo, there might not be enough gas in the tank if the Irish need to play catch up in the fourth quarter.
While they have not faced each other yet this season, they have faced similar opponents. Against Duke, Loyola won by 5, Notre Dame by 4. Against Denver, Loyola won by 3, by 1, and by 1. Notre Dame won by 1. Both Notre Dame and Loyola beat Ohio State by the same score (8-7). The only difference was Georgetown as Notre Dame only won by 2, and Loyola won by 5.
Tale of the Tape:
Loyola is 16-1 with wins over Duke, Denver (three times), Fairfield (twice). Only loss to Hopkins in OT
Loyola is scoring 12.5 Goals per game on 41.5 shots per game. Their offense is led by Eric Lusby with 45 Goals and 16 assists, Mike Sawyer with 51G/8A, Justin Ward with 11G/30A, David Butts with 19G/13A, and Sean O’Sullivan with 16G/11A.
Loyola is winning 53.3% of their face offs and have a +99 Ground Ball ratio (+5.8 per game)
Loyola has the best EMO offense converting 24 of 50 chances (48%).
On Defense, opponents are scoring 7.6 goals per game off 30.1 shots per game. The Man down defense is letting opponents convert 37% of the time.
Goalie Jack Runkel has 111 goals against (7.6 per game), and 128 saves (53.6%).
Notre Dame is 13-2 with wins over Duke, Drexel, Denver, Villanova, Syracuse, Yale, UVA. Losses to PSU, St. Johns
Notre Dame’s offense is averaging 8.9 Goals on 32.3shots per game. The offense is led by Sean Rogers with 21G/8A, Jim Marlatt with 18G/12A, Westy Hopkins with 16G/7A, Ryan Foley with 13G/8A, Conor Doyle with 13G/7A, and Max Pfeifer with 11G/9A.
The Irish are winning 47.9% of their face offs and have +14 Ground bals (+0.93 per game)
Notre Dame’s EMO has only converted 8 of 33 chances (24.2%).
Notre Dame’s defense is the best in the country allowing just 6.3 goals on 31.7 shots per game. Their man down defense is also the best in the country, as opponents have only converted 4 of 34 chances (11.8%).
In Net, John Kemp has allowed 94 goals (6.2 per game), and has 164 saves (63.6%)
This game is going to be a great matchup. The best defense against one of the best offenses. The best man-down unit against the second best man-up unit. It is almost too close to call. Because of Notre Dame’s catch-up play, the speed in which Loyola will push, and the heat, I am going to say Notre Dame comes close in a late rally, but falls just short. Loyola by 2.