In a season full of way more ups than downs, one has to wonder what to make of the Fighting Irish Lacrosse team as NCAA Tournament play looms.
This was a team that during the regular season held the #1 ranking at one point, handed perennial power house Syracuse its worst home defeat in 29 years, and handily defeated current #1 and tournament favorite Maryland 9-4. However, before you book your tickets to Philadelphia for the Final Four, know that the Irish, in some sense, seem to be staggering to the finish line. Notre Dame has lost two of its last three games and, in both cases, lost leads in the second half. In their 17-15 loss at UNC, the Irish lost a 14-9 fourth quarter lead and, along with that, their #1 ranking. The following week in the ACC semifinal, they allowed another second half lead to get away from them as they fell to Duke 10-9 in Overtime. So which team will show up when the tournament starts on Saturday?
Following the ACC Tournament loss, Head Coach Kevin Corrigan said, “I believe in this team and I think this is a team that can win a national championship.” Were these the words of a confident coach looking ahead or the words of a coach who sees his beleaguered troops at a breaking point?
How far can the Irish get? Resident lacrosse expert Quint Kessenich from ESPN, who had the Irish ranked #1 earlier in the season, seemed concerned recently with the fatigue of the Notre Dame defense. He believes that the lack of substitutions on defense may pose concerns for the Irish in the tournament. Additionally, of the top four seeds, the Irish have the worst face-off winning percentage – an area that plagued them in their most recent two-game slide.
Kessenich also suggests that perhaps the Irish lack enough scoring depth through their line-up to win a National Championship. Teams that make deep tournament runs in any sport are usually teams that are hot at the start of the tournament. The old adage that it is often not the best teams that wins the tournament, but the team playing the best when it starts would seem appropriate here.
Despite their uneven finish, the Irish did manage to secure a #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament which begins this week. So what can we expect going forward? Are the Fighting Irish playing on Memorial Day Weekend in Philadelphia? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say yes!
The Irish will open the tournament at home vs. Air Force. The Falcons signature win game was against Duke earlier in the season. They also won the Southern Conference Championship after being ranked third in the pre-season. Despite Air Force’s solid resume, a more talented Irish club from a better league and playing at home will pose too great a hurdle for Air Force. This leaves the Irish playing the winner of North Carolina/Marquette for a spot in the Final 4. I believe the Irish rebound and remove the stinging loss to North Carolina earlier for a spot in the Final Four. So I’m going with the Irish landing a spot in the Final 4. Don’t ask me past that. As once you get to Philadelphia, the records go out the window.