Lacrosse Preview: Virginia at Duke, 4/12/13

Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE

The Virginia Cavaliers (5-6, 0-2 ACC) travel to Durham for a Friday night showdown against the Duke Blue Devils (9-4, 1-1).

On March 1, the U.Va. men's lacrosse team traveled to Syracuse and lost in overtime. The loss dropped the Cavaliers to 4-1. With a freshman goalie, at a notoriously difficult venue, on only two days' rest, the loss was disappointing but not particularly worrying for U.Va. fans. I remember saying as much when I called my dad to talk about the game the next day.

I said something else, too. "Hey, did you see Duke lost again? Four losses already. One more and they may not make the tournament."

The Hoos travel to Durham for a Friday night tilt against a Duke squad hardly recognizable from its predecessor of six weeks ago. In the month and a half since Virginia's loss to Syracuse and Duke's loss to Maryland, Virginia has won only once more and Duke has yet to lose again. In the March 4 USILA poll, Virginia was ranked 8th and Duke was unranked; after Monday's rankings, Duke stands at 7th and Virginia is on the outside looking in.

Somewhat ironically, however, ACC Tournament seeding is still on the line. A Virginia victory would put both squads at 1-2 in ACC play, with Virginia owning the head-to-head tiebreaker. If Duke wins, it improves to 2-1 in conference, tying it with both Maryland and UNC-Chapel Hill. Then the seeding fun really begins, with factors like goal differential coming into the picture.

But Friday night comes first. At 9-4, Duke has pulled off a very impressive turnaround. The Blue Devils can score at a decent clip (12.92 goals per game) but have registered only a middle of the road scoring defense, allowing 9.54 goals per game. Junior attackman Jordan Wolf is the focal point of the Duke offense, leading the team with 50 points so far. By far the most eye-popping statistical performer in Duke's lineup is face-off specialist Brendan Fowler, who wins nearly 65% of his draws (4th nationally).

One mid-season change that has paralleled the Blue Devils' return to national prominence has been in goal. Sophomore Kyle Turri took over for junior Dan Wigrizer in the second quarter of Duke's loss to Maryland. Wigrizer, who had started for the 2010 national championship squad, had suffered a concussion when a shot cracked his helmet during practice. On Monday, Wigrizer announced his playing career was over, citing his concussion history. (And congrats to the young man for having his priorities in order.) Turri has played well during Duke's eight-game winning streak, registering a 54% save percentage and allowing just over eight goals per game.

Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, Duke converts a high percentage of its shots: less so than Maryland, more so than UNC-Chapel Hill. And that's been the lynchpin for U.Va. opponents so far this year. With solid goalkeeping and a dominant face-off game, Duke poses a formidable obstacle to Virginia's ever-dwindling postseason hopes. The Hoos haven't won in Durham since 2003, and have lost 12 of the last 13 to Duke overall. A loss Friday night puts U.Va. at 5-7. Even with a win over Bellarmine, Virginia would need to win the ACC tournament to finish the season above .500 and remain tournament eligible.

The rhetoric has met reality: Friday night is Virginia's last chance if it hopes to make the tournament.

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