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Cavaliers Host Fifth-Ranked Tar Heels on Saturday; Shamel Bratton "Likely" to Play

Shamel Bratton is "likely" to play on Saturday in this ACC battle.
Shamel Bratton is "likely" to play on Saturday in this ACC battle.

The Virginia men's lacrosse team has dropped from second to ninth in the country over the course of two weeks, thanks two back-to-back losses against then-No. 11 (now-No. 3) Johns Hopkins and then No. 10 (now No. 5) Maryland. It's the first time the Cavaliers have lost two in a row since 2004, a team that lost four straight and finished the season 5-8. The Hoos will look to regain their composure as they host No. 5 North Carolina this Saturday at Klockner Stadium. By the way, 2004 was also the last time the Hoos lost to North Carolina.

Senior midfielder Shamel Bratton has been practicing this week and is expected to play on Saturday. Bratton was suspended last week for the Maryland game, for the second time this season for violating unspecified team rules. Shamel averages 3.0 points per game - much-needed offense for a team that gave up eight goals in the second half while only putting up two of their own.

The Tar Heels are led by First-Team All-American and ACC Player of the Year Billy Bitter, 2010 ACC Rookie of the Year Marcus Holman and freshman sensation Nicky Galasso, who combine 8.6 points per game.  They may prove to be a challenge for Virginia's young defense, a defense that simply shut down last week during the Terrapins' rally. Virginia gives up an average of 9.3 goals a game, 37th (of 60) in the country.

It's the same story at face-off. In a losing effort against Maryland, Virginia was only able to win 8 of 22 face-offs, and is ranked in the bottom half of the country with a face-off win percentage of just .484. By comparison, Carolina wins 58.4% of its face-offs, 11th in the country.

The Virginia offense will need to strike early and strike often. The Cavaliers, led by Steele Stanwick, Shamel Bratton and Chris Bocklet lead the country in scoring offense (13.4 goals per game), man-up offense (.553) and ground balls per game (41.7). Stanwick, Shamel and Bocklet combine for 9.8 goals per game.

They will face First-Team All-American close defender Ryan Flanagan, who last year was a co-winner of the Schmeisser Memorial Cup, awarded to the nation's top defenseman. Flannagan leads the Heels with 20 caused turnovers, and is ranked tenth in the country in the same.

It's going to be an interesting one to watch. The game will be broadcast on ESPN/ESPN3 in HD, and with Shamel likely to play on Saturday, hopefully Virginia will be able to bounce back and right the ship. Most consider Virginia's ticket to the NCAA tournament already punched (indeed, most consider Virginia destined for Memorial Day weekend), but the Hoos still need to fight to earn it as we are nearing the end of the regular season. With just No. 5 North Carolina, No. 4 Duke and No. 12 Penn remaining, there will be no cupcakes in the Cavaliers' diet.