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Virginia Lacrosse Preview: Duke

It's Duke week. Sigh.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Who: No.7 Duke Blue Devils
When: Sunday, April 12, 12:00
Where: Koskinen Stadium, Durham, NC
How to Watch: ESPNU

To say the Virginia Men's Lacrosse team has struggled with Duke lately would be a bit of an understatement. The good guys have dropped 14 of the last 15 matchups against the Blue Devils, with the lone win being in 2010 in the ACC tournament. The Bratton brothers combined for five goals in that game, if that tells you how long ago it was. The past few seasons have been closer, and all have been barn burners. The Hoos lost 17-15 in 2014, 19-16 in 2013, 13-11 in 2011 (nevermind the 13-5 loss in 2012 or the 19-10 loss in the ACC tournament in 2011).

This season, however, Virginia is actually favored coming into the matchup with their bitter foes from Durham. At No.6 in the polls, the Hoos are one spot ahead of Duke in the rankings. The Blue Devils average 14.45 goals per game, good for sixth in the NCAA, but give up an NCAA 59th 12.27 goals per game. Virginia is ninth offensively with 12.91 goals per game and 43rd defensively with 10.55

Freshman Justin Guterding (34 goals, 9 assists) leads the attack unit, flanked by Chad Cohan (12g, 7a) and Case Matheis (6g, 7a). The real threat when you play Duke is their potent midfield. Myles Jones (27g, 24a), Deemer Class (24g, 12a), Jack Bruckner (23g, 8a), and Tanner Scott (12g, 2a) can all burn you.

Virginia's defense will be tested once again with that group of shooters. Goalie Matt Barrett will need to keep up his stellar play to help negate the Duke potency, but he has shown no signs of slowing down. His 56.5% save percentage ranks 13th in the nation, and his 13.09 saves per game ranks fifth. College Crosse broke down his improved performance this year, which has been incredible.

Defensively, Davi Sacco has continued to act as the anchor for the Cavaliers' young squad. His 16 caused turnovers leads the team, which is even more impressive considering he's pulled the Malcolm Brogdon duty of guarding the other team's best attackman. Logan Greco and Scott Hooper have been solid in the past few weeks and their play consistently betrays their youth. The duo have combined for 15 ground balls and 10 caused turnovers. Greco, who has started all 11 games and played almost the entire game in all of them, has zero fouls on the season.

Michael Howard continues to jump up my 'players to watch' list, maturing exponentially week to week. If there is a lacrosse god, hopefully the 6-5, 220 Howard will have a chance to take on 6-4, 240 Jones. Don't be surprised to see short stick defenders Jack Falk, Carlson Milikin, and Will McNamara matching up with Cohan, Matheis, or Scott, while Jones, Class, and Bruckner draw long poles.

Virginia's offense struggled last week in a 10-6 loss to North Carolina, but this team is still dangerous on the attack end. Greg Coholan leads the team with 29 goals and eight assists, followed by attackmen Ryan Lukacovic (13g, 21a) and Owen Van Arsdale (21g, 11a). Midfielders Ryan Tucker (22g, 9a) and Zed Williams (16g, 16a) have been consistent and smart with their shots (Tucker shooting 37%, Williams 42%). Tyler German, who has filled in on midfield after Coholan shifted to attack after James Pannell's injury, has 12 goals and five assists and has shown some real shooting chops in the past few weeks.

Defensively, Duke is led by Brian Dunne (15 groundballs, 11 caused turnovers), Ethan Powley (14 gb, 9 ct), and defensive midfielder Will Haus (35 gb, 9 ct). Duke gives up over three man up opportunities per game, so Virginia's extra man unit could become a factor in this one. The Cavaliers are only converting 31% of their EMOs this season.

At the faceoff X, Virginia has improved the past couple weeks, dominating Richmond and holding the edge against North Carolina. Duke wins 53% on the season, with Jack Rowe winning 55% of his attempts. The Cavalier duo of Jason Murphy (47%) and Jeff Kratky (42%) combine for a 45% win percentage. The wing play of Howard, German, and Williams has helped create turnovers on faceoffs that may not go outright to Kratky/Murphy.

Beyond breaking the long drought that has existed for Virginia against Duke, this game has major season implications. Both the Blue Devils and Cavaliers are winless in the ACC this season at 0-3. The winner of this game takes the fourth spot in the ACC tournament, the loser is relegated to a consolation game with Penn. While both teams should be locks for the NCAA at this time, the win would make that even more assured for the Cavaliers.

Game starts at noon, and will be aired on ESPNU.