Not too many seasons feature an April showdown between Duke and Virginia where both teams are looking for their first conference win. But with young defenses on both sides, the Hoos and Blue Devils met in Durham each at 0-3 in the ACC. To the winner, the fourth and final spot in the ACC Tournament in two weeks; to the loser, relegation to a Saturday showcase game against Penn.
Behind 7 goals from midfielder Jack Bruckner, Duke stymied the Cavaliers and grabbed a seat at the ACC Tournament table. Deemer Class added 3 goals for the Blue Devils, while Myles Jones scored 2 more and chipped in 3 assists. Virginia goalie Matt Barrett had another high-save day, making 17 stops. Greg Coholan led Virginia's scoring with 3 goals.
Here are three things we learned from the loss.
Turnovers are bad. Real bad.
Virginia committed 16 turnovers for the game, but 9 in the second quarter stopped any U.Va. momentum before it got started. Some turnovers were of the errant pass variety, a few were quality caused turnovers by the Duke defense, but far too many were from Hoos running into double teams and either (1) not having an open second man, or (2) not being able to find the open second man. The Blue Devils defense focused on preventing wing dodgers from feeding the ball back to the top of the box and managed to stifle Virginia in a manner that reflected many of the same problems from last week's loss to UNC-Chapel Hill.
Matt Barrett is good. Real good.
The Virginia keeper is starting to get the national love we Wahoos know he deserves. Looking just at the traditional numbers, one wouldn't peg Barrett as among the nation's elite: coming into the weekend, Barrett ranked 13th in save percentage (.569) and a lowly 41st in goals-against average (10.72). But goals-against is a team-defense-dependent statistic; so too, to a lesser extent, is save percentage. Once more against Duke, Barrett stood on his head as the defense in front of him gave up doorstep shot after doorstep shot (more on this in a minute). In one sequence in the first half, Barrett saved three shots in the span of 30 seconds. He already holds the freshman saves record at Virginia with 149. Adding his 161 from this season, Barrett is almost halfway to Tillman Johnson's career record of 700.
There's a lot of reason for optimism about this defense—next year.
It's probably time to admit that the Hoos young defense is showing its inexperience. The frustrating thing about it is that they played so far beyond their year (singular) at the beginning of the season, and seem to have fallen off in the last few weeks. Backside cuts and movement just DESTROY this defensive unit. Young guys get caught ball-watching and their man only has to make one move to get open moving toward the cage. That's bad. But it's also something that inexperienced players do. If you had to choose between a team that couldn't play on-ball defense to save its life versus one that struggles to play off-ball defense, you choose the latter—because the former means you just don't have talent. Tanner Scales will be back next year after his Achilles injury. Michael Howard has developed into a premier long-stick midfielder (and played quite well today against the manfreak that is Myles Jones). Add to them any two of Scott Hooper, Logan Greco, and Cooper Fersen, and throw that combo out every week in front of the afore-praised Matt Barrett. That group of long poles ought to be able to give fits to even the most talented offensive opponents after an off-season of developing and working together.
Virginia closes out its regular season at home on Saturday, April 18th against Georgetown. The team's seniors will be recognized before the game, which starts at 1 PM. The showcase game against Penn will be the following Saturday, April 25th, at PPL Park in Chester, Pennsylvania.