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No. 13 Virginia lacrosse faces a must-win game at North Carolina

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Hoos sit at 0-2 in the ACC in the midst of an 18 game conference losing streak.

Inside Lacrosse - Jaclyn Borowski

1,497 days.

That’s how long it has been since the Virginia men’s lacrosse team has won a regular season ACC game.

That number is large, but it can be a bit misleading, too. True, Virginia has gone 0-for-18 in their last 18 ACC games, but it’s also true there are only four chances a season. This isn’t like a basketball team going 0-for-18 and it being just one brutally long (sorry, Pitt) season. With only four ACC schools - North Carolina, Duke, Syracuse, and Notre Dame - fielding men’s lacrosse teams, the opportunities are fewer and further between.

Below, you can see the matchups and result of each of Virginia’s last 18 regular season ACC games (the Hoos did beat UNC in the 2014 ACC tournament showcase game as it was the only year that Maryland, Notre Dame, and Syracuse were all conference members).

Virginia Men’s Lacrosse ACC Struggles

Year Opponent Rank Opponent Score Differential Virginia's Rank
Year Opponent Rank Opponent Score Differential Virginia's Rank
2014 11 Notre Dame 18-9 9 7
2014 4 Maryland 9-6 3 8
2014 5 UNC 11-10 1 8
2014 2 Duke 17-15 2 8
2015 2 Syracuse 15-9 6 5
2015 4 Notre Dame 11-9 2 7
2015 4 UNC 10-6 4 6
2015 7 Duke 15-8 7 6
2016 3 Syracuse 14-13 1 17
2016 2 Notre Dame 8-7 (OT) 1 30*
2016 11 UNC 16-8 8 20
2016 13 Duke 14-8 6 22*
2017 12 Syracuse 14-13 1 11
2017 3 Notre Dame 11-10 (OT) 1 13
2017 20 UNC 15-12 3 14
2017 9 Duke 20-11 9 18
2018 12 Syracuse 12-11 1 5
2018 4 Notre Dame 9-7 2 7
Bold - Virginia favored; * Virginia not ranked. Rank determined by “also receiving votes” section of Inside Lacrosse poll for that week

As you can see, the ACC has had some good teams over the years. Virginia has faced a ranked team in every single ACC matchup over that span, with 12 of the 18 games (67%) coming against a top-ten team. Only five times (28%) was Virginia favored, and in two of those five games the Hoos were just one place higher in the rankings than their opponent. On average, Virginia’s rank was No. 12, while their opponents clock in at No. 7.

What hurts the most, possibly, is the fact that six of those games (33%) have been decided by one goal or overtime, and another two games by two goals. No team has beaten the Hoos by at least three goals each time, but the Blue Devils continuing to be the bane of Virginia’s existence (UVA’s lost 16 of the last 17 to Duke and now eight straight...that’s a depressing stats rabbit hole for another day) with an average margin of victory of six goals per game.

All of that said, the other ACC teams also had to play top-ten teams, and they all were able to amass an overall winning record in conference of the same span of 18(ish) games (removing the first conference game of 2014).

  • Syracuse: 13-6 (they’ve played three conference games this season)
  • Notre Dame: 11-7
  • Duke: 11-7
  • North Carolina: 9-8 (they’ve only played one conference game this season)

Only three times in the past 4+ seasons has a team other than Virginia had a losing ACC record with it happening to Notre Dame in 2014, Duke in 2015, and North Carolina in 2017.

Gross.

Saturday night, Virginia has their best chance to score a conference win as they head to Chapel Hill to face the unranked Tar Heels. In order to make the ACC tournament (which only takes the top four teams), Virginia must win to hold the tie-breaker over UNC. That may not end up being enough as the Tar Heels still have to play Notre Dame and Syracuse and Virginia only has Duke (sigh) left after UNC, but the Hoos have absolutely no shot at the ACC tournament (and therefore, the NCAA tournament) if they don’t win on Saturday.

If there were ever a time to break the streak, it’s now. UNC is 6-5 on the season, losing their last five games. Virginia is 8-3 with quality wins over No. 10 Loyola and Richmond, which beat the Tar Heels, 11-10, earlier this season. North Carolina’s best win of the season is against Johns Hopkins, 13-11.

Offensively, UNC is averaging 10.8 goals per game, led by crafty Canadian attackman Chris Cloutier (28 goals). Four other Tar Heels have at least 10 goals on the season, and junior attackman Andy Matthews has 21 assists to go with five goals. They average over 36 shots per game, and have assisted 54% of their goals. Virginia’s defense allows 10.7 goals per game, and the Hoos are second in the ACC with 8.2 caused turnovers per game.

On the defensive end, North Carolina gives up 10.6 goals per game. Ryan Macri, Jack Rowlett, and Michael Nathan started for the Tar Heels, and the trio has combined for 19 caused turnovers on the season. Virginia needs to watch Rowlett in transition as he has three goals and two assists on the season. Senior midfielder William McBride leads UNC in caused turnovers with nine, but they’re not a team that causes a lot, although opponents turn it over just over 13 times per game against the Heels.

Virginia’s offense should prove to be a handful for the Heels as they come into Saturday night’s game averaging just shy of 13 goals per game and have two of the most dynamic scorers in the league with Michael Kraus (29 goals, 23 assists) and Dox Aitken (27 goals). Three of the league’s top-five scorers play for Virginia in Kraus (No. 2), Aitken (No. 4), and first year Ian Laviano (No. 5). Laviano is third on the team in goals (25) and points (31), and is third in the country in goals scored by a freshman, behind Albany’s Tehoka Nanticoke (28 goals) and Colgate’s Mike Hawkins (26).

At the face off X, the Hoos hold the advantage on paper in Justin Schwenk over UNC’s face off by committee approach. Schwenk has won 62.3% of his attempts (162-of-260) and is first in the ACC out of players who have attempted at least 120 face offs. Charles Kelly has taken the majority of face offs for North Carolina, winning 76-of-154 (49.4%), but the Tar Heels four players who have attempted at least 20 face offs this season.

In the cage, Virginia head coach Lars Tiffany has been sticking with first year Alex Rode and it’s paying dividends Rode has a 53.3% save percentage on the season, good for second in the ACC, and is has an ACC-leading 10.6 saves per game. North Carolina started junior Alex Bassil against Duke, and he’s got a season average of 10.7 goals against with a save percentage of 49% in five games of action. Bassil, Jack Pezzula, and Luke Millican have all started at some point this season for the Heels.

Beyond the face off X and the goalie play, the ground ball game will be important to this contest. Virginia holds a dramatic advantage in this category, coming in first in the NCAA (and therefore the ACC) with 39.3 per game, led by Schwenk with six per game. Conversely, North Carolina is 52nd in the country (and last in the ACC) with just 25.6 per game. Possessions will be crucial for the Hoos, as will limiting turnovers.

This is a huge opportunity for a statement win for Lars Tiffany and the Hoos. Game is at 6pm on Saturday and will be streamed on ACC Network Extra.