Memorial Day Weekend is finally here and that can only mean two things. Hot Dogs and some elite level college lacrosse. The NCAA Tournament is shipping up to Boston and only four teams remain, all in hopes to take home the prestigious National Championship Trophy. This years final four is what some would like to call special because these are the top four overall seeds in the tournament. This scenario has not played out in over a decade and is sure to make for some spectacular lacrosse at Gillette Stadium. Throughout this preview, I will break down both final four matchups in detail, and will make a prediction for each game. I will than make my prediction for the 2018 National Championship game and by articles end, a champion will be crowned. We will start with the first game of the weekend that features two teams who are not used to this magnitude of lacrosse, and are looking to make their mark on this momentous opportunity.
#2 Albany vs #3 Yale – NOON: ESPN2
Albany is making their first appearance to the final four in program history. Yale is in the final four for the first time since 1990. Something has to give. History will be made. This matchup may seem like an underdog story, but you would be fooled if you thought for a second that these two teams are underdogs. They are in fact, two of the better teams in the entire nation. Let’s start with Albany. The Great Danes are entering Saturdays matchup as the second overall seed in this tournament, and have one of the most dangerous offenses in the history of college lacrosse. How did they get here you may ask? Albany’s quest to Boston started with a first round match up against the University of Richmond, who was entering the game as one of the hottest teams in the country. The Great Danes quickly put out the flame to the Spiders fire and thanks to a brilliant performance from Freshman Phenom Tehoka Nanticoke, Albany advanced with a dominating performance, defeating Richmond by the score of 18-9. They were just one win away from an accomplishment that they had never before accomplished, clinching a birth to the final four. Standing in their way from history was the Denver Pioneers, a dominate team led by legendary coach Bill Tierney. The Danes were not intimidated by the moment and it was clear that they were not going to come up short, like they had done so many times before. After a late push by Denver came up just short, Albany had advanced and held on for a 15-13 win and Scott Marr’s team was heading up to Boston and would be playing in the final four for the first time ever. Albany stands just two wins away from winning a National Championship and I must say, I think they are the favorite heading into the weekend. Although they are not the top seed, it is clear that they have the best offense in the country and when they are clicking, they are practically unstoppable. If Connor Fields can stay healthy which he has been hesitant of doing throughout the year, Albany is going to be a problem and very well may be raising the NC trophy on Memorial Day.
As for Yale, the Bulldogs are coming into the Weekend as absolute warriors. After losing in the Ivy League championship game to Cornell, many said that Yale’s chance to win a National Championship was somewhat of an afterthought. Yale’s first round matchup paired them with the UMASS Minutemen who although were not the flashiest on paper, could put the ball in the net in bunches and could really surprise some people in New Heaven. The Minutemen fought with everything they had, but the Bulldog’s offense that is led by superstar, Ben Reeves was too overpowering, and Yale survived by the score of 13-15. It was than up to Hempstead, New York where Yale would face the Grey Hounds of Loyola Maryland in the NCAA National Quarterfinal. What would transpire in that game, could only be described as a bloodbath as the Bulldogs and the Greyhounds battled in the pouring rain in what felt like hours on end. In a game like this, the team that is going to come away victorious is going to be the team that has more Grit. The team that wants it more and the team that digs deep to find a gear that they did not think they were even capable of. Yale was this team on Saturday afternoon. They wanted the moment more and nothing was going to stop them from punching their ticket to Boston. Yale finished the fight and came away with a 8-5 victory. They were heading back to the final four for the first time since 1990. The question now becomes, do these Bulldogs have what it takes to win the National Championship? It’s hard to say but the only chance they have of winning, is if they get extreme production from a certain man. A certain man who is considered the best player in college lacrosse. That man is the one and only, Ben Reeves. Reeves is putting on a historic 2018 season and has accumulated for over 100 points this season, a feat that does not happen every day. Reeves knows how much pressure is going to be put on him this weekend and he is the type of player that lives for this type of pressure. I expect him to shine and expect him to be nothing short of phenomenal this weekend.
This matchup is going to be an absolute track meet and if you are a fan of high scoring lacrosse, this is the matchup for you. Albany has a fiery offense that is led by attackman Tehoka Nanticoke and Connor Fields who are two of the better scorers in the country. Yale will have the best player on the field in Ben Reeves and sometimes, having the best guy on your side is enough. In this case, I do not think that it the case. I think that Albany’s offense is going to be way too much for a sub par Yale defense to handle and the Great Danes will be advancing to championship Monday with a 19-16 win. Keep the Dane train rolling!
#1 Maryland vs #4 Duke – 2:30: ESPN2
This is a matchup that one can only dream about. A matchup that if you were asked to pick two teams to play in a “dream scenario type of matchup” it would be these two teams. Duke, Maryland. The two biggest names in the sport. Simple as that.Someone will go home with a broken heart as the other will be one step away from padding their already historic program and continue to build their dynasty.
For Maryland, it seems like we should get used to them being in the final four every year. Year in and year out, the Terps get a one seed, dominate in the first few rounds of the tournament and lose in the final four. This pattern that was repeated for an array of years was finally broken when the Terps broke through and won the National Championship just a year ago. As the defending champions, there will always be expectations to repeat. That being said, some said Maryland would have some what of a down year as they were now without the best player to ever put on the Maryland uniform, Matt Rambo. Maryland did not let off the gas pedal however, and entered the NCAA tournament as the number one overall seed and had a phenomenal regular season. In the first round of the tournament, the Terps were matched up with Robert Morris who was making their first ever appearance to the big dance. As most had this as a “Win with your eyes closed” type of game for the Terps, the Colonials had different ideas. They came into College Park with a plan and for a good point of the game, executed that plan with high-efficiency. They were even leading at the half by three goals and put the nation on notice. Maryland is however, Maryland and thanks to a dominating defensive performance in the second half and an attack that wouldn’t quit, the Terps survived a first round scare by the score of 14-11. It was than on to face the Cornell big red, as Maryland was looking to clinch their spot in a place they have been so comfortable in and have essentially called home part 2. I am of course referring final four weekend. Maryland knew that the only way they were going to be beat was if Cornell’s superstar Attackman Jeff Teat had a field day. Teat is one of the best players in the country, but recently has been face guarded and shut down due to his stardom and ability to light it up. Maryland drew up the perfect game plan to shut down Teat and he was some what of an afterthought as this game progressed. Without Teat being a real factor, Cornell had no real chance of winning this game. Maryland was just flat-out better in every part of the game. The Terps cruised to a 13-8 win and were heading back to the final four, once again. For Maryland to come away with their second straight title this weekend, they are going to need production from two things. One,they are going to need great performances from their long poles because Duke can light up the scoreboard if they are given just an inch of space and two, they need production from Senior leader, Connor Kelly who is the best midfielder in the country. The Terps are expected to win, and it will be interesting to see if they deliver.
Duke has not been to the final four quite some time now, but when the Blue Devils do make an appearance on championship weekend, they do not disappoint. The Blue Devils are looking to win their 4th National Championship and are trying to solidify themselves as one of the most successful programs in lacrosse history. Duke is more than capable of raising the banner once again as their offensive attack is the second best in the nation, behind Albany, who in which they could play in the Championship. To get to this point, Duke had to go through two respectable opponents. They first had to beat Villanova who was a hot team from the East Coast and was known for pulling off big time upset throughout the regular season. Duke was not scared of the cinderella story however, and thanks to an offensive outburst, Duke advanced to the second round after beating the Wildcats, 17-11. They than advanced to play an old-time rival in Johns Hopkins, who had plenty of history with the Blue Devils in years prior. This was perhaps the most anticipated matchup of the quarterfinal weekend and it did not disappoint. These two rivals exchanged blows and it was like watching a title fight. The fight was won by the Blue Devils and in the process a historic feat was made. Justin Guterding scored his 207th career goal, making him the outright scoring leader in NCAA Lacrosse history. Duke won the game by the score of 14-9 and were going to Boston with unfinished business. With a team that has so much success when entering championship weekend, you can almost expect something special to come from this Blue Devil bunch.
As for this matchup, I think the key is very simple. Can Maryland’s defense who has been very stout all year, contain Dukes explosive offense. They are not going to be able to keep up with them if this game becomes a shoot out, so it is essential that the defense plays up to par. I also want you guys to watch Duke Freshman, Nakeie Montgomery. The Texas native is one of the fastest players I have seen in a while and can create open space in amazing fashion. (Hot Take: He will be the most outstanding player of the weekend.) I think that this Duke offense is going to be just a tad to overpowering for Maryland to handle and for that reason, I have Duke advancing to play in the National Championship game on Memorial Day Monday.
National Championship Preview: Duke Vs Albany
Memorial Day is going to be special. If my predictions come into fruition, this will be one of the more memorable finals in NCAA lacrosse history. This game is going to be offense against offense. Flashy goals are going to come left and right and this will be the type of game where your eyes will be glued to the TV for the duration of the game. As for the winner, I am going to pick Albany to win their first ever National Championship. The combo of Connor Fields and Tehoka Nanticoke will just be un fair at some point in this game you will be saying to yourself, how are these guys even allowed on the same team. This Dane train will keep on rolling and they will be your 2018 National Champions.