February 3, 2014

#LMRanks: No. 5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (MD1)

by Matthew DeFranks | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | College Preview 2014

Notre Dame attackman Matt Kavanagh "might be the best offensive player in school history before he leaves," according to one rival coach. (TD Paulius)

Previous: No. 6 Princeton Tigers

Vitals

2013 Record: 11-5 (Big East)
Coach: Kevin Corrigan (25th year)
Record at Notre Dame: 241-114

Power Ratings (scale of 1-5)

Offense: 3
Defense: 5
Goalkeeping:
3
Faceoff:
3

Top Returner

A Matt Kavanagh (So.)
Kavanagh came into last season as one of the nation's top freshmen and he delivered on the hype with 32 goals and 16 assists while starting every game in his debut campaign. Now, the Rockville Centre, N.Y., native will have to avoid the sophomore slump and continue to be Notre Dame's main scoring threat. "He's got the value of the experience that he had, the confidence that comes with what he did a year ago," Corrigan said. "I think he's a complete lacrosse player and will be one of the better guys in the country."

X-Factor

A Westy Hopkins (Sr.)
Hopkins tied for the team lead in goals scored as a freshman (18) and posted 18 more goals in his sophomore season. But last season, Hopkins moved to midfield and his numbers fell way down (six goals and three assists on just 17 shots) despite playing all 16 games. Corrigan said Hopkins would move back to attack this season and if he can once again produce up front, Hopkins adds another dimension to an Irish team that is always in need of goal-scorers.

Tournament Trend

2009 First round
2010 Championship game
2011 Quarterfinals
2012 Semifinals
2013 Quarterfinals

What's New?

John Kemp is gone and junior Conor Kelly will man the crease for the Irish. Kemp filled Scott Rodgers' shoes and now, Kelly will have to fill Kemp's, who finished second in both goals against average and victories in Notre Dame history. Kelly is untested in goal, facing only three shots in 12:35 total minutes in the cage.

Telling Number

9.94
Goals per game in 2012, the most since Notre Dame averaged 11 goals per game in 2009, when the Irish were 15-1.

Behind Enemy Lines

What rival coaches say
"Kavanagh can do it all for the Irish and might be the best offensive player in school history before he leaves. Defense is never an issue. Midfield production must increase... Can they score enough to win big?... Can they score enough while their new goalie is getting settled?"

"Goalie situation is going to be the big X-factor that everyone talks about when it comes to the Irish, but they still were a couple plays away from playing for a final four last year when All-American John Kemp was only saving the ball at 53.9 percent, which was 29th in the country. If whoever they start between the pipes can be around that number, Notre Dame may not miss a beat."

"In the past many have said that Notre Dame's defensive system is based on goalie play, but even with Kemp's less than stellar play last year, their defense was still one of the country's best... Offensively nothing changes for this team even with the loss of someone like Rogers, they just seem to have a bunch of different guys who can score goals for them week in and week out, there are no real superstars, but this is a very vanilla offense that at times can look like it belongs in the bottom tier of the country."

"They're trying to get out of the identity of a defense first, defense second, defense third kind of team. You can hear it through their comments at how hard they're working to create an identity that's more into the offensive end."

— One rival coach

"This is a team and a program who knows how to win the tight games and even though they jump into the ACC their schedule won't change that much as they already have played a very difficult schedule and they should still be playing for a final four bid on quarterfinal weekend."

"What almost happened to the Irish in the first round of the NCAA playoffs? Down 7-3 going into the fourth quarter versus a Detroit-Mercy team that had a losing record coming in, the coaching staff smartly threw out the conservative game plan and went with a 10-man ride to create havoc and transition. The next weekend, the Irish were again in the thick of things in the final quarter, but this time with the eventual national champion in Duke. The graduation of Kemp was supposed to be an epic loss. But he did not have a stellar senior season, so the Irish had to be more aggressive on the offensive end and they found their leader in the form of an electrifying freshman, Matt Kavanagh, who put up 32 goals and had 16 assists. Look for the Irish to again be right in the mix, as they always play great team defense."

"Kavanagh is the total package in South Bend. A defense that gave up 8.21 goals per game will make the Irish competitive against anyone in the country."

"They're trying to get out of the identity of a defense first, defense second, defense third kind of team. You can hear it through their comments at how hard they're working to create an identity that's more into the offensive end. They're trying to play faster as a team and talking more of a high-risk, high-reward style. ... But you still have to put their strength on defense. They're the kind of team that if you get to 10, you'll have a pretty good chance to win. At the same time, they're one of the most challenging teams over the last 5-7 years to get yourself into double-digits against because they're so well disciplined. They play a fairly consistent and fairly conservative style of defense that makes you work for every opportunity — not just goals but every pass. Everything becomes so laborious against them."

2013 Recap

In a Nutshell: For the third time in four years, Notre Dame opened its season with a victory over Duke but ended its year with a defeat to the Blue Devils. The Irish claimed an early 13-5 win in February but lost in the quarterfinals 12-11 after going scoreless for the final 9:29 of the game. Including its loss to Duke in the NCAA Tournament, Notre Dame lost three of its final four games after jumping out to a No. 1 ranking and a 10-2 start highlighted by overtime victories over Penn State, North Carolina and Denver. In their final season in the Big East, the Irish finished third in the conference in the regular season and were ousted in the semifinals of the conference tournament courtesy of Syracuse. The Orange, also in their final year in the Big East, beat Notre Dame twice in six days. The Irish still earned the No. 2 overall seed and dispatched Detroit in the first round before losing to eventual national champion Duke in the quarterfinals.

High Point: Notre Dame's 10-9 triple-overtime thriller over North Carolina served as a coming out party for then-freshman attackman Matt Kavanagh. Kavanagh scored four goals for the second time in his first three games and he notched the game-winner for the second week in a row. The win over North Carolina was an important resume-builder and momentum-multiplier for the Irish.

Low Point: The Irish backed into the NCAA Tournament after a two-game losing streak to Syracuse at the end of the regular season and in the Big East Tournament. The Orange dominated the Irish, winning by six goals each time, and will get another shot at Notre Dame this year as both move to the ACC.

2014 Preview

Best Case: The Irish are able to navigate a treacherous schedule and replace John Kemp in goal on their way to a conference championship in the their first season in the ACC. Matt Kavanagh gets even better than a season ago and the Irish find secondary scorers (Westy Hopkins, John Scioscia and Ryan Mix) to pair a potent offense with an always stingy defense. Notre Dame helps the ACC make history by placing all six teams in the NCAA Tournament and are able to return to Memorial Day weekend for the second time in the last three seasons.

Worst Case: Some of the tight games that went Notre Dame's way in 2013 (Penn State, North Carolina and Denver) fall the other way in 2014 and the Irish struggle to find consistency week-in and week-out against a tough slate. Much like Virginia in 2013, who lost seven games by three goals or less, the talented Irish lose some close games and miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005.

Self-Examination: Kevin Corrigan on...

A Conor Doyle (Jr.)
"I think the light may have come on a little bit for Conor. I'm really excited to watch him play this spring because he's really worked hard in the past few months here to prepare himself for the season and I'm really excited to see what he does. He's a complete lacrosse player. He can do everything well and I think he's really focused on that right now."

G Conor Kelly (Jr.)
"I can't say much about Conor other than we've watched him play now for two and a half years in our program. We know what he's capable of doing but he's gotta do it with the lights on now. We'll all see that together. But in terms of what his ability is, he's an excellent goalie and has great potential to be one of the best goalies in the country."

A Westy Hopkins (Sr.)
"Westy's going to move back to attack this spring. Whether he plays attack or midfield for us, he's done both. I don't think we've had a more selfless guy that Westy Hopkins. I really don't. He's been really, really terrific in the way that he has done whatever we've asked him to do. While it's been at the sacrifice of maybe some numbers and some personal accomplishments, it's been for the betterment of our team and that's all he's ever been concerned with. A terrific guy, a terrific player and a terrific teammate. I can't say enough about Westy."

Lacrosse Magazine will continue its 2014 college lacrosse preview throughout January and into February, with team-by-team breakdowns of the top teams in NCAA Division I, II and III men's and women's lacrosse. Follow the countdown at LaxMagazine.com/LMRanks and on twitter at #LMRanks.


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