The 2009 men's lacrosse Final Four takes place Saturday, with defending champion Syracuse facing a streaking Duke team at noon ET and top seed Virginia squaring off against Ivy power Cornell at 2 p.m. (all on ESPN2). Quint Kessenich has the answers to 5 Burning Questions on the big matchups.
1. How will Cornell keep the pressure off Jake Myers against an offense-heavy Virginia team?
The senior from Del Mar, Calif., has played very well in the net for Cornell in his first two playoff wins against Hofstra and Princeton. But the bar gets raised Saturday. Cornell held Virginia's Danny Glading to a solo assist in the regular-season game between the two teams, but the Cavs have become more of a midfield-oriented team in the past two weeks.
How can Cornell match up with the Bratton twins? I think you'll see two strategies against Rhamel and Shamel: (1) Cornell will put its shortstick defenders on both Steele Stanwick and Garrett Billings; and (2) the Big Red might shift into a zone defense. But either way, their best defense will be faceoff control and a very patient ball-control offense to keep the Wahoos' weapons on the bench.
2. Can Duke beat the defending champ in the Final Four?
How many ACC rings are worth one NCAA trophy?
Here's what has to happen for Duke to advance past Syracuse:
1. Win 60 percent of the faceoffs with Sam Payton and CJ Costabile.
2. Get 55 percent saves from senior goalie Rob Schroeder.
3. Defend Syracuse midfield scoring depth, which is a lot to ask considering that Dan Hardy, Pat Perritt, Josh Amidon and Matt Abbott can all penetrate or nail the midrange shot.
4. Clear the ball at 85 percent. The Blue Devils beat UNC behind their 100 percent clearing day Sunday in Annapolis but have been hampered by poor clearing in three losses earlier this spring.
5. Relax and play hard, focusing on effort every shift. Duke was upset in the 2007 and 2008 playoffs and didn't look like itself either year during championship weekend.
3. Max Seibald has been slowed lately. How will he fare against Virginia in the semis?
Virginia defenders will press out against Cornell, and Seibald is the one player who has the speed and the burst to run through the over-aggressive strategy. He's the fastest athlete in the entire Cornell athletic department and runs with impressive body lean and explosion.
I'm thinking Seibald will need four points if Cornell is going to upset Virginia. He will be paired up against Virginia's Mike Timms, a 6-foot-5 rangy defender from Virginia Beach, Va. Both are expected to be selected in the first round of the Major League Lacrosse draft May 27 (ESPNU, 8:30 p.m. ET).
4. Will Syracuse survive if John Galloway isn't at 100 percent coming off the flu?
Duke's shooting percentage skyrocketed in the second half of the season. The Blue Devils are getting production from of their complimentary players, such as Zach Howell, Mike Catalino and Will McKee. Galloway is what he is -- a very solid goalie between the pipes and one of the most spectacular clearing goalies ever.
Galloway is at his best in the net against in tight shots, relying on instinct and acrobatics to make game-changing saves. His weakness appears to be midrange shots from 8 to 10 yards. His understudy, Al Cavalieri, may be the better stopper of the two netminders.
5. Who is the Tewaaraton frontrunner at this point?
If I had to vote right now, here's what my ballot would look like: Ned Crotty, Danny Glading, Zack Greer, Max Seibald, Matt Abbott, Billy Bitter, Brandon Corp, Kenny Nims.
In my opinion, Crotty and Glading are the most likely winners. Saturday's games in front of a national audience carry a ton of weight, and we've seen that the player on the championship team has a significant advantage in the Tewaaraton race. Since 2003, the trophy has almost always gone to a national title winner, with Chris Rotelli, Mike Powell, Kyle Harrison, Matt Ward and Mike Leveille all hoisting two trophies. There has been only one exception, when Duke's Matt Danowski won the Tewaaraton in 2007.
If all four finalists fall on their faces this weekend, Zack Greer could jump up and win the award, but that would be unprecedented.
Quint Kessenich covers lacrosse for the ESPN family of networks. He welcomes your e-mails at Quint @insidelacrosse.com.