Today, for the third time in the past six years, Duke will attempt to bring its first national championship to the Gothic Wonderland. Standing in its way is Notre Dame. Gametime is scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN. Here's some things you need to look for today:
- Will head coach John Danowski finally win the big one? Since taking the reigns in Durham, Danowski has taken the Blue Devils to four straight Final Fours, as well as two national championship games—an impressive feat for any coach. Unfortunately, his teams have never come through with a title win. Of all his years at Duke, this may be his best shot. The Blue Devils play an unseeded Irish team that they are the favorites over, and the Blue Devils are probably playing the best lacrosse of Danowski's tenure. Senior Max Quinzani called the national championship the "big white buffalo" of their career. It has a chance, as good as at any other time, to be poached today.
- How will Duke handle Scott Rodgers? Rodgers is probably the best goalie in collegiate lacrosse. He played excellent against Cornell, snagging eight saves just in the first quarter of the game. By contrast, Dan Wigrizer had seven in the entire Virginia contest. Rodgers is playing hot, and he'll make it tough for the Blue Devils to score on him. And, if Wigrizer plays poorly today, as he's been prone to do lately, then it's only logical to assume that Notre Dame becomes the favorites, as Inside Lacrosse's Tom Kehoe pointed out today.
- Duke's vengeful path. This was talked about briefly in the game story after Duke's win Saturday, but it's worth saying again: the Blue Devils' path to the title game has come at the expense of many of the former teams that's given them trouble. In the first round, they beat Johns Hopkins 18-5. The Blue Jays, of course, toppled Duke in national championship games in 2005 and 2007, then pulled off what many pundits called one of the greatest upsets in collegiate lacrosse history with an upset in the 2008 national semifinal. Then, in the quarterfinals, it was North Carolina's turn. Besides being the team's fiercest conference rivals, North Carolina also handed the Blue Devils an embarrassing loss at Koskinen Stadium March 10. In the NCAA Tournament, Duke beat them by eight. Finally, Saturday, the Blue Devils got a chance to take down the team that knocked them out of the ACC semifinals. And they did, in thrilling fashion. Today, Duke takes on Notre Dame, who beat the Blue Devils Feb. 20 as part of an early stumble out of the gate to begin the season. If Duke can beat the Irish, the revenge factor of the team's NCAA Tournament would rival that of a Quentin Tarantino movie.
- How will the Blue Devils begin the game? For Duke fans, hopefully not how they did Saturday. In the first half, as the result of what some on the team admitted as nerves, the Blue Devils came out sloppy, struggling with clearing the ball and committing 11 turnovers. They rebounded, of course, and played very well in the second half to take the lead for the first time all day with 1:29 left in the third quarter. So, the question arises: Will they be so lucky against the Irish? Can they still win after playing their "worst game of the tournament" as Ned Crotty called Virginia's game? Look for the fired-up Notre Dame team, that believes they can win, to try to put Duke out of it early. If the Irish can't, Duke should win without much trouble.
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