A blue-blood vs. a newcomer. The south vs. the north. An offense-first team vs. … OK, they both like to score a lot. That’s where the contrasts end between Duke and Yale, the two teams facing off in the 2018 DI Men’s Lacrosse Championship national title game.
The two powerhouse squads will play Monday, May 28 at 1 p.m. ET. The game itself is taking place at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. If you’re not in the New England area on Monday, you can watch the game on ESPN2.
Let’s break down three things you’ll want to keep your eye on during Monday’s game:
1. These teams are so dang even, it's kind of insane
Our pals over at Lacrosse Reference put together a rankings system for every team in the country that's updated after each game, all season long. The rankings help predict each game's winner; more often than not, they're right.
Heading into the final game of the season between the Blue Devils and the Bulldogs, which team has the statistical advantage?
Can't make this up. According to the ELO ratings, Monday's title game between @YaleLacrosse and @DukeMLAX is a perfect toss-up. Both teams are tied at #1 with an ELO rating of 1932. pic.twitter.com/KKQYtgOqdw— Lacrosse Reference (@laxreference) May 27, 2018
Neither. They're deadlocked.
They're not mirror images of each other, but there's a definite puzzle piece-like fit between the two squads.
A few more numbers:
|Team||Record||Goals/Game||Goals Allowed/Game||Scoring Margin||Man-Up Offense|
Seriously, we're looking at two extremely similar teams squaring off for a national title, which is exciting because maybe it means it'll be close. At the very least, it'll be interesting.
If you need one advantageous stat for each team, here you go:
For Yale, the Elis have the upper hand at the faceoff X. Conor Mackie ranks seventh in the country this year with a .633 win percentage, and he was the only player to figure out Albany's otherwise spotless TD Ierlan. He's got the size and the skills to dictate an entire game at the X.
For Duke, the Blue Devils wield one of the most efficient offenses in the country. They convert 37.3 percent of their shots, a whole 4.4 percent better than Yale. That doesn't seem like a terribly high in the grand scheme — after all, Yale ranks 11th in the country in shot percentage — but in what should be a tight and high-powered offensive game, 4.4 percent could end up being the difference.
2. Reeves vs. Guterding: Who wins the heavyweight battle?
One statistic we left out of the previous section: the top point-getters from each team.
Yale's Ben Reeves: 61 goals / 50 assists 111 points
Duke's Justin Guterding: 64 goals / 46 assists / 110 points
Like we said: these teams are really, really similar. Having your two clear-cut star players within one point of each other, when both players are astronomically more productive than the majority of the country, isn't just a coincidence. These teams are where they are thanks in large part to the contributions of Guterding and Reeves.
In their respective semifinals, the two took on slightly different roles: Reeves lit Albany up for five goals while tacking on four assists, and Guterding got his offense going early with three assists before adding a hat trick of his own. Reeves was more forceful in his attack of the goal, while Guterding controlled the offense with his vision, sometimes directing from behind the net.
But, in the end, these two are goal-scoring machines. They can rally their respective teams with huge individual efforts at basically any point in the game.
It seems obvious, but the question of which star shines brighter on the biggest stage might just be the decider.
3. One secret weapon to watch from each squad
This was going to be a way cooler section of the preview before Duke's freshman sensation Nakeie Montgomery decided to show the entire world what he can do in the first three rounds of this tournament. Oh well.
Montgomery racked up six goals in 16 regular season games, but showed flashes of the kind of well-rounded midfielder he could turn into.
trick in the NCAA Semifinals. Not a bad way to kick off year 19! Happy Birthday Nak. pic.twitter.com/WyXBSXek5v— Duke Men's Lacrosse (@DukeMLAX) May 27, 2018
So the postseason run he's put together — eight goals in three games, with a decidedly increased role in the Blue Devils' offense — isn't totally out of the blue. (Get it?) But on a team with four 20-goal scorers, Montgomery has redefined himself and given the Blue Devils' offense another weapon for opponents to worry about in the offensive end. The second-most-productive offense in the country is still leveling up as the season goes along? That's not a bad situation to be in.
On the other side, while it's hard to label him a "secret weapon," he isn't Ben Reeves or Matt Gaudet, so Jackson Morrill will qualify. I was tempted to go with Jack Tigh, but he hasn't scored in this postseason the way he did in the heart of the regular season.
2018 NCAA lacrosse: Bracket, schedule, how to watch men's DI championships
Morrill, meanwhile, racked up three goals and five assists in Yale's semifinal domination of Albany. He has 10 goals and eight assists in the NCAA tournament, has 40 goals on the year, and could be the guy picking up open shots in open spots if Duke keys hard on Reeves and Gaudet.