Tomorrow marks the beginning of college lacrosse's championship weekend in Philadelphia at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Division I semifinals will take place on Saturday, followed by the Division II and III championship games on Sunday. On Memorial Day, the Division I final will take place and a champion will finally be crowned.
As we move closer to the semifinal round, let us take a look at two keys for each team if they want to advance to the championship game on Monday.
1. Score more than 15 goals
For Cornell, scoring has been pretty easy this season. Rob Pannell and Steve Mock are the headliners for the Big Red, but a talented midfield unit makes things even tougher for opposing defenses.
Cornell will face a gritty Duke defense, so an early lead will be key to boost the confidence of the Big Red sideline.
Look for Rob Pannell to initiate from behind the goal, while Steve Mock works his wizardry inside the crease area.
If the team can score 15 goals in this game, I do not see them losing.
Cornell goaltender AJ Fiore is a seasoned veteran with a lot of tournament experience. Unfortunately for Cornell, inconsistency has plagued the senior for his entire career.
Sometimes, Fiore plays like a first-team All-American, at other times, he looks like he needs a seat on the bench.
Fiore has played well thus far in the tournament, but the speed and depth of the Duke offense will be a challenge nevertheless. Fiore must anchor his defense not only from a skill standpoint, but more importantly, from a communication standpoint.
If he can maneuver his defensive scheme against a tough Duke team and escape with a save rate above 60 percent, Cornell should be able to outscore the Blue Devils.
1. Keep Rob Pannell in check
Keeping Rob Pannell at bay is quite a feat. The senior is the best player still in action, and his performance thus far in the 2013 tournament his been downright impressive. He scored 8 points in the quarterfinal round and made it look easy.
Every time Pannell touches the ball, he turns into a triple threat. He can dodge, feed or shoot from almost anywhere on the field, and his strength allows him to muscle his way inside.
Once he gets to a favorable angle, he either scores in highlight fashion or makes an impressive dish inside to his roommate Mock. He is truly an exciting player to watch.
Duke must keep Pannell behind the cage to be successful. If the Blue Devils can somehow match him man-to-man, they can hopefully pack their defense in against Mock and limit his opportunities.
The Blue Devils' best chance would be to shut off the attack and let Cornell's midfielders try to beat them.
2. Win Faceoffs
The easiest way to keep the ball away from Pannell and Mock is to win faceoffs.
Brendan Fowler of Duke was recently named a first-team All-American as a faceoff specialist, and must strut his stuff against Cornell on Saturday.
It is pretty simple, when Cornell has the ball, it scores. There is an old saying that offense is the best defense in lacrosse, and it should be Duke's slogan on Saturday.
If Duke is to move on to the championship game, it must win the draws and the battle for time of possession. If the Blue Devils can keep Cornell under 15 goals, they should be within striking distance in the fourth quarter.
1. Dictate pace of play
When Denver plays its style of lacrosse, it is almost unstoppable. After trailing by six goals early in the quarterfinals against UNC, Denver was able to win faceoffs and play at its preferred tempo.
Once the Pioneers do this, they are able to exhaust opposing defenses and keep their back end fresh. Denver is a fast team at the midfield and can score at will with its talented attackers.
Denver must push the pace against Syracuse and force the Orange to empty their bench. If the Pioneers can do this, they should cruise to a victory over the No. 1 seed.
2. Match up with Syracuse's first line of midfielders
Denver must force the ball away from Syracuse's first line of midfield to have the best chance at victory.
Syracuse is a deep and talented team, but relies heavily on its midfield to initiate the offense. Syracuse will try to force the issue by putting the ball in the stick of Jojo Marasco, so Denver must have a good defensive gameplan.
The Pioneers must double Marasco quickly and be sure to have the second slide recover to the crease. Marasco is a crafty feeder, so he can be lethal when given just a few inches of space to work.
Look for Denver to play physical defense on Syracuse. If they do, they can try to force turnovers and keep the ball away from the Orange midfield unit.
1. Initiate offense from the midfield
Syracuse only scored seven goals in its victory over Yale in the quarterfinal round. This week, the Orange face a much faster and deeper team in the Denver Pioneers.
Syracuse must score more than 10 goals to keep this game competitive, with 15 being the benchmark to aim for. To achieve this, 'Cuse must put the ball in the sticks of its playmakers, most of whom reside on the first-line midfield unit.
Jojo Marasco, a Tewaaraton Trophy finalist, was held to a goal and two assists against Yale, a point total he would like to double in the semis.
Syracuse must initiate from up top, dodging against the short-stick defenders of Denver. Marasco will draw the long pole, so look for senior Luke Cometti to get a lot of isolation chances in this game.
2. Win the ground ball battle
Denver is going to look to turn this game into a track meet, so Syracuse must be able to maintain possession. To do so, it must be on the winning side of the ground ball battle.
In a year of fast paced lacrosse and high scoring, the Orange can slow down the game and play six-on-six if it can win ground balls. Denver is talented at the faceoff X, so 'Cuse must play a defensive style during draws, attempting to turn every faceoff into a 50/50 opportunity.