NCAA men's lacrosse tournament semifinals preview: Can someone knock off Notre Dame?

Notre Dame midfielder Eric Dobson (8) controls the ball against Duke defender Will Frisoli (7) during the 2023 NCAA men's lacrosse championship at Lincoln Financial.
Notre Dame midfielder Eric Dobson (8) controls the ball against Duke defender Will Frisoli (7) during the 2023 NCAA men's lacrosse championship at Lincoln Financial.

Championship weekend in men’s lacrosse will once again bring a sizeable crowd to Philadelphia for the sport’s showcase event, with the final four teams set to square off at Lincoln Financial Field.

The teams here feature a little of everything, from flashy attackmen and fearsome face-off takers to lockdown defensemen and accomplished goalkeepers. What we won’t see this year, however, is a first-time champion. The Philly quartet includes all past winners, including the last three NCAA tournament champions. We might, however, see a first-year head coach lift the trophy.

More on that below. Here’s what you need to know to watch the games, beginning with Saturday’s semifinal clashes, both of which will be matching former conference foes.

POSTSEASON LINEUP: NCAA men's lacrosse tournament schedule/results

No. 1 Notre Dame (14-1) vs. No. 5 Denver (13-3)

Time/TV: Noon ET, ESPN2

How they got here: Notre Dame – Beat Albany 14-9, Georgetown 16-11; Denver – Beat Michigan 16-11, Syracuse 10-8.

National championships: Notre Dame, one (2023), Denver, one (2015).

Players to watch: Notre Dame – A Chris Kavanagh (36 G, 36 A); A Pat Kavanagh (28 G, 41 A); G Liam Entenmann (9.39 GAA, .551 Sv%). Denver – A J.J. Sillstrop (29 G, 17 A); M Michael Lampert (21 G, 23 A); G Malcolm Kleban (9.14 GAA, .510 Sv%).

Quick sticks: In the fledgling years of the sport’s expansion from beyond its eastern hotbeds, these programs met frequently as members of the Great Western Lacrosse League. Both schools can now be considered well-established programs as they renew acquaintances seeking their second title. … Notre Dame finally broke through for its first title on this same field a year ago, and would seem to be well positioned to make it two in succession. Since an early setback against Georgetown, the Fighting Irish haven’t lost again, including a dominant run through the ACC. … The long flight east will be nothing new for the Pioneers, accustomed to lengthy road trips as the sport’s western-most power. Denver is back in the semifinals just a year after legendary coach Bill Tierney retired and handed the reins over to long-time assistant Matt Brown. … The Fighting Irish have all-star talent at every position, but the Pioneers’ ability to gameplan on defense – a sign that Tierney’s fingerprint is still very much a part of the program – is often a great equalizer.

No. 6 Virginia (12-5) vs. No. 7 Maryland (10-5)

Time/TV: 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2

How they got here: Virginia – Beat Saint Joseph’s 17-11, Johns Hopkins 11-10 (2OT); Maryland – Beat Princeton 16-8, Duke 14-11.

National championships: Virginia, seven (last 2021); Maryland, four (last 2022).

Players to watch: Virginia – A Connor Shellenberger (31 G, 51 A); A Payton Cormier (64 G, 12 A); A McCabe Millon (39 G, 25 A). Maryland – FO Luke Wierman (.620 FO%, 4 G, 5 A); D Ajax Zappitello (2 G, 31 ground balls, 23 caused turnovers); G Logan McNaney (10.40 GAA, .508 Sv%).

Quick sticks: Though these flagship institutions from neighboring states are no longer ACC foes, they remain archrivals who continue to meet on an annual basis. The Cavaliers took this year’s encounter 14-10 back on March 16, but both teams have gone through hot and cold spells since, hence their relatively low seeds. That loss began a 3-4 stretch for the Terrapins, but UVa dropped its last four regular-season contests heading into the NCAA tournament. … This Maryland squad doesn’t have the high-octane attack that the 2022 title team featured, but the Terrapins’ specialists could have the edge at the face-off X and in the cage. … The matchup between Shellenberger and Zappitello, voted to numerous All-America teams at their respective positions, will garner much attention. It could be said that Zappitello got the better of it in the March meeting as Shellenberger managed just three points on two goals and an assist, but Griffin Schutz took up the slack from the Virginia midfield with four goals and two helpers. … The Cavaliers’ goalie situation is the other major topic of pregame conversation after Matt Nunes was pulled in favor of sophomore Kyle Morris in UVa’s quarterfinal comeback win. Coach Lars Tiffany said he’d make a determination this week in practice, but the starter might not be known until the team takes the field.

Championship game: Monday, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NCAA men's lacrosse tournament semifinals preview