The biggest game day for Rutgers men’s lacrosse in over three decades has arrived. For the first time since 1991, the No. 9 Scarlet Knights will play in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals with a berth to the Final Four on the line. They will take on No. 1 North Carolina at 2:30 p.m. ET today at Stuart Stadium in Hempstead, New York on the campus of Hofstra University. The game will air live on ESPNU with Chris Cotter and Paul Carcaterra on the call.
Rutgers defeated No. 8 Lehigh in the opening round 12-5 while North Carolina beat Monmouth 16-4. This will be the first ever meeting between the two schools. RU assistant coach and offensive coordinator Eric Seremet played for the Tarheels in the late 80’s and early 90’s, making the Final Four all four seasons and winning the national championship in 1991.
The task against the No. 1 ranked team in the country will of course be a major challenge. The Tarheels have the most efficient and top scoring offense in the nation with a 17.0 goals per game average. They have eight All-Americans in the lineup led by Chris Gray who is second nationally with a 5.93 points per game average. UNC is much more than a one man show though as six starters in the attack and midfield positions have scored at least 20 goals apiece this season.
That being said, Rutgers has made it this far for a reason. The Scarlet Knights have the third best offensive efficiency the nation and are fifth in scoring at 14.58 goals per game. They also convert on 51.9% of man up opportunities for third best nationally. RU also averages just 12.25 turnovers per game, the lowest in the nation.
North Carolina is a better face off team in winning 60.1% of opportunities which is 13th nationally compared to Rutgers at 42.2% which is 49th nationally. This isn’t news as it’s been a weakness for RU all season. However, it’s also been an area they’ve been able to overcome because of other strengths. And even in last weekend’s victory over Lehigh, they scored twice in the span of seven seconds with assists from Jonathan Dugenio after winning two face offs late in the game.
Both teams are excellent with clears as the Scarlet Knights are 7th nationally and the Tarheels are 9th. RU must play clean on Saturday to avoid mistakes and allow for extra possessions that could provide easy scoring opportunities for UNC. It is also key for them to get out in transition, where they are at their best offensively. Getting out on the run with quick, efficient passes is what Rutgers does best and if they can do so on Saturday it will put pressure on the Tarheels, who are a solid but not elite 25th in defensive efficiency.
UNC can take teams out of rhythm with physical play and that’s something Rutgers has to be ready for. The big three of Adam Charalambides, Kieran Mullins and Connor Kirst all have to play near the top of their games to give RU enough of a scoring punch to have a chance.
The defense will have its hands full but this is also a tremendous opportunity for the Scarlet Knights to prove they can slow down the best offense in men’s lacrosse. RU has the 7th best defensive efficiency rating in the sport but don’t get the respect they deserve. Today is their chance to get it on the national stage.
Goalkeeper Colin Kirst is the most important player in the game for Rutgers. He was brilliant in the 12-5 win over Lehigh with 17 saves and his ability to start the break with crisp outlet passes is so important. The All-American has to be at his best once again for the Scarlet Knights to have a chance to win.
Momentum will be everything in this game. Starting strong and not falling behind by multiple goals early is important to avoid. However, the senior class of Rutgers needs to maintain its composure if North Carolina strings a few goals together in a short period of time. The Scarlet Knights have to play its best game of the season to win but they are capable of doing so. The players on this team have overcome a lot in their careers and their biggest moment has arrived. The senior class is a special one and they’ve put this program on the sport’s biggest stage against the top ranked team in the nation. A chance to earn the program’s first ever Final Four is in front of them and I expect Rutgers to represent well, win or lose.
In anticipation of today’s NCAA quarterfinals matchup, I spoke with head coach Brian Brecht and goalkeeper Colin Kirst about this opportunity and the challenge ahead. You can listen to their comments here: