LAX Preview: North Carolina at Navy

Navy hosts the North Carolina Tar Heels on Thursday at 7 p.m. in a crucial collegiate lacrosse matchup. GoMids.com's Christian Swezey provides expert analysis of this important game.

NORTH CAROLINA AT NAVY

Thursday, 7 p.m.

Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium

Records: Tar Heels 3-0, Midshipmen 1-1

Tickets: $10 adult, $5 17-under

Parking: $5

TV: CBS College Sports, Live

MUST-SEE TV: The game is being played on Thursday night at the request of CBS College Sports, which had basketball commitments on Saturday but wanted to broadcast the game live. The new color analyst is Matt Danowski, an All-American attackman at Duke.

18 AND A LIFE TO GO: Navy Coach Richie Meade said that of the team's 24 turnovers against Loyola on Saturday, 18 came in the offensive end. "We got called for three moving picks," Meade said. "And we'd make two passes and have a guy in position for a shot on the third pass and he dropped the ball."

WHEN NAVY HAS THE BALL: This category changed significantly on Sunday. It was then that Navy learned senior A Tim Paul (2 goals, 2 assists) is out for the season with a torn ACL in his knee.

The news came at a particularly bad time: Navy is coming off an 8-7 overtime loss to Loyola and Paul had some signature games against the Tar Heels. That includes four goals in an 8-7 victory in the NCAA tournament in 2008 and three goals and one assist in a 9-8 loss last year.

Sophomore Ryan O'Leary will start for Paul. O'Leary is quick and did well when initiating plays behind the goal in a 10-4 victory over Maryland last year. He is similar to Paul in being shifty but is not nearly as much of a threat as a shooter.

North Carolina has a strong close defense, led by junior Ryan Flanagan and sophomore Charlie McComas. In last year's game, Flanagan guarded lefty senior Brendan Connors and McComas defended junior Andy Warner.

Connors finished with two goals, one after he caught Flanagan ball-watching and converted a close shot and the other after he dodged two defenders and shoveled a shot into the goal. Warner got his hands free enough for two assists.

Flanagan can play longstick middie or close defense. He has a long wingspan and throws a lot of checks, as evidenced by his team-high eight caused turnovers. McComas is a good on-ball and off-ball defender, thrives on picking up loose balls (he has a team-high 19 groundballs) and Navy will need to target him in loose ball situations.

Navy senior Patrick Moran (team-high six goals) has a hard and accurate shot when his hands are free. Without Paul, Navy's best outside shooters are Moran and seniors Basil Daratsos (1 goals, 1 assist) and Evan Sullivan (2 assists). Expect one to be on the field every time Navy has the ball.

"I think we're going to play a lot better than we did on Saturday on offense," Navy Coach Richie Meade said. "That said, we might have 20 turnovers [Navy had 24 against Loyola] because of how good North Carolina is when they pressure the ball."

WHEN NORTH CAROLINA HAS THE BALL: Fresh off giving up the most goals to an individual opposing player since 2003, the Midshipmen face one of the most dangerous offensive players in the game -- North Carolina junior A Billy Bitter (3 goals, 6 assists this year).

Bitter is very adept at dodging, keeping his head up and his hands free to find open teammates or to look for his own shot. He had a goal and two assists against Navy last year while being defended primarily by senior Jake Brosnan, who has since moved to longstick middie.

Sophomore A Thomas Wood (7 goals, 5 assists) is North Carolina's most accurate shooter -- his goals have come on 16 shots (43.8 percent). The third starter is likely to be senior Gavin Petracca (3 goals), who was slowed by an early-season injury. Freshman Marcus Holman started the first three games but Petracca is likely healthy enough to play more.

Petracca is a four-year starter and his experience will greatly help North Carolina's still-gelling offense.

For a team with an outstanding attack and defense, North Carolina's midfield depth is a major question. Senior Sean DeLaney (6 goals) scored the tying and winning goals against the Midshipmen last year. He is physical and makes plays even when defended by a longstick.

Sophomore Jimmy Dunster (3 goals, 2 assists) is very fast and is making good on the increased playing time he earned toward the end of last year.

Much of the rest of the midfield is up in the air. Senior Cryder DiPietro (1 goals, 3 assists) is a time-and-room shooter who has excelled on extra-man offense. Sophomore Chris Hunt (1 goal, 1 assist) headlines the second unit and also is playing as a wing on face-offs and short-stick defensive midfield.

Navy junior SSDM Marty Gallagher played strong defense in the final seconds of regulation against Loyola A Cooper MacDonnell -- he was guarding MacDonnell following a switch and forced a high shot, then forced a turnover in the final seconds with a trail check.

Senior SSDM Joe McAuliffe is a top athlete -- he was a standout running back in high school -- and has adjusted quickly to a lot of playing time after being behind four-year starter Geoff Leone.

Freshman Jordan Seivold provides a quicker option on the defensive midfield. His father, Joey Seivold, is one of the top players in North Carolina history. The elder Seivold currently coaches at Blake School in Minneapolis.

Lost in the talk of MacDonnell's six goals was the excellent job sophomore Ian Crumley did on Loyola senior A Collin Finnerty; Finnerty went 0-for-6 shooting. Meantime, junior Michael Hirsch held Matt Langan to 0-for-2 shooting and five turnovers, though Langan added two assists and Hirsch was beaten by MacDonnell on the winning goal.

Sophomore goalie RJ Wickham added 19 saves, the most for a Navy goalie since 2003.

"I thought we played very good defense for the amount of time we had to play defense," Meade said.

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