#8 Notre Dame vs. #5/#7 Maryland
Notre Dame, Indiana (Arlotta Stadium)
Noon EST on ESPNU/WatchESPN
Elite lacrosse teams tend to have a pattern about their play. Some teams, like Duke for example, tend to play their best lacrosse later in the season. Notre Dame had routinely beaten the Blue Devils early in March, only to lose to them come May. Other teams tend to improve in specific facets of the game. Syracuse struggled early in the season with a mediocre offensive gameplan but has rallied late to boost their NCAA resume with a nice group of impressive wins over Ivy League-frontrunner Cornell as well as ACC-foe North Carolina.
But there are some teams that slide late in the year. They start strong and hit some bumps in the road come mid-April leading in to the tournaments.
Enter the 2014 Maryland Terrapins.
On paper, this is one heck of a lacrosse team. The Terps boast the nation's best midfielder, one of the nation's top goaltenders and a pair of FOGO's that are among the nation's best.
The Terps rank in the Top 10 nationally in multiple categories. Their defense ranks #3 in the nation and their clearing percentage is near the top of all college lacrosse. They have one of the highest scoring margins, collect the 2nd-most ground balls per game and rank amongst the elite in faceoff percentage.
This is a scary team, no doubt, but there are places the Irish could exploit.
As I indicated in my lede, Maryland has a history of sliding in May. Before you go all, "Wait, Paul, you're an idiot. Maryland's made the championship game twice in the past 4 years." Hear me out.
Last season, the Terps started hot, going 7-1. But once April rolled around, Maryland split their remaining 6 games, going 3-3, including a loss to Cornell in the NCAA Tournament.
The year before, April wasn't that unkind to the Terps as they wen't 4-2, but those wins (outside of a 9-6 win over Hopkins) were pretty ugly. A three-goal win over a 6-9 Mount St. Mary's squad, a four-goal win over a 4-8 Bellarmine squad and an ugly two-goal loss to Colgate in their final regular season game spelled doom for Maryland. However, they righted the ship and played their way to the championship game, eventually losing to Loyola.
In 2011, the Terps also made the championship game. They also went 4-2 in April/May. They also lost in ugly fashion to Colgate. They also lost in the NCAA championship game as well.
This year, the Terps started hot, going 7-0 and earning the #2 ranking in the nation. In some polls, they were receiving first-place votes. Then came a late-March loss to North Carolina by three goals and last Saturday's 11-6 beatdown by Johns Hopkins and we are left scratching our heads.
Part of the reason is the same element that hurts teams like Virginia. Maryland doesn't play a deep line. In their loss against Hopkins, only 23 Terps saw the field, including starters. Only 21 saw action against Virginia (a 9-6 Maryland win). That basically means that Tillman has his starters, a 2nd line of middies, a couple platoon players at defense and attack, two FOGO's and his man-up, man-down units. That can be pretty dicey come late in the season. It is surprising that Maryland doesn't play more guys, but Tillman tends to utilize this philosophy. And to his credit, it's a philosophy that has gotten Maryland to the championship game twice in the past four years.
So, will ND face the worldbeaters of February and March? Or will they face a team that could only muster one-goal against Hopkins in the first half and played undisciplined and penalty-prone?
Let's take a look at the Terps:
On attack, the Terps start three(!) Freshmen. Matt Rambo (21g, 5a) is second on the team in goals and Connor Cannizzaro (15g, 5a) ranks in the Terps top-5. The third Freshman, Tim Rotanz (2g, 3a) isn't as dynamic and has only played in 7 of Maryland's 11 games this year but should not be discarded. Terps Coach John Tillman will platoon Sophomore attackman Jay Carlson (19g, 3a) with Cannizzaro and Rotanz so the lineup is quite dynamic. Rambo and Carlson like to shoot the rock and Carlson's 74% shooting efficiency is absolutely brutal if you are Shane Doss for the Irish.
It doesn't get much easier at midfield. Mike Chanenchuk (25g, 15a) is, in my opinion, the nation's best midfielder. He might not have the most goals or assists or ground balls, but Chanenchuk is the complete package. He scores goals. He is efficient. He plays solid defense (7 caused turnovers on the season) and is incredibly disciplined (zero penalties). He also creates opportunities for his teammates. Playing alongside him is Joe LoCascio (10g, 5a) who isn't as efficient but plays tough. LoCascio loves to shoot the ball, regardless of if it is on net or not so Doss will have to monitor him. As of late, Henry West has held the honors of playing on Maryland's top-line (12g, 7a) and there are a few other Terp midfielders that the Irish should monitor.
The defense for Maryland is set and it doesn't change much. Tillman starts Goran Murray, Casey Ikeda and Matt Dunn. This is an athletic unit that makes up the nucleus of Maryland's impressive defense. They rank #1 in the ACC in scoring and are amongst the best defensive units in the country. They're also pretty disciplined as well. Ikeda and Murray have two penalties each on the season and Dunn only has four. This is a group that is pretty solid. Also worth mentioning is defenseman Michael Ehrhardt's ridiculous 22(!) caused turnovers on the season.
Behind those longpoles is Niko Amato, one of the top goalies in the country. Amato has an even 100 saves on the year and has a relatively impressive 57.5% save percentage.
I mentioned previously, but Maryland shares a strength with Notre Dame: the faceoff X. Charlie Raffa (112-175) and Jon Garino (33-54) are the workhorses for the Terps and their 60%+ win percentage will definitely be a challenge for O'Connor. It is not out of the realm of possibility that O'Connor will get the upper-hand on these two, but it is certainly going to be a challenge for him.
The Irish have come off a solid week where not only did they win their non-conference games, they looked good in the process. Players that we've been looking to step up and perform did so (John Scioscia for one). They're facing a Maryland team that, as Testudo Times' Jake Nazar wrote, desperately needs this win. If Maryland wins on Saturday, they lock up the #1-seed in the ACC tournament. The Irish need this one to boost their NCAA tournament resume, though I am inclined to believe that the Irish are already in.
If Notre Dame wants to win this game, they need to shut down Chanenchuk on the midfield line, a task that I am pretty bearish on already, given the Irish's perilous LSM situation. They also need to control possessions and make good use of their opportunities. If the Irish get in a man-up situation, they need to execute and get points, as that is where Maryland is weakest (55th nationally).
Additionally, the Irish have to assume that Maryland is going to key on Kavanagh. It has been most of ND's opponents' gameplans all season. Ergo, we need to see another solid performance by Scioscia. If he can continue his two-goal per game streak, the Irish might be in good shape.
Also, I am not expecting much from the Irish 2nd midfield, but I'd like to see something. Getting the ball to the attack and letting Doyle do everything isn't going to cut it against the Terps. There has to be more out of them.
We know what we're getting from the Irish 1st midfield line and we need to see another Marquette-esque performance as opposed to a Duke-esque performance. This is a big game on national TV. It's about time we see something good from the Marlatt-Perkovic-Brosco line. Given their solid work against Marquette and RMU, I'm intrigued and optimistic.
I like ND's chances here, but I'm hesitant to say they're going to win. Maryland looked lousy against Hopkins, but Syracuse looked lousy against Duke the week before they faced the Irish and look what happened. I don't think you can predict games in a vacuum and since Maryland has a lot more to play for than ND (the Irish are facing Maryland again in the ACC Tournament no matter the result), I'm thinking we are going to see an angry Terp team that is hungry for a win.
Maryland 12 Notre Dame 8
Can we talk about the swag now?
You thought the Shamrock Series was unique to the football team? Nope. Against Maryland, the Irish are going to be ripping out these uniform/helmet combos that are pretty sick.
Wrapped helmets, green/white uniforms, Maverik stick/glove combos. Awesome.