Maryland men's lacrosse preview: Terps look to beat upstart Bryant, move on to Championship Weekend

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland aims to advance to Championship Weekend for the 3rd time in 4 years under John Tillman, but first they must get past Bryant.

At half-time of the Cornell game, it looked like another late-season collapse, with another ugly defeat to the Big Red. A season of promise and hopes of games on Memorial Day weekend left unclaimed. A hopeful final parting gift to the ACC -- a national championship -- disappeared.

And then, Maryland turned it around.

They outscored Cornell 7-2 in the second half. Goran Murray stepped up his game and locked down Matt Donovan in the 2nd Half. Matt Rambo and Connor Cannizzaro came of age. And Mike Chanenchuk, the Senior leader, Maryland's go-to man all year long came up with the goal with 2 ticks left, Maryland's only lead all day, that sent the Terps to victory. And suddenly all those hopes were back on. One game to Championship Weekend. And while that game is Bryant, and not Syracuse as widely expected, it's not going to be easy. At all.

In many ways, these teams are mirror images of each other. Both have excellent FO men. Charlie Raffa for Maryland. Kevin Massa for Bryant. Massa is 1st in the nation winning 70% of his draws. And then there's the goaltenders. Niko Amato has been a sterling 4 year starter for the Terps, and is 8th in the nation with a 58% sv%. But he brings so many other intangibles. His leadership, poise behind the net, ability to spring transition. He's a first team All-American. Bryant has Gunnar Waldt. He's 4th sv% at 61%.

But that's not where the similarities end. Both these teams live off the possession game. Maryland ranks 1st in the country in Possession Margin per 60 Minutes of Play. Bryant ranks 3rd. They generate these possessions in lots of ways, but ultimately different ones.

Here's how Bryant and Maryland rank in various Offensive Opportunities generated stats. Stats are courtesy of the wonderful Hoya Suxa at College Crosse (required reading).

Bryant

Percent of Offensive Opportunities off FO wins: 7th

Percent of Offensive Opportunities from Clearing Postures: 58th

Percent of Offensive Opportunities from Failed Clears: 41st

Maryland

Percent of Offensive Opportunities off FO wins: 6th

Percent of Offensive Opportunities from Clearing Postures: 64th

Percent of Offensive Opportunities from Failed Clears: 21st

Both obviously generate a ton from their great FOGO's, while neither does much off the clear. But the big stat is from failed clears from other teams. Bryant is 41st and Maryland has a very strong clearing game. Maryland has had only 18 failed clears all year (stats per commenter IojoMD). So there will very likely be little room for Bryant to pounce on there.

Bryant however, has a very rough clearing game. They struggled mightily vs Syracuse, and have all year. And while Maryland doesn't use early offense from failed clears, 21st is still solid, and possessions off of failed clears will be a big + for the Terps in a match-up so heavily dictated by possessions.

Bryant's attack is senior laden, 3 of their top 5 point getters are 4 year guys. Colin Dunster (35 G, 11 A) and Alex Zomerfeld (16 G, 24 A) from the midfield and Dan Sipperly (26 G, 6 A) at attack. But the top two offensive threats are underclassmen. Shane Morrell is the go-to guy with 58 points on the year. 41 Goals, 17 assists. Tucker James is a freshman star and is fantastic scoring and feeding with 30 G and 21 A. He was superb in their win over Syracuse. In fact, 33% of Bryant's first line attack's combined points are assists. For comparison, the % of points from assists in the combined point totals in the top 3 scoring attackmen from Maryland is just 17%. For an offense that is not big on pace at all, and looks to break a defense down slowly, that is big.

While those stats are very helpful to Bryant's cause, the Bulldogs are 0-2 vs both Top 20 defenses they faced, Colgate and Yale. Maryland is 0-2 as well, but put 28 goals past 2 Top 25 defenses in Notre Dame and Duke in 3 games played. Bryant also doesn't have the particular attack to break down a structured defense like the one Maryland possesses. What Cornell did so well on Saturday was switch back to the offense that they utilized so effectively vs Maryland last year and that North Carolina and Johns Hopkins did to perfection vs them this year. They used Matt Donovan attacking from behind the cage and he burned and I mean, burned Goran Murray on multiple occasions. Donovan was unstoppable in the first half and that was the difference. Bryant doesn't have the players to play that game. James is much more effective stepping down and shooting and he was the catalyst on Sunday.

As I said earlier, these teams are nearly mirror images. They're extremely similar. And so are their defenses. And that's why the emergence of Connor Cannizzaro and Matt Rambo, and the re-emergence of Jay Carlson could be such big factors. Rambo was everywhere on Saturday. He scored on a low lefty step down, a lefty rip from a tight angle just past GLE, and attacked from behind the cage and dived and scored. Cannizzaro showed some nifty moves attacking from the alley and scoring, and scored on a wrap-around. Carlson did what he does, turning trash into his treasure. All these goals came in different areas from attackmen inside. And Mike Chanenchuk played the facilitator very well. These are ways to break down a structured defense. Maryland got fantastic production inside and near the cage and still maintained an attack from their midfield, how John Tillman likes. It allows multiple layers of offense for Maryland to throw at Bryant, and that's a huge marker in the Terps favor.

The other big advantage for Maryland is the superior depth. While not all these players show up on the stat sheet, players like Bryan Cole at Midfield, and Colin Heacock at Attack all present problems and can give guys like Chanenchuk and Rambo a breather. The Terps have players like Emmett Cahill and Mac Pons who can get a run at D and play well when Murray or Ikeda might need a breather. The Terps superior depth and the more varied offense they showed in the second half vs Cornell could be the deciding factors that rule the day on Saturday.

Saturday at Noon is your game time. This is a game that ultimately defines and separates Maryland's season from "okay" to "good". From "lingering disappointment" to "pleased with the progress". Maryland is ultimately still a young team. The chance to break through to Championship Weekend in the first year for many of these young guys and for some of the Sophomores who last 1st Round last year is huge. But it won't come easy. Bryant will play tough, Mike Pressler is a great coach (he built the foundation John Danowski has taken to great heights at Duke) who has them believing, and it'll be a tight one. Strap in your seat belts. It's going to be a wild ride from here on out.

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