NCAA lacrosse Final Four 2014: Maryland look to win trilogy with Notre Dame, advance to title game

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland meets Notre Dame for the 3rd time, looking to knock off the Irish and advance to the NCAA Title game for the 3rd time in 4 years.

Before the season it was thought that Maryland would have a tough year, be the "worst" team in an unbelievably tough 6 team conference, and be fighting to make it into the NCAA Tournament. What happened? They won the ACC Regular Season title, went 11-3, and are now playing on Championship Weekend with a chance to win an NCAA Championship. To have a chance to play for a Championship though, they'll have to get past Notre Dame. This is the 3rd meeting between the Terps and Irish, they split the first two. They know each other well so this could be a bit cagey and a defensive struggle. Or they could go runnin n gunnin and give us an offensive shootout. Who knows? And that's what makes this one so intriguing.

In the past Notre Dame has been known as a defensive powerhouse. Grind you down, rely on great goalkeeping, get clutch goals and win. Much like Maryland now. This season has seen a change in the Irish's construct though. ND ranks 8th in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, and have a bona fide star in Matt Kavanagh. Kavanagh has 65 points on the year, through 35 G and 30 A. Kavanagh scored the GW vs Albany in the Quarterfinals and has scored multiple others for Notre Dame in his 2 years. While Maryland has kept Kavanagh "relatively" quiet in their two games -- 3.5 points per -- he's still so dangerous. He can take it to the rack and finish, he has a terrific shot that will burn you when he gets his hands free (Hint: Don't let him get his hands free) and is just an all-around weapon. And while Maryland may be able to keep Kavanagh quiet, the issue is the myriad of other Notre Dame options.

Those options include two of Kavanagh's linemates, Conor Doyle and John Scioscia. What makes the Irish's offense so effective is their ability to use both of those attackmen so well without changing the overall tempo or construct of their offense. Doyle has fantastic speed and is very good at attacking from behind the cage and scoring. He has 30 goals this year. But they can use Doyle's good stick skills and get the ball out to Kavanagh more on the perimeter and let him rip the twine with his shots. Or Kavanagh can feed inside to John Scioscia, who's averaging 4 goals per game in his last 3. Then there's sniper Sergio Perkovic from the midfield. He has 27 goals. And he also has some stick skills. Took one right to the hoop and scored vs Albany that way this past weekend. The way Notre Dame can use so many offensive threats who are all different and keep the same structure and tempo is amazing to watch. And it's what's got the Irish to Championship Weekend. Not their defense.

That's not to say Notre Dame's defense still isn't good. They rank 11th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency and have an All-American at close defense, Stephen O'Hara. When they're at their best is when they're active with their sticks and not letting shooters get their hands free. ND wasn't able to do that in the first meeting, with Mike Chanenchuk, Joe LoCascio, and Henry West - Maryland's main 3 shooting threats - combining for 7 goals. But in the 2nd game, they were able to force TO's, get Maryland out of rhythm, and play the psychical, hands on sticks game they like to play. It's an effective gameplan to use against a team that relies on its shooters like Maryland does. The Terps will have to create some opportunities off ball and try to force the Irish to struggle with.

For Maryland the key will reside with the possession margin. Charlie Raffa has won 81% of his draws in the first two games vs Notre Dame, and used to their advantage big time in Game 1, with Charlie going 20-24. Raffa dominated again in Game 2, but he turned it over multiple times after FO wins, negating the effect. Maryland is the elite team in regards to possessions, leading the nation in Possession Margin per 60 minutes of play at +8.19. Be keeping the ball out of the Notre Dame offense's hands and playing a slower game with back-breaking goals late in possessions, Maryland is in a good spot.

To have that be effective though, the Terps have to shoot well. They shot 30% in Game 1, 13% in Game 2. They've been shooting extremely well lately, 30% in the tournament and 37% in their last 3 halves (not counting the debacle that was the Cornell 1H). They've also been getting goals from many contributors, with Joe LoCascio having a hat-trick in the Bryant Quarterfinal, Henry West chipping in with a goal vs Bryant, and Mike Chanenchuk having a 9 point day. Those 3 are the main shooters on team and need to be firing if the Terps are to get the win.

Another thing that could help Maryland on offense is the emergence, or second wind of Jay Carlson. Carlson had a key goal in the Cornell game, and a hat-trick vs Bryant. If he can give them valuable goals and minutes off the bench or even transitioning into a starting role, it opens up so many new wavelengths for this Maryland offense and makes them a much tougher out on Saturday, and potentially on Championship Monday.

No one remembers Semi-Final losers. 2 games in 3 days to greatness. But the first step is Saturday. Maryland has played all year for this, now it's time to go and get it.

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