At some point this week, Pete will send out an email to the Testudo Times writers saying that the Maryland men's lacrosse team has moved to the top of the polls. He'll ask someone to pick up the story and everyone will wait for me to complain, gripe, and grudgingly write it. Saturday's 10-6 win at Duke leaves little doubt that Maryland is among the best teams in the country and perhaps deserving of a number one ranking. And still I ask if the ranking after four games or seventeen games for that matter has any real meaning or value other than giving the fans something to crow about.
Let me frame my argument this way. In the 2001-2002 men's basketball season, the Maryland men's team was never ranked first in the Associated Press poll. In fact, according to College Poll Archive, the Terps are the team with the most appearances at number two without ever being ranked number one. The list is here. Now, which would you rather have. Ten weeks in that season where the Terps were ranked number 1 but no championship banner or the result we see every time we enter the Comcast Center? I thought so.
Now to the business at hand - taking a look at that win over Duke. We as fans have at least a week to enjoy this. By the time you read this, the team should be done with their celebrations and be moving on to prepare for their game on the road at Stony Brook on Saturday next. However, let's savor the win. I will be among you. For me, it may even be tastier than Peruvian Chicken. For Mike Chanenchuk, it felt more like this, "It's a sweet victory because Duke's one of our rivals. And because it's another ACC game. When they come into Byrd it's always going to be a battle so for us to come out on top today I think keeps us going in the right direction."
An epic start
The first half was a game worthy of the quality of match up (okay, for shorthand, let's say it, number one versus number two). Duke scored first. Maryland scored the next two (1 tie / 1 lead change). Duke scored (tie number 2). The Terps scored (lead change number 2). The Blue Devils scored three straight (tie number 3 / lead change number 3). Maryland scored three straight to close the half (tie number 4 / lead change number 4). The Terps led 6-5 at that point.
Now, I'm going to provide a statistical summary of the half and I want you to imagine you don't know the score. So here's a look
By the numbers
Shots: Duke 23 Maryland 21
Ground Balls: Duke 15 Maryland 13
Faceoffs: Duke 8 Maryland 5
Clears: Duke 5-6 Maryland 1-3
Extra Man Opportunities: Duke 1-3 Maryland 1-1
Saves: Maryland 9 Duke 7
Turnovers: Maryland 5 Duke 7
You see? Statistics, like early season rankings can be deceptive. But it was more than the back and forth and the closeness of the stats that writ this game large. Stick checks, collisions, effort, hustle - all of the elements you like to see in a lacrosse game were present in abundance. I didn't see much comment about it in the game thread but I'd like to assume that's a result of spotty coverage.
Defense, defense, defense
The second half belonged to the Terrapins at the beginning, in the middle and at the end. Let's first talk about Maryland's defense. Though everyone talks about the "total team effort", I'm going to start with Niko Amato. After racking up sixteen saves against Syracuse last week, the senior did himself one better stopping seventeen against the Devils. Maryland coach John Tillman talked about the teamwork and having each other's back but then he did say, "I know what I'm going to see when I look at the film. They did a very good job offensively but 31 in the goal bailed us out a lot today. I know that without even watching the film. We had some very good efforts but they had some good looks."
In fact, the third quarter was something like a prize fight between the goalies at opposite ends of the field. Amato would make a huge save and Duke's Luke Aaron would answer with one of his own. Where Maryland had the edge, was its team defense. The Terps forced Duke into three turnovers. Combined with Amato's pair of saves, the Terps needed only to pierce Arron's armor to open some breathing room. And it was Mike Chanenchuk who ripped home the fourth of his five goals that opened the door for Maryland. Channenchuk's goal put the Terps up by two but it was Amato who kept them there when he came up with saves on two of those good Duke looks that TIllman referenced and then started a fast counter allowing Chanenchuk to ring up his fifth score.
You read what Tillman thinks of his goalie, here's Amato on his defense, "I think we're getting a total team effort. Our defense has been flying around setting the tone and not giving up anything easy." Murray talked about not being focused on specific match ups saying that it's not so much as him against Jordan Wolf but more about adhering to the defensive game plan to the last second. Tillman added, "Goran has proved so selfless as a complete defenseman that he couldn't have cared less if Jordan had scored eight goals and we'd won, he would have been happy. I think in this day and age when you keep hearing about match ups it's easy to get caught up in that. He's been so unselfish and so team oriented that it's great to see and I think our younger guys are seeing that's the way you need to be."
Balancing the scales of offense
I could go on about the defense but Pete probably wants me to keep this under 10,000 words so it's time to shift gears and look at the offense. If you think I'm going to start with Mike Chanenchuk, it would be hard not to. Five goals, what more need I say. And the last three he created for himself. Chanenchuk deflected the credit. "Our offense revolves around ten guys. Some guys are hot one day and somebody gets hot another. Today I was that person. With other guys having success last week, I think maybe they're keying on Connor and Matt a little bit so it enabled me to get some open looks."
And that balance did show. Chanenchuk was the only multi goal scorer for Maryland. Jay Carlson, Colin Heacock (scoring his first as a Terp), Matt Rambo, Charlie Raffa and Joe Locasio were the other scorers Saturday.
In sum, besides being 2-0 in ACC play and likely atop the polls, where are the Terps after four games? Well, everyone expected them to be strong defensively. And they've lived up to that billing. They've played four games and conceded only twenty goals and they've faced two of the best offenses in the country. They held Syracuse to two goals over 33:19 of playing time on the last Saturday in February and they held Duke scoreless for 27:26 on the first Saturday in March. And both opponents looked a bit shell shocked somewhere along the way. The exciting aspect for Terps fans is that they've done it different ways. Whether it's been Raffa at the ‘X' (he held his own against Fowler winning 8 of 19), the defense sliding and recovering or causing turnovers (Michael Earhardt had two or three shutdown corner interceptions with one coming when Duke was a man up), or Amato bailing out the defense when they do make a mistake, there can be no question of how well they are playing.
On the offensive end, Chanenchuk is right about the offense revolving around ten players. Tillman said much the same, "We don't have the same top guys (as last year) but I think if you look at from first to tenth, I think we have more depth. We have more guys that we feel like can play. So I think we can play faster. I think they're a pretty diverse group." And they do play faster. Through four games, the Terps average 47 shots per game. Last season they took 12 fewer on average. They also spread the scoring. Matt Rambo opened the season with back to back hat tricks. He scored only once against Duke but his early prowess opened up opportunities for Chanenchuk and the senior capitalized with five goals. If they continue this diversity, Maryland will be hard to scout and hard to defend.
It's always good to start 4-0 and 2-0 in the tough ACC. But there are plenty of challenges on the horizon and carrying the top ranking can be an unpredictable burden. No one can doubt that Maryland is playing at a very high level through these first four games. And I guess right now we fans can savor the green sauce of that number one ranking they'll likely have come Monday.