Just as I urged folks not to get too overwrought when the Maryland men's lacrosse team lost in the ACC semifinals to Notre Dame last week, I would urge caution against reading too much into Saturday's 12-6 over Navy. For those whose memories don't retain great detail, perhaps I need to remind you that last year the Terps came off an ACC semifinals loss (to Virginia) romped over a good but not great Colgate team, then promptly had Cornell run them out of Byrd Stadium in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Midshipmen came in to the game with a 4-10 record having lost four straight games but one of those was a 7-6 double overtime loss to Loyola and another was a 6-5 loss to Johns Hopkins so certainly the Middies had shown themselves to be a potentially challenging opponent. Additionally, the game has a long history and rivalry games are frequently unpredictable. Add to this the emotion of senior day and the game can become even more unpredictable. Fortunately for Maryland fans the game reached the expected outcome.
While much good can be taken from this win, the Terps were far from perfect. And the flaws appeared on both offense and defense. Before we take a look at those facets of the game, three aspects where Maryland played about as well as anyone could expect came at the faceoff ‘X', in goal, and ground balls.
The good stuff
Charlie Raffa, one of the best faceoff men in the NCAA, continued his superb play at that spot winning an utterly dominating 17 of 22 faceoffs including drawing four faceoff violations in the first half and winning all eight of his second half faceoffs. Between the pipes, Niko Amato, continued to demonstrate why he is an All-ACC goalie and stands among the nation's best. Navy put nineteen shots on goal and only six got past the Terrapins' goalie.
The Terps absolutely dominated the Midshipmen in getting to and corralling ground balls. Again, coming into the game, Maryland was among the best squads in the country averaging thirteen more ground balls per game than their opponents so one would expect Maryland to win this stat. Saturday though, their edge was 46-25 - an astonishing margin of twenty-one.
Looking ahead, if Maryland continues this level of play in these areas in the NCAA Tournament, they will be a tough team to knock out. Excellence in these statistics will always keep a team competitive.
One other facet of Saturday's contest that provides some impetus for optimism is the success the Terps had without Mike Chanenchuk. While the senior appeared in the starting lineup and on Maryland's two extra man chances, the Terps played most of the game without their acknowledged offensive leader on the field. Though the offense was far from perfect, it certainly operated more efficiently than it had with a hobbled Chanenchuk on the field against Notre Dame. As for the decision to limit Chanenchuk's play, coach John Tillman said, "We did some things (in Wednesday's practice) and we sensed that maybe it was better to back off. If he was going to play, it was senior day so if he wanted to try it a little bit and our trainer felt like it wasn't going to put him back then we were going to do it but we were going to err on the side of caution."
Some problems on defense
It's probably hard to imagine how someone could look at Saturday's game in which the Midshipmen only managed to put 15 of their 34 shots on goal converting on merely six and point to defensive problems but I'm a Maryland fan and can never see the full glass. The problems I saw came mostly in the first half when Navy scored four of their six goals. Three of those goals came from well run and executed plays that found gaping holes in Maryland's defense and left shooters essentially facing Amato one on one from five yards or less. The Terrapins' goalie had no chance on these shots.
In the second half, the Terps appeared to have cleaned this up but this may have resulted as much from Maryland's dominance in possessing the ball as it did from making defensive adjustments. Navy's scores are certainly a bit of game film opposing coaches will watch closely.
Some problems on offense
After the ACC semifinal game against Notre Dame, Tillman noted that scoring five goals on thirty-four shots was unacceptable in terms of shooting accuracy, shot selection, and converting opportunities. On the surface, it appears that the Terps did a much better job in those areas against Navy putting twenty-two of thirty-nine shots on goal and scoring twelve.
Navy goalie John Connors had eleven saves. "You take those low angle shots (against Connors) and it's a bit of fool's gold," Tillman said after the game. "There's not a lot to see. If he catches it, it's potential transition but also if it's a save and drops right down in the crease, it's a turnover. I think we could clean up some things and get where we want to go but at least this is a start. Maybe a chance to get some confidence."
However, had Connors done a better job controlling those shots, Maryland would have had three fewer scores. That could have narrowed the final margin to 9-6. The Terps' last two goals in the game came with an essentially empty net and with under a minute to play including one unnecessary shot from over forty yards with nineteen seconds left in the game. under slightly different circumstances and against a more skilled team, this could have been a much closer game than the final score.
Where, when and who
The Terps now await the revelation of the NCAA Tournament field Sunday night. If you'd like to watch the show, Jake has provided some guidance here. Maryland will learn where, when and who they will play in their first game. Stay tuned and hold onto your hats. Now the fun really starts.