Maryland's perfect season came to an end last week as No. 20 Ohio State knocked off the Big Ten regular season champs 11-10. After leading by as much as three goals, Maryland allowed Ohio State to get back into it. The Scarlet and Grey rattled off four straight goals to take an 8-7 lead. After Maryland tied it up to make it 8-8, the Buckeyes went on a 3-0 run, with the last goal coming just under the five minute mark. Stukenberg added a goal with eight seconds left to make the score seem more palatable but in reality, the Terps went into halftime up 6-4 and lost this game by getting outscored 7-4 (but really three if you take away Stukenberg's meaningless last gasp goal) in the second half.
Maryland led in draw controls (12-10), shots (29-24) and only turned the ball over six times. Turnovers have been a problem spot for this team but last weekend they showed weaknesses in two areas, one that was uncharacteristic of this team and one that we have seen all season long.
The first was fouls. Maryland had 21 fouls called on them in the second half ALONE. They finished with 29 fouls for the game. That is not Maryland lacrosse. I have never seen a Maryland team get called for close to 30 fouls in a game because even though they play aggressive defense, they pride themselves on playing clean. This was very surprising but despite the large number of fouls, Ohio State only had two free position attempts in this game.
The second was shooting. Maryland has put up over 30 shots per game this season and throughout the season they have had issues with volume shooting. They don't move the ball as well as they could and they take bad or decent shots when they could pass off to a teammate for a good or great shot. That is what we saw against Ohio State. Ohio State's goalie had a fantastic game with 11 saves but I've seen goalies get 11 saves on Maryland and still give up 15 or 16 goals. The key stat in this game for me was Megan Whittle and Taylor Cummings shooting 3-16. You can't have your top two goal scorers take over half of your shots while shooting at an 18.75 percent clip and expect to win. That being said....
The Big Dance
Maryland has now lost whatever sheen of invincibility it had and they will get every team's best shot. They are no longer up for "Best Team Ever" status and this win may very well give this team a sense of urgency going into the NCAA Tournament that they may not have had before. This is still the most talented team in the country and in my opinion, based on their record and strength of schedule, the best team in the country. They are deserving of the top seed in this tournament.
Maryland will be the regional host and will start tournament play against the winner of Jacksonville and Massachusetts in the second round on Sunday, May 10th at noon.
Rounding out the top four seeds are UNC, Duke and Syracuse. The ACC had seven teams make the field and they hold five of the top eight seeds. The Big Ten has four teams including Penn State, Ohio State, Northwestern as the eight seed and of course, Maryland.
Maryland has a good draw as the tournament's top seed. Their quarterfinal match-up could be very interesting. If Northwestern and Ohio State each win their first round game they will play each other for the right to meet Maryland in the quarterfinals (assuming the Terps advance).
The potential rubber match game with Ohio State would played in College Park where Cathy Reese has only lost twice as Maryland's head coach. Northwestern and Maryland have won nine of the last 10 national titles and they have played each other deep in the post-season many, many times. A match-up with either team would be compelling for Maryland with a spot in the Final Four on the line.
If you want to look at Final Four match-ups, that gets interesting as well. If the seeds hold, there will be a Big Ten rematch for a spot in the Final Four and there will be an ACC rematch to determine their opponent. Boston College is the five seed and has a head to head win over fourth seeded Syracuse, who fell to the Terps in last year's national final. So if Maryland makes the Final Four, they would probably be facing Syracuse or Boston College. The cherry on the sundae is that the Terps may very well have another championship showdown with the North Carolina Tar Heels.
UNC dashed Maryland's dreams of a perfect season two years ago in triple overtime in one of the greatest national championship games that has ever been played. Maryland just lost their perfect season but would love to return the favor by beating the Tar Heels in the title game to go back-to-back.
The Bottom Line
This team is beatable. We know that and Ohio State officially proved it to the country this last week. Only four games separate this team from being crowned as national champions once again. They need to take it one game at a time and play Maryland style lacrosse. If they do that, Maryland should go back-to-back for the first time since 2000-2001, the last of seven consecutive national titles under Cindy Timchal.
Each of the past two season's, the national title has been Maryland's to lose. They were perfect heading into the final two years ago against UNC and cracked under the pressure. They choked. Last year they had only one loss (UNC in Chapel Hill) and had a workman-like approach as they went into the NCAA tournament and captured the title. This year they were ranked as the top team in the preseason. They had an undefeated regular season while being hyped as possibly being the best team ever. As I said before, even with their lone and albeit unexpected loss, they are the best and most talented team in the country.
Will they break under the immense pressure or will they bat teams out of the way, one by one as they did last year with Penn, Duke, Northwestern and Syracuse, en route to their second consecutive national title? That is the bottom line.