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NCAA Tournament quarterfinal preview: No. 1-seed Maryland men’s lacrosse vs. Virginia

Maryland is looking to stay unbeaten and advance to its ninth Final Four under John Tillman.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

Maryland is the No. 1-seed in the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Tournament, and for good reason. The Terps are 15-0 and have rolled their way to the quarterfinal round of the NCAA tournament. On Sunday, they’ll have an opportunity to check another box and advance to the Final Four in East Hartford, Connecticut.

In their way is a familiar and talented opponent, the Virginia Cavaliers. Virginia, the two-time reigning national champions, is 12-3 this season.

If Maryland wants to keep its season alive, it’ll need to dethrone the Cavaliers, who beat the Terps in the 2021 national championship game and eliminated them in the 2019 quarterfinals.

“We’re really excited to play and one of the things that we’ve preached all week is they can’t be more excited than us,” senior defenseman Brett Makar said. “We’ve just got to be able to control the chaos, to clear the ball well and get stops on defense and get into our offense, which has done an awesome job all year.”

The two teams met in the regular season — Maryland easily came out on top — but all bets are off in May.

“Our leadership has been phenomenal and [we] just continue to relay the message to our guys… we all are aware at this point in the year our first loss will be our last one,” Makar added.

Game information

Date/Time: Sunday, May 22, 2:30 p.m.

Location: Ohio Stadium (Columbus, Ohio)

TV: ESPNU

Streaming: Watch ESPN

What happened last time?

The Terps and Cavaliers met during the regular season at Audi Field in Washington, D.C. on March 19.

In what was at the time a matchup of the first and second-ranked teams in the country, Maryland came out firing against Virginia and didn’t let up. Graduate attacker Keegan Khan scored just eight seconds into the game and the Terps kept rolling to a 12-6 halftime lead. The second half was more of the same, with Maryland coming away victorious, 23-12.

Seven Terps scored at least two goals, Khan leading the way with four tallies on just seven shots. Fifth-year midfielder Anthony DeMaio added a team-high four assists. Makar and graduate defenseman Matt Rahill also scored goals.

Junior faceoff specialist Luke Wierman had a dominant performance at the faceoff dot, winning 24-of-36 opportunities and converting them into offense with an assist on Khan’s opening goal.

Two of Virginia’s most prolific attackmen had solid days despite the loss. Sophomore Connor Shellenberger and graduate Matt Moore both had three goals and two assists. Freshman goalie Matt Nunes had a rough outing, though, allowing 20 goals.

What’s happened since?

Maryland has continued to dominate opponents at an historic clip. The Terps steamrolled their way through the Big Ten, winning every regular season conference game by nearly 10 goals on average. They then put together a pair of winning performances in the Big Ten tournament, coming away with a conference tournament championship in addition to their regular season title.

After being named the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament, Maryland came out strong and flat out destroyed Vermont in the first round. The final score was 21-5, the largest margin of victory in an NCAA tournament game in program history. Five Terps had at least five points on the day, led by fifth-year attacker and Tewaaraton Award finalist Logan Wisnauskas who had four goals and two assists.

The Cavaliers’ first loss of 2022 came in their game against Maryland, and they’ve suffered two since — both to solid teams, though. They lost at eventual SoCon champion Richmond by four goals and at Duke by nine. Virginia also had impressive wins against ACC opponents Notre Dame and North Carolina.

Virginia had to travel for its first-round NCAA tournament game, making the trip to Providence for a matchup with No. 8-seed Brown. In front of a raucous crowd, the Wahoos found themselves tied at halftime but pulled away and outscored the Bears by seven in the second half for a 17-10 win.

In that game, Shellenberger and junior attacker Payton Cormier combined for nine goals. Nunes had 16 saves in his first career postseason game. Virginia also had a +12 advantage on ground balls.

Three things to watch

1. Slowing down Shellenberger. In addition to his four goals against Brown, Shellenberger also had four assists for a total of eight points. In just five career NCAA tournament games, the sophomore has 32 points, registering 18 goals and 14 assists. Per Lacrosse Reference, Shellenberger is shooting 60% over the course of the career in May, 15% higher than any other month. He is also a Tewaaraton Award finalist, and if either him or Wisnauskas has a big day they could separate themself from the pack.

“He’s such a dynamic dodger, first and foremost,” Maryland junior goalie Logan McNaney said of Shellenberger. “He can initiate offense from up top. He’s a good passer [and] he’s a good shooter.”

2. The Terps are back on the road. The last time that Maryland had to travel outside of the state for a game was on Apr. 2 against Michigan. Now, the Terps will have to travel to Columbus, Ohio for Sunday’s quarterfinal game. Originally, head coach John Tillman expected to play at the other quarterfinal site in Hempstead, New York, but the NCAA had other plans.

“I think we were slated to go to Long Island, and then last Sunday they told us we’re going to Ohio. So we’ll just be thankful for the opportunity we have,” he said. “What’s great about our family and fans, they go everywhere. Terp Nation, everywhere we go, they’re gonna be there.”

3. Who will advance to the Final Four? Playing this late into the season means that every game has high stakes. One team will book their ticket to the Final Four in East Hartford, and the other will have their season ended. Since 2000, one of Maryland or Virginia has been in the Final Four all but four times. Since John Tillman took over at Maryland in 2011, the Terps have made eight Final Fours. Virginia has made it only thrice in that span, but won the championship each time.

The victor of Sunday’s game will play the winner of Princeton-Yale in the national semifinals.