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Maryland men's lacrosse vs. Penn State preview: Terps open Big Ten Tournament against Nittany Lions

Will 2016 be the year Maryland climbs atop the college lacrosse pedestal? It all starts Thursday against Penn State.

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Over the last five years, ten different teams have competed for the NCAA Men's Lacrosse Championship. Maryland constitutes three of those, the most out of any other program in that time span.

Three trips to the finals, and three entries into the "Runner Up" column.

If history really does tend to repeat itself, the Terrapins might be in for a rude awakening. But  this year's Maryland squad holds all the tools to make a deep tournament run - again.

After a second consecutive 12-win regular season, the Terps head to Baltimore this Thursday to start postseason play against Penn State (8-6) in the Big Ten tournament. Last year, Maryland didn't fare so well even in friendly conditions, dropping its first round matchup to an upset-hungry Ohio State team at Maryland Stadium. Johns Hopkins would end up winning the Big Ten Tournament on its rivals home field, a sour note to an otherwise successful year for John Tillman's program.

This time, the Terps look to assert their dominance just as they've done all season. This matchup makes for a matchup as interesting as any, with the Nittany Lions being the only team to force overtime against the current No. 3 team in the country. The heroics of Bryan Cole's overtime goal helped them stay undefeated in conference play, but the postseason is an animal amongst its own.

When the game is down to the wire, and both teams are scrapping to move on, anything can happen. The more talented team prevailed in Happy Valley over a month ago, but facing the same situation might not play out so lucky for the Terps. Maryland can come out firing and set a tone for both the Big Ten and NCAA Tournament, and

Game Info:

When and Where: Thursday at 5:30 pm, Homewood Field, Johns Hopkins University

Watch: Big Ten Network

Storylines to Watch

Henningsen is back, but who will be the faceoff?

Standout freshman Austin Henningsen suffered a leg injury against Penn State which has sidelined him the last four games of the regular season. The Baltimore Sun last reported the faceoff specialist returned to practice on Monday, but doesn't exactly mean he'll automatically start against Penn State. In his place was a committee of faceoffs including Will Bonaparte, Andrew Walsh and freshman Curtis Corley. They've been a decent place holder, but made nowhere near the impact Henningsen made. Maryland won 5-of-22 faceoffs against Johns Hopkins in the "The Rivalry" game, clearly lacking his 63-percent winning clip. Henningsen is certainly the most qualified, but after missing so much time, is he necessarily the right move?

The play of "The Big Three"

To be fair, this term typically indicates an entire team's production from three players, but in this case is done so for convenience sake. Colin Heacock, Matt Rambo and Bryan Cole have been the team's offensive focal points all season and going back to last year's NCAA Tournament run. Against Yale, Rambo sparked a furious three-goal run to top the Bulldogs into the semifinals. Senior Bryan Cole scored four against North Carolina in the quarter-finals, and has been the go-to man down the stretch of games with a clutch gene. As well, Heacock has established himself as a more dangerous threat this season, currently leading the team with 32 goals. Will this trio be fun to watch in their pursuit of a national title? Bet on it.

Will Penn State step forward as a program?

Last year, Penn State backed into the Big Ten Tournament with a 5-9 overall record. The program has undergone massive progress, with an 8-6 overall record and overtime losses against Johns Hopkins, Maryland and Rutgers. Plus, it handed the reigning champion Denver Pioneers their only loss of the season. The NCAA Tournament is a 16-team affair, and Penn State is a bubble team as the No. 18 team in most recent polls. They know that an upset will probably propel them into the conversation, but are they ready to make that step this year?