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NCAA men’s lacrosse Tournament 2017 preview: Maryland takes on Denver in Final Four

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A rematch of the 2015 title game commences on Saturday afternoon.

NCAA Division I Men's Lacrosse Championship Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

With a trip to the national championship game on the line, Maryland men’s lacrosse will play Denver in a rematch of the 2015 national championship.

Both teams got to Foxborough in convincingly similar fashion. The Terps’ offense ignited in the 18-9 rout of Albany, and the Pioneers stifled fourth-seeded Notre Dame, 16-4.

“They seem like they’re getting better,” Tillman said Tuesday in a teleconference with the media. “They’ve had some moving parts with injuries, but obviously they looked outstanding on Saturday.”

Maryland (13-3) came up short two years ago, but the Terps are the top overall seed in the tournament this year and have played every bit like it.

With a win, the Terps will compete in their fifth title game in seven years, and a chance to end the 42-year championship drought. But first, they’ve got some personal demons to take on.

Game Info

When and where: Saturday, May 27th at 2:30 p.m., Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts

How to Watch: ESPN2, Westwood One radio, Sirius XM Channel 84

Denver Pioneers (13-3, 5-1)

Head coach Bill Tierney. Often regarded as the greatest lacrosse coach of all time by those in the sport, Tierney’s résumé is nothing short of remarkable. Between 1992 and 2001, Tierney coached a Princeton program that amassed six national championships in 10 years. He won his seventh national title with the Pioneers in 2015, and is looking to add an eighth to his mantle.

Players to know

Trevor Baptiste, junior, faceoff, No. 9. He’s the best faceoff specialist in the country, plain and simple. Winning 75.7 percent of his draws, he’s the only player in the country with more than 200 wins and fewer than 100 losses at the X. Against Notre Dame in the quarterfinals, he lost one faceoff (yes, one). He’s scored 12 goals this season off the faceoff too, and is the lifeblood of Denver’s gameplan.

Connor Cannizarro, senior, attack, No. 40. When Baptiste gets it into the hands of the offense, Cannizarro takes over. He leads the team with 41 goals and 26 assists this season, and has been the leader on offense since transferring to Denver in 2015 and winning the title in his first year with the program. The year before he transferred, he totaled 36 points for Maryland.

Ethan Walker, freshman, attack, No. 57. The 2016 USA Today All-USA Boys Lacrosse Player of the Year has already made his mark in his freshman campaign. The Culliver Military Academy product leads Denver with 70 points, and connects on an efficient 42 percent of his shots.

Strengths

The possession game. Baptiste’s dominance at faceoff hides the numerous deficiencies in Denver’s game. “When you’re getting 73 percent, you’re getting 3-1 in possessions on an average basis,” Tillman said. “It just allows you to be so comfortable on offense, and then your defense is pretty well rested.” The Pioneers don’t have an elite defense or great goalkeeping, but are hidden behind an efficient offense that can run up the scoreboard when Baptiste keeps feeding them the ball.

Total offense. The Terps and Pioneers have practically identical stats on offense, with similar goal outputs (219 and 221, respectively) and assists on more than half of them. Outside of Walker and Cannizarro, Denver has a slew of secondary scorers like Austin French, who led the team with four goals and an assist against Notre Dame. The fifth-best scoring offense in the country, combined with Baptiste’s ability to maintain possession, will be a challenge even for a defense as stingy as Maryland’s.

Weaknesses

Reliable goalkeeping. Sophomore Alex Ready averages just 7.50 saves per game; the only two eligible goalies in the country with fewer saves per game are the goalies for Johns Hopkins who split time in the cage. It’s true that Baptiste’s ability to keep the ball on offense does limit Ready’s opportunities. Still, his save percentage is a lowly .484, ranking the seventh-worst in all of Division I. It seems like Ready’s reflexes in the cage are anything but.

Turnovers on both sides of the ball. The Pioneers are as inefficient at causing turnovers as they are susceptible to committing them. Denver doesn’t have one player in the top 75 slots for Division I in caused turnovers per game, with only one player on the team breaking double digits. On the NCAA stats tracking page, Denver isn’t even listed when searching caused turnovers per game. The Pioneers are minus-26 in caused turnovers and plus-39 in committed turnovers.