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Maryland men’s lacrosse vs. Duke Final Four preview

The Terps continue their title defense against a familiar foe.

NCAA Lacrosse: Men's Championship Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland men’s lacrosse plays Duke in the 2018 NCAA Tournament Final Four on Saturday. After over a month of inconsistent play, including a second-half comeback win over Robert Morris in the NCAA Tournament, Terps head coach John Tillman met with his staff to reflect on the team’s recent play.

Due to scheduling and a triple-overtime game at Johns Hopkins, Tillman said his team was exhausted during a six-week stretch that started on April 8 at Penn State. So after consulting with his staff, Tillman decided the best move was to back off and hold shorter practices last week, emphasizing quality of reps over quantity.

The move worked, as Maryland beat Cornell, 13-8, to advance to its fifth straight Final Four and seventh in eight years under John Tillman. To move on to a fourth straight national championship game, the Terps will have to get past former ACC rival in No. 4-seed Duke.

The Blue Devils came into the season ranked No. 1 in the Inside Lacrosse Media Poll, and knocked off Villanova and No. 5 seed Johns Hopkins to reach the Final Four. Duke raced out to a 7-3 halftime lead in the quarterfinals, but the Blue Jays cut the lead to 9-8 before Duke reeled off three straight goals to seal the win.

It’s the Blue Devils’ first Championship Weekend appearance since 2014, when they made their eighth straight Final Four and won their second straight national championship. In two of those Final Four appearances, Maryland beat Duke, besting the Blue Devils 9-4 in 2011 and 16-10 in 2012. The Terps are 6-2 all time against Duke under Tillman, though the teams have not met since Maryland joined the Big Ten in the summer of 2014.

The game is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2, following the conclusion of the first semifinal between No. 3-seed Yale and No. 2-seed Albany.

Duke Blue Devils (15-3)

Head coach John Danowski’s 398 career wins are the most in Division I history, and he is 179-52 in 12 years at Duke. Under Danowski, the Blue Devils have been to nine Final Fours and won the program’s only three national championships. Before coming to Durham, he spent 21 years as the head coach at Hofstra and three as the head coach at CW Post.

Players to watch

Senior attackman Justin Guterding, No. 14. Guterding’s 104 points (61 goals, 43 assists) leads the NCAA, and his 207 career goals are a Division I record. He’s also a Tewaaraton finalist, and whomever Maryland chooses to task with guarding him will have his hands full.

Junior midfielder Brad Smith, No. 27. Smith is second on the Blue Devils with 61 points (28 goals, 33 assists), and has been a facilitator in the second half of the season. After having 21 goals and 16 assists in Duke’s first 11 games, he has seven goals and 17 assists in the last seven.

Junior defender Cade Van Raaphorst, No. 7. The Arizona native is a two-time All-American and a leader of the Blue Devils’ defense. He’s usually tasked with shutting down the opponent’s best player, and he has 37 ground balls and 18 caused turnovers this season.

Strength

Offense. Duke is strong on both ends of the field, but its offense may be more impressive. The Blue Devils rank in the top 10 in scoring offense, points per game, shot percentage and man-up offense.

Weakness

Taking plays off. Duke can beat any team in the country when it’s on, but that doesn’t always happen for the full 60 minutes. The Blue Devils sometimes coast during games, and their losses to Penn, Syracuse and Notre Dame were all unexpected. They also allowed Hopkins to cut a four-goal lead to one before waking up and scoring three straight to put the game away.

Three things to watch

  1. Who controls possession? Both teams have dominated the faceoff X in the NCAA Tournament, with Duke winning 75 percent and Maryland winning 66 percent. Whichever team gains the upper hand at the faceoff dot Sunday will be key. The Blue Devils rank 23rd out of 71 teams in pace, according to Lacrosse Analytics, while the Terps rank 68th.
  2. Can Maryland limit Justin Guterding? Guterding has scored a goal and has recorded multiple points in every game this season. However, he has recorded three points or fewer in six games, three of which resulted in losses.
  3. Does Maryland’s “Cardiac Terps” Final Four trend continue? The Terps crushed Duke by five and six goals, respectively, in the 2011 and 2012 Final Four. They’ve won their other three Final Four appearances by one goal each, and needed a ridiculous save, an overtime goal and a crease violation to advance to the National Championship.