The NCAA Tournament. This is where it all counts. Great seasons can look like disappointments in retrospect with an early exit. Okay seasons can be made to look great with a deep run. These games make or break your season. Especially when you're at a school like Maryland.
The expectation at Maryland every year, no matter the circumstances, is win a National Championship. That was never more evident than this season. Maryland brought in a great recruiting class, but were left with tons of Freshman. Those Freshman have over-achieved on expectations already. But the goal still is to win a National Championship. That's the expectation. And this Maryland team is most certainly capable in my opinion. They start the road to that potential title with a rematch from last years 1st Round...Cornell.
I said it on Sunday. Maryland fans would look at a rematch against Cornell and feel worried. After all, Big Red ran the Terps off the field last year in this exact same spot. But this is just a 1st Round rematch on paper. Fortunes have changed for these teams drastically. They're quite a bit different. And those changes are going to be what impacts this game the most.
For Cornell, they're still a very up tempo, fast-paced, offensive powerhouse. They have two 50 point attackmen, Matt Donovan (31 G, 22 A) and Dan Lintner (45 G, 5 A). Donovan is fantastic operating as both a scorer and feeder from Goal Line Extended (GLE) and behind the cage. He's been the guy who took Rob Pannell's role from last year and has done it well. Lintner is a superb inside finisher, one of the best in the nation. He's taken that role over from Steve Mock. As you know, Pannell and Mock burned Maryland last year to the tune of 16 goals. But that's not all. Big Red has gotten 117 points from their first line midfield --Connor Buczek (30 G, 17 A), John Hogan (16 G, 22 A), and John Edmonds (24 G, 8 A-- This all has added up to a dominant offense, averaging 13 goals per game and ranking 7th in the country.
And despite all that, Maryland could enjoy seeing this type of Cornell offense. Last year, CU employed a two man game. Pannell attacking from behind the cage and feeding to Mock, or scoring himself. It drew the Maryland players out of position to cover the deadly Pannell, and left Mock well open. It eliminated the structure that the Maryland D has become known for and done so well with.
But this year, they're offense starts and runs through the midfield more with Buczek. While the two man game employed by Cornell last year, and North Carolina and Johns Hopkins this year has hurt Maryland mightily, the offense Cornell is running is right down the Terps alley. It emphasizes more dodging, and less quick strike offense. It allows the Terps to get a stick on every one and make the oppositions shots direct for Niko Amato. While last years Cornell was the perfect group to dissect Maryland, this one plays into the Terps hands far more, despite how effective they still are.
For Maryland, they're far better equipped to deal with this Cornell group on offense. Last years Maryland was a team still built for the previous few years. A non timer-on world. They could be as patient as they wanted and they used it to perfection. The Terrapins were still stuck in that mindset last year and it hurt them down the stretch. But this year they take far more shots, and they have more areas to go on offense. Last year saw inauspicious April's and May's from Owen Blye and Jay Carlson, two key cogs in Maryland's set-up last year. Carlson had a big game vs Navy last Saturday. Those two were key cogs as when Maryland was not countering in transition off of Niko Amato saves, they were forced to hope that their shooters and midfield got hot. There was hardly any inside game. Now, with Connor Canizzzaro playing that role very well, sitting at GLE and attacking from the cage, Matt Rambo showing some touch inside, and Senior Rustin Bryant getting on the scoresheet, there's far more options. They also have an improved Mike Chanenchuk now running the offense, something they didn't have last year. They have a dodger in Henry West. This is a much more varied Terps offense, and one built for a team like Cornell.
Charlie Raffa should have a strong day at the FO X which is big for a Terps team we all know is built on possessions. He's 2nd in the country at FO%, winning 68% of his draws, while Cornell's Doug Tesoriero is just 33rd in the country, winning 53% of his draws. Another often unnoticed part of Maryland's rough loss to Cornell last year was GB play. The Terps left so many GB's on the floor, misplaying them, not picking them up, and it cost them. They need the extra possessions over this Cornell team. GB's are a big key and if they win them, their chances of winning go up.
But the big key I haven't touched on is Mike Chanenchuk's health. As of a few days ago he was not 100% positive if he would play, and still termed his ankle injury "day to day". He's the guy for Maryland. If he's healthy, the Terrapins have a great shot at advancing. If not, a lot of the things Maryland has done on offense this year as opposed to last go out the window.
As I said before, seasons change on a dime in the tournament. Maryland's had a good season already, and one that you could call, an "overachieving" one. But the expectation at UMD is to win a national title. That would put this season up there as one of the 3 greatest Maryland seasons of all time. The first step down that potential road is this Saturday at 5 PM ET, as the Terps battle Big Red in the 1st Round of the NCAA Tournament.