This is the week things get really interesting for the Terps. This is the week that the annual four-week stretch begins that will go a long way toward determining Maryland's fate in May. This is the week where questions get asked and start to get answered. We'll begin things here with a closer look at "The Stretch," including a closer look at this week's opponent - UNC. Then we'll also take a look back at last week's games vs. UMBC and St. Joseph's and finish up with a quick peek at the latest NCAA rankings.
Last year I dubbed Maryland's annual four-week grind of Carolina, Virginia, Navy and Hopkins "The Stretch." (I'm open to any better suggestions.)
The reason this string of games gets some special recognition is two-fold: the length of the series and the fact that all four are historical rivals.
First, lets take a look at how long "The Stretch" has been going on. This year is the 34th straight year that Maryland will play these same four opponents from the end of March to mid-April. That's a long time. How long? Think about these facts from 1978 ...
- Jimmy Carter was still President of the United States (since then we've had Ronald, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama)
- The Washington Bullets won the NBA title, defeating the Seattle Supersonics (neither team exists now - the Bullets are now Wizards and the Supersonics are now the Oklahoma City Thunder)
- Affirmed won horse racing's Triple Crown (the last horse to do so)
- Kentucky defeated Duke for the NCAA men's basketball championship (Yes, there was a tournament before team's danced and March was mad)
- Sony introduces the Walkman, the first portable stereo (College students everywhere are saying to themselves, "What's a Walkman?")
- Annie Hall won Best Picture at the Academy Awards over Star Wars
- A gallon of gas cost between $0.48-0.63 per gallon
The point of this little trip down memory lane wasn't to make anyone feel old (although that's how I now feel after typing all of that). The point is to show that this series of games has been going on in the same order for a long, long time.
Second, there is no disputing that these four teams are four of Maryland's biggest rivals. Here are the opponents Maryland had played the most in its 86-year history (including 2011 for Duke):
97, Johns Hopkins
58 North Carolina
Collectively, Maryland has played 322 games against its next four opponents, which is 33% of its total number of games played in its history.
Here are some facts about "The Stretch":
- In the 34-year span only four times has the stretch been interrupted with another game added in between one of these traditional four (1981, 1997, 2001, 2003).
- Overall, Maryland is 60-72 (.455) since 1978 vs. those four teams during that time.
- The Terps have swept the four games only once - in 1987.
- Only twice (1981 & 1988) has Maryland lost all four games.
- Six times (1978, 1979, 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001) the Terps have won three of the four games. Johns Hopkins broke up the Terps' bid for a perfect stretch four times, while Carolina and Virginia broke it up one time each.
Sizing Up The Terps & Tar Heels
This year's match-up between the Terps and the Tar Heels doesn't have the sizzle of two undefeated conference rivals clashing like last year's game did, but that doesn't mean it's any less important. Both teams need this one - badly.
Maryland and UNC both come into Saturday's game 0-1 in ACC play. After Saturday's game each team will have just a game at Virginia left on their conference slates. Saturday's winner will still have a shot at a share of the conference regular-season title.
There will certainly some intriguing match-ups on the field. Carolina's offense still runs through All-American Billy Bitter, but Maryland's Brett Schmidt held UNC's dynamic scorer without a point in last year's ACC tournament game at Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium. That's certainly a match-up to keep an eye on, but it's not the only one.
- How will Maryland match-up with Carolina's other two amazing attackmen - junior Thomas Wood and freshman Nicky Glasso? Seniors Max Schmidt and Ryder Bohlander will need to find a way to hold those two in check for the Terps to have a chance to win.
- How will Ryan Young handle the pressure of UNC defender Ryan Flanagan? Flanagan is not only huge (6-foot-6, 220 lbs.), he's quick and can throw a variety of checks. He had five groundballs and five caused turnovers the last time these two teams met, but it was Young who ended up with a goal and three assists in Maryland's ACC semifinal win. If Young can get by Flanagan and UNC needs to slide it could free up Maryland's shooters, especially Grant Catalino, who had six goals last April vs. the Tar Heels.
- Carolina sophomore Marcus Holman scored four goals as an attackman vs. the Terps last year in Chapel Hill, but was limited to just one goal on two shots when he was moved to the first midfield in the ACC tournament rematch. Holman started the Tar Heels first three games at attack before moving to the first midfield before the UMBC game. Since switching to the midfield Holman has scored 11 goals and added two assists. In the three games at attack he had just three goals and two assist. Maryland has two of the best long poles in the nation in senior Brian Farrell and sophomore Jesse Bernhardt and how they fare vs. Holman will be a major factor in the game.
- The face-off X will play a huge factor in this game. UNC freshman R.G. Keenan is currently ninth in the NCAA, winning 64.5% of his draws. Maryland sophomore Curtis Holmes is also above 60% at the X, winning 60.8%. Keenan is a face-off guy that likes to pop or draw the ball to himself, as evident by his 8.14 groundballs per game. Holmes is a versatile face-off guy, who will scrap and fight for every groundball.
- The one area Maryland seems to have a clear edge (at least by the numbers) is in goal. Terp freshman Niko Amato is second in the nation in goals-against average and fourth in save percentage. Amato is capable of having a huge day in cage for the Terps (as evidenced by his 19-save effort at Duke earlier this month), but Maryland's defense can make things a lot easier for him by limiting Carolina's quality shots.
I talked a lot about "The Stretch" earlier in the blog, but how has Maryland fared vs. Carolina during the past 33 years in College Park? Overall at home during that time, the Terps are 12-7 vs. the Tar Heels. But four of those games were in ACC or NCAA tournament play and therefore were outside "The Stretch." If you just take the regular-season games into account Maryland holds an 11-4 edge since 1978 in games played in College Park.
The UMBC Game
Amazing. What else can be said about Grant Catalino's performance vs. the Retrievers? The Big Cat tied career highs with six goals and seven points. He took 13 shots and put nine of those on goal. He also contributed three groundballs, which helped the Terps win the groundball battle 40-22. When a shooter like Catalino is on there really isn't anything a defense can do to stop him and UMBC found that out on Friday night.
Of course the highlight of the night for Catalino was his third goal. It wasn't the "typical" Catalino goal (you know the one - he steps out on the left wing, takes a pass and in one fluid motion rips a low-to-high shot past a defenseless goalie), but it was close. What it was was his 100th career goal. Last week I broke down the 100-point scorers and what an exclusive club that is. Well, the 100-goal club takes that to another level. Only 12 Terps out of 2,200 have reached the 100-goal plateau. That's roughly one-half of 1%. Congratulations Grant! You deserve it.
But Catalino wasn't the only offensive star for the Terps on Friday. Joe Cummings also set a career high with four goals. He's not the biggest or the fastest or the player who shoots the hardest. What he is is a slick all-around lacrosse player that can help the team in so many different ways. He is also a terrific teammate. As happy as he was to score four vs. UMBC (and two more vs. St. Joe's), he was even happier about assisting on Ryan Young's goal vs. the Hawks.
The defense also deserves a lot of credit for the UMBC win. Niko Amato was great in goal, stopping 12 Retriever shots, but he would be the first to redirect any attention to the defense in front of him. The Terps' D limited UMBC to just 12 shots in the first three quarters. The close defense group of Ryder Bohlander, Brett Schmidt and Max Schmidt combined for five groundballs and six caused turnovers.
But, the most impressive defensive display was by Maryland's man-down unit, which held UMBC scoreless in four extra-man opportunities.
The St. Joseph's Game
This one wasn't pretty, but in the end a win is a win is a win.
St. Joseph's game plan was to hold the ball and make it a half-field game. On one level they succeeded, but when Maryland raced out to a 7-0 lead that game plan wasn't going to win the game for the Hawks. But to its credit, St. Joe's didn't deviate from its plan and in doing so the Hawks allowed only four goals in the second half.
But the story of this one for Maryland was the breakthrough performance of sophomore Owen Blye.
Blye made the move back to his natural attack position for the UMBC game, filling in for the injured Travis Reed (No, we're not going to talk about injuries here, but I will say you shouldn't believe everything you read on message boards or websites). He didn't register a point vs. the Retrievers, but Maryland didn't really need him to. What that game did was allow him to get comfortable playing attack in a live game again.
And it seemed like he was comfortable vs. St. Joe's, netting his first career hat trick and finishing with a career-high five points. I asked him after the game how it felt playing attack again and, with a wide smile, he simply said, "I love playing attack."
But, Blye wasn't the only Terp setting a career high vs. the Hawks. Senior long pole Brian Farrell wasn't going to let the Hawks' stall tactics deter him from pushing Maryland's transition offense. He scored twice in the Terps' 7-0 run to open the game (including a highlight-reel bounce shot from just inside the top of the restraining box) and added an assist for his first career three-point game. Of course, offense wasn't the only thing Farrell excelled at vs. St. Joe's. He also finished the game with two groundballs and two caused turnovers.
Tracking The Firsts
First goals: Kevin Cooper (St. Joseph's)
Terps In The NCAA Rankings
I don't go over these every week, but this week Maryland is ranked among the Top 10 in nine different categories. You can see on the chart below that the Terps lead the nation in assists per game and points per game.
|Assists Per Game (60 ranked)||1||8.86||Maryland||8.86|
|Points Per Game (60 ranked)||1||21.71||Maryland||21.71|
|Scoring Defense (60 ranked)||2||6.14||Johns Hopkins||5.43|
|Scoring Margin (60 ranked)||2||6.71||Yale||8.2|
|Ground Balls Per Game (60 ranked)||2||40.86||Virginia||42.88|
|Shot Percentage (60 ranked)||3||0.347||Duke||0.375|
|Caused Turnovers Per Game (60 ranked)||4||11.71||Yale||13.4|
|Scoring Offense (60 ranked)||4||12.86||Virginia||14.5|
|Win Percentage (60 ranked)||5||0.857||
What makes the assists per game ranking even more impressive is that only one Terp has double-digit assist so far this season (Ryan Young with 10). Maryland is sharing the ball and creating opportunities for anyone in any situation. Overall, 19 different Terps have registered assists this season.
That finishes this week for the blog. As usual, game notes for the UNC game will be up on Thursday. Highlights from last week's games will most likely be delayed due to spring break (technically, the University is closed until Friday this week).
If you're interested in taking a sneak peek at the Tar Heels you can do so tonight. Carolina hosts Dartmouth at 7 p.m. and that game will be broadcast live on ESPNU.
I hope to see many, many Terp fans in attendance on Saturday for this important ACC showdown. The forecast looks good, so there's no excuses for not finding your way to Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium to cheer on your Terps.
Be The Best!