This will be short and sweet this week (this time I mean it), because there is so much going on with getting ready for the Final Four. So, let's get to it.
The Terps Are Back
It's been five years since the Terps have played lacrosse on Memorial Day weekend (or Championship Weekend as some on ESPN have taken to calling it), but thanks to a terrific effort by all 49 guys vs. Syracuse (which we'll get to soon) Maryland is back in the Final Four.
If you're wondering how long it has been consider this - there are only two members of the support staff that were a part of the program in 2006. I was one of them. Do you know the other? E-mail me with the answer. I'll see if there is something we can send to the first person that sends in the correct answer (current and former players and staff are excluded from this, as are recruitable high schoolers per NCAA regulations).
We have a winner on the trivia - the answer is Tim Ahner, the Terps' equipment manager.
The only way to get into the Maryland sections for the Final Four is to purchase your tickets (all-session pass) through the Maryland Ticket Office. You can buy your passes on-line or by calling 1-800-462TERP (8377).
For more information on the 2011 NCAA Lacorsse Championships you can visit the NCAA's event website.
A Sea of Red & Purple
Maryland fans are encouraged to pack M&T Bank Stadium and show up wearing either red or purple. Playing a Final Four in our home state gives Terp fans a chance to show their support for their team.
Casual fans or those checking out this blog for the first time are probably asking - Why Purple? Glad you asked.
Purple is the color for pancreatic cancer, which is the disease Ryan Young's mother, Maria, was diagnosed with a little more than three years ago. Maria passed away due to complications from that cancer on April 17 and Maryland has been wearing purple in memory of her ever since.
The team wears purple during its shoot-around and the coaches and staff wear purple during the game, which helps raise awareness for pancreatic cancer and research to help find a cure. For more information on how you can help, please go to the Lustgarten Foundation's website.
You can help with this worthwhile cause by showing up on Saturday proudly wearing purple while cheering for your team. On this national stage it's our chance to make a difference.
Some Interesting Final Four Facts
Just like with this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament, I'm sure that if people filled out NCAA men's lacrosse brackets a lot of them would have busted last weekend.
It's easy to understand why. This year's Final Four is the first one in the 41-year history of the tournament that one of the top four seeds did not advance to the Final Four.
It's not unusual that all four of the top seeds didn't make it to Baltimore. The last time all four top seeds made it to the Final Four was 2005 and that is the only time since the tournament expanded to 16 teams in 2003 that all four top seeded made it to the Final Four. Only three other times since 2003 has the top three seeds made it to the final weekend - 2009, 2008 & 2003.
Prior to 2003 the top four seeds were regulars at the Final Four. During the 12-team tournament format (1987-2002), the top seeds made it six times. From 1971-1985 the tournament featured just eight teams and eight times during that period the top four teams advanced. For those wondering, the 1986 tournament was the only one with a 10-team bracket.
The Syracuse Game
The first half may not have been the most scintillating display of lacrosse, but the end more than made up for it, especially if you're looking at things from Terp-colored glasses.
Before we get into anything else I want to address one thing - stalling. Not once - never - during the week leading up to the game did the coaches ever talk to the players about slowing the game down. In fact, the game plan was just the opposite. The Maryland coaches had such respect for the Orange defense that they thought it would be difficult to score vs. them 6-on-6, so the plan was to push tempo and try to create some transition opportunities. The trick is that Syracuse knew that scoring on them in the 6-on-6 would be a challenge for the Terps, so the Orange did everything they could to get back in the hole and limit transition chances.
The same could be said for the Orange offense and the Terp defense. Syracuse wants to run; always has and always will. Maryland knows this and the plan was to limit their transition. If you watched the game then you saw guys selling out, sprinting all-out to get back on defense to take away odd-man opportunities.
So that leads to 6-on-6 offense, which saw stall calls on both teams. Maryland tried to create something in its substitution game, but it usually didn't work and that led to some prolonged possessions before the Terps even got their offensive personnel on the field.
From there it was a quick stall call by the officials, which were intended to speed up the game. But the opposite actually happened. When a stall call is put on and the ball has to be kept in the box it actually limits what the teams can do offensively. Teams can no longer go up top to try to dodge, just like they can't extend the wing to try to dodge. Teams are pretty much limited to moving the ball around the perimeter, waiting for an opportunity to present itself. Defenses, similarly, mostly play more conservative when a stall call is put on. Teams do not what to extend themselves and present a good look to the offense. For most teams it's better for them to play solid positional defense and wait for the offense to make a mistake or force a bad shot.
The part that bothers me is that officials put on a stall call even when a team is going to the goal, but defenses (like Syracuse's) are so good that plays get shut down before they can really develop. Is that stalling or good defense? Should an offense be forced to take a bad shot if a play gets shut down or does it deserve the right to back out and attack from a different angle?
I love a shootout as much as any lacrosse fan, but there's something to be said for good solid defense and patient offense. The first half of the game was a bit of a snooze, but the second half was as good as a 3-3 30-minute game can get.
Now lets look at two key goals. First up - Scott LaRue's goal with one second left in the third.
The genesis of LaRue's goal goes back to a save by SU goalie John Galloway on a shot by Curtis Holmes at the 1:34 mark of the third. The Orange cleared the ball in three seconds and then held the ball, drawing a stall warning, which led to Tommy Palasek stepping out of the box for the turnover with 19 seconds left.
Maryland cleared the ball down the left side and it eventually got to Ryan Young at the far left corner of the restraining box with roughly three seconds left. Young was covered by SU All-American John Lade, but Young got off a great pass to the crease and LaRue was in the right place at the right time and redirected the ball past Galloway with just one tick left on the clock.
It was improbable, unlikely and pretty darn lucky, but it happened and it counted. For LaRue it was his second goal of the game, giving him his first multi-goal game of his career. For the Terps it was a boost of energy that carried them into the fourth quarter and more importantly it was a two-goal lead, which proved very important.
The Orange defense was terrific in the fourth and shutout the Terps for the final 15 minutes of regulation, so LaRue's goal was the difference between going to OT and going home. I don't think anyone will take those that second chucks to the crease lightly ever again.
That brings us to Grant Catalino's game-winner in OT. Catalino and Coach Tillman explained in the post-game press conference that the Terps ran this play, which was put in just last week, four times during the game and got three different looks from it. Once earlier in the game when it was run, Catalino got off a shot, but it was low-to-low and Galloway made the save.
This time, however, Catalino went to what he called his "signature shot" - low-to-high - and it beat Galloway inside the near top corner, sending the Terps to the Final Four.
If the play looked familiar to Terps fans it should. It was the same play Tillman called vs. Maryland in 2006 when he was the offensive coordinator at Navy. The result was the same (except it felt a lot worse back then when it was run against us) as Ian Dingman scored the game-winner for the Mids with the eight seconds left in the fourth quarter. Tillman's old Navy players certainly saw the similarities as he received more than a few texts from former Navy players following the win on Sunday.
For Terp fans who are not that in touch with what happened in a game on April 8, 2006, Catalino's goal was nearly a mirror image of his only other career overtime game-winner. You remember that one - it came just last year vs. Duke in the Face Off Classic in M&T Bank Stadium.
Round 3: Terps vs. Blue Devils
It seems like it was just last week that I was writing about a Maryland-Duke game, but in reality it was four weeks ago.
There's not much more to say about this rivalry that hasn't already been said. There's really nothing these two teams can do to prepare for each other. They are very evenly matched with terrific, All-America-caliber players on both sides of the ball.
How close are these two teams?
They have already met twice this season (both times at Duke's Koskinen Stadium) and the two teams split. Duke won the regular-season game in OT and Maryland took the rematch by two goals in the ACC title game. Total goals for the two teams against each other are 19 for Maryland and 18 for Duke. The Terps put 47 shots on goal vs. Duke in the two games, while the Blue Devils put 46 on cage. Both teams took 72 shots in the two games. Maryland had 58 groundballs, while Duke scooped up 60. Even saves are dead even with both goalies making 28 stops.
Bottom line is that these two teams are amazing lacrosse teams and we can only hope that Saturday's game is as exciting as the previous two (although I prefer the ending to the second one over that of the first).
ACC Teams Meeting In The Final Four
Two weeks ago I wrote about ACC teams meeting in the first round of the tournament and here we are two weeks later and I'm going to write about ACC teams meeting in the Final Four.
This will be the second-straight season that two ACC teams have met in the Final Four. Last year Duke defeated Virginia, 14-13, in Baltimore en route to the Blue Devils' first-ever NCAA title.
The last time the Terps met an ACC foe in the semifinals was 2005 and again it was Duke on the other side of the field, but the less said about that one the better.
Maryland was involved in an all-ACC semifinal in 2003, falling to Virginia, 14-4. The Cavaliers would go on to beat Hopkins for the championship.
But you have to go all the way back to 1980 for the first ACC meeting in the semifinals. The Wahoos met North Carolina for the right to play for the title and it was Virginia coming out on top, 11-10. The Cavaliers eventually lost to Johns Hopkins, 9-8 in double-OT.
In case you're wondering, the only time two ACC teams have met for the national championship was 1986 when UNC defeated Virginia, 10-9, in overtime. Since there is at least one ACC team guaranteed to be playing on Monday with either Maryland or Duke, history is not on the side of Virginia in its game vs. Denver on Saturday.
That does it for this week's edition of the blog and as usual it was not short and sweet. Game notes for the Duke game will be posted on Thursday.
As I said earlier, Coach Tillman and the Terps are hoping to see a lot of red and purple in the stands at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday.
If you can't make it down to Baltimore then be sure to catch the game on ESPN2 at 6:30 p.m. The first semi - Denver/Virginia - is slated for a 4 p.m. start and will also be broadcast on ESPN2.
Be The Best!