12:40 p.m. - And we're going through NYC. Maneuvering through traffic in New York City, even on the highway, isn't the easiest thing, but Maryland's main bus driver, DJ, masterfully weaved through.
The guys woke up for a quick stop at a rest area before getting in to NYC and chatter is plentiful in the back of the bus. A couple of the Terps' unsung heroes are going to get some media love this week as Pat Morrison and David Miller each had a phone interview. Look for an article on Morrison in the Annapolis Capital later this week, while the Washington Post should have something on Miller and his baby brother, Matt, who is a starting defender for Notre Dame.
Bus #2 was getting into the Boston mood on the way up with The Departed. I think I'll take a quick poll at practice and see how many guys have "Shipping Up To Boston" (thanks @Brettschmidt44 - our former players are my best (and often times only - editors) on their iPods.
1:30 p.m. - Maryland has arrived at Fairfield for practice. I'll have some photos here after practice is finished, but you can see them on the Maryland Men's Lacrosse Twitter feed (@MDTerpsLacrosse).
4:00 p.m. - The Terps have wrapped up a quick high-intensity practice at Fairfield. Speaking of intense ... what would a practice update be without a photo of Maryland's Mr. Intensity.
Now it's time for some ice baths, treatment and showers before heading to dinner.
7:15 p.m. - Back on the road after a terrific dinner at Cafe Allegre in Madison, Conn. Chef Silvio Suppa once again treated the Terps to a sensational menu, including fresh bruschetta and salad, penne with marinara and chicken marsala. For dessert the Terps were treated to a sensational tiramisu cake.
The whole affair was setup by longtime friends of coaches Tillman, Warne and Moran - Bob and Katie Russell. Lacrosse fans are sure to remember their son Matt, the All-American goalie who helped lead Navy to the 2004 NCAA title game.
This is the second time the Russell's and Chef Silvio have hosted the Terps. Last season when Maryland played Syracuse in the quarterfinals the Terps feasted at Cafe Allegre. Hopefully the same result follows - a Maryland victory.
Now it's on to Needham, Mass., where the Terps will bunk down before heading to Boston and Foxborough tomorrow.
Here we go again. For the sixth time in the past two seasons Maryland and Duke will meet on the lacrosse field.
The ACC tournament only came into being in 1989, so that's the earliest Maryland could have played an opponent three times in a season. Since then the Terps have played an opponent three times in one season five previous times - vs. Duke in 2011, 2005 and 1992; vs. North Carolina in 2011; vs. Virginia in 2008.
In those three-game seasons, Maryland has only won all three once - vs. Duke in 1992. The Terps went 2-1 vs. Duke and North Carolina in 2011 and were 1-2 vs. the Blue Devils in 2005 and vs. Virginia in 2008.
While that's some fun trivia, it really has nothing to do with what's going to happen on the field on Saturday in Foxborough.
Some fans will want to play the game and say Duke is going to blow the Terps out. You know the game - "Team X beat Team Y and Team Z beat Team X, so Team Z is going to beat Team Y." In this case it would go something like this: Duke thumped Colgate on Sunday and Colgate beat Maryland on May 5, so Duke is going to whip Maryland on Saturday. Fortunately for the Terps, that's not the way things work.
There won't be any surprises on Saturday, as these two teams know each other nearly as well as they know themselves. Let's look at a few of the key matchups:
Duke's Attack vs. Maryland's Close D: A lot of people are going to try to boil this down to Goran Murray v.s Jordan Wolf, but that's only one-third of the equation. Christian Walsh and Josh Dionne are two of the most dangerous attackmen in the nation and if an opponent focuses too much on Wolf (possibly the craftiest dodger from behind the goal in the country), then it's at its own peril. Wolf, Dionne and Walsh have combined for 153 points this season (Maryland as a team has only 272). Wolf is shooting the worst of the three on the year and he's converting at a 32% clip (Dionne is at .407 and Walsh is at .393). Dionne proved to be the difference in the ACC semifinal game vs. the Terps with three goals, including the crazy groundball flip at the end of the first half. Maryland's close D of Murray, Michael Ehrhardt and Brian Cooper really can't be considered "young" at this point in the season. Sure, they're not seniors who have been doing this for three or four years, but they've logged a lot of minutes in a lot of big games vs. a lot of talented attackmen and those experiences are something they can pull from.
Duke's Midfield vs. Maryland's Defensive Middies: No midfielder in the nation is hotter right now than the Blue Devils' Rob Rotanz, who is Duke's leading goal-scorer with 38 tallies on the season. In Duke's two NCAA tournament games, Rotanz has eight goals and one assist. He seems to be a likely candidate to draw the pole, which means lacrosse fans are in for a treat watching Rotanz and Jesse Bernhardt battling each other on Saturday. But lacrosse these days is more about forcing the matchups you want on offense with picks and slips, so look for the Blue Devils to try to get Bernhardt off of Rotanz and onto a more "favorable" matchup with one of the Terp shorties. Of course those other two middies on the Blue Devils' first line are no slouches themselves. Jake Tripucka and Justin Turri are amazing players who can do everything on the lacrosse field. If too much attention is paid to Rotanz, these two can do a lot of damage. How Maryland's short sticks - Landon Carr, David Miller, Greg D'Arienzo and any of the offensive middies who are back on defender - contain Duke's midfielders will go a long way in determining the outcome of this game. Duke won't be afraid to attack the long pole, but going after the short sticks and trying to create slides is the way offenses attack
Duke's CJ Costabile vs. Maryland's Curtis Holmes/Charlie Raffa: Maryland likes to make faceoffs a 3-on-3 battle, but the Blue Devils' Tewaaraton Trophy finalist is a one-man wrecking crew in the middle of the field at the faceoff X. Costabile doesn't mind losing the draw as long as he gets the ball and possession for the Blue Devils. Holmes has probably taken more faceoffs vs. Costabile than anyone else in Division I lacrosse, so there won't be any surprises, but Raffa could be the X-factor in this equation. Possession is everything in this game and that starts at the faceoff X. Maryland needs to control the ball and turn quality possessions into goals. Are a few wrinkles possible this Saturday? Sure, there's no holding back when it comes to the Final Four.
Maryland's Midfield vs. Duke's Defensive Middies: As well as Duke's offensive midfielders have played, Maryland's top unit of Mike Chanenchuk, John Haus and Drew Snider is right there with them as far as threats to score. As Chanenchuk has gotten health, his shot has become better and he's sniping corners now that were either off cage or saves earlier in the season. Haus might be the best two-way midfielder in the nation, but his versatility on the offensive end of the field could be a difference-maker this weekend. Haus can dodge from up top or invert behind the cage. He's comfortable around the crease or setting up in the slot for a step-down shot. His skill set opens up a lot of options for the Terps on the offensive end of the field. Snider has been the backbone of the Maryland midfield this season and he's played the past two weeks like a senior who simply isn't ready for his college career to be over. He has back-to-back hat tricks on the NCAA tournament, which is something that hasn't been done by a Terp since 2006 when Brendan Healy had hat tricks vs. Denver and Princeton. Opposing the Terps will be Costabile at long pole and the shortie tandem of Will Haus and Tommy Patterson. Costablie is a known quantity and can blanket just about any midfielder in the nation. What makes the Blue Devils so effective defensively is the growth of Haus (younger brother of the Terps' John) and Patterson. Those two have progressed so much that it allows the Blue Devils to play more straight up defense and not to have to slide to dodging midfielders. Maryland's middies have to be dangerous and exploit the Blue Devils' short sticks in order to be effective offensively.
Maryland's Niko Amato vs. Duke's Dan Wigrizer: It's kine of cliché to say that goalie play is going to be a deciding factor in a game, but whichever team's goalie plays better has won this game in the past. Earlier this year, Amato made nine of his 14 saves in the fourth quarter in the Terps' 10-7 win over the Blue Devils. In the rematch at the ACC tournament, Wigrizer made 10 saves in Duke's 6-5 win. Wigrizer has been terrific over his past six games, all against NCAA tournament teams. During that stretch, which goes back to the ACC tournament, he has stopped 54.5% of the shots put on goal and has a 7.74 goals-against average. If you just count his last five starts (which takes out the Denver game), Wigrizer's numbers jump to a .602 save percentage and a 6.71 GAA.
I could go on with just about every matchup, but those are some of the key ones. In the end this one could be decided by which team wants it more. This series has been described as a "street fight" by many and this one doesn't figure to be any different.
Rewind: Johns Hopkins - The Rematch
This one didn't start off so well for the Terps ... and then Haus tied the game at 1-1 midway through the first quarter. The Blue Jays never held the lead again in the game.
Maryland got its first lead in the closing seconds of the first quarter on Snider's first goal of the game. The next 45:00 were all Terps.
Hopkins tied the game with a man-up goal early in the second quarter, but Maryland would outscore the Blue Jays 4-0 in the remaining 13:24. Snider finished his hat trick with two goals in the second quarter. Carr made a key groundball by Ehrhardt pay off with a HUGE right-handed rip from the right alley in transition. Joe Cummings finished the quarter off with an easy score on the crease off a feed from Kevin Cooper.
The 6-2 halftime lead would grow to 8-2 in the third quarter on goals by Chanenchuk and Haus.
The Blue Jays wouldn't get on the board again until just three ticks remained on the clock. The total time between Hopkins goals in this one was 28:20.
That was 28:20 of glorious silence for Maryland fans and alums. If you're a Hopkins fan or alum one of the great Blue Jays traditions in the Hopkins band playing its song after a goal and counting up to the score. For Maryland fans and alums it's like hearing nails on a chalkboard (Do they still have chalkboards? I know at my son's school nearly everything is done on an interactive white board.). We received several dozen emails from alums following this game and the one thing that was mentioned most, especially among some of our more seasoned alums, was not having to hear the Hopkins band for nearly an entire half of play. Sometimes the sweetest sound is the absence of a certain sound.
There are so many kudos to hand out for this one, but I'm going to touch on just three (for the sake of brevity, which isn't exactly my strong suit).
The First Midfield: The Blue Jays were keying on the attack and it's hard to blame them. Owen Blye torched the Blue Jays for four goals in the first meeting this season and Hopkins was determined not to let Blye beat them again. Joe Cummings has proven to be the offensive leader for this squad and the Blue Jays were not going to let him get on a roll and committed their top stopper, Tucker Durkin, to shadow Cummings for most of the game.
In the end it didn't matter, because Maryland's first midfield proved up to the task of leading this offense; and they did it in a variety of ways. From invert dodges to big shots from the outside, Hopkins had no answer for the trio of Chanencuk (2 goals), Haus (2 goals) and Snider (3 goals).
Curtis Holmes: Expectations were sky high for Holmes coming into this season and early domination vs. Hartford and Georgetown did nothing to quell those. But, Holmes' year hasn't quite played out the way many expected and the junior has battled through several nagging injuries (although he would never admit to any). After taking a record-number of faceoffs last season, Holmes has shared time at the X with freshman Charlie Raffa. Raffa was good vs. the Blue Jays (3-of-4 with three groundballs), but it was Holmes who dominated the X, winning 9-of-16 draws to help the Terps to a 2-1 time of possession advantage. While the sweetest redemption would be holding the trophy on Monday in Foxborough, Holmes' performance vs. the Blue Jays has to be something he will always remember.
The Mosh Pit: I'm not sure there has ever been so much attention given to guys who are not actually in the game, playing on the field. The Maryland sideline, which many have dubbed The Mosh Pit on Twitter (#mdmoshpit for this weekend), has become must-see TV after any big play for the Terps. A goal is a sure-fire cutaway for the cameras, but Maryland's bench has been going nuts for every key play. A Terp picks up a big groundball and the guys on the bench are slamming into one another. The defense creates a turnover (see Bernhardt, Jesse vs. Hopkins) and guys are slapping each other upside the head to celebrate.
It's complete chaos in the best way. These guys are into the game and the guys on the field feed off of that energy. When a Terp comes to the sideline on a substitution they're met by the bench guys with high fives, fist bumps and some encouraging words (only a few of which could be published here).
This is the energy that Maryland is feeding off of during this postseason and it's this energy that the Terrapin bench will need to provide and sustain against the Blue Devils on Saturday.
Disputing The Stall Call
I don't keep track of these (there's plenty of actual stats that really matter to keep track of during a game - some of which we even get right), but by some accounts Maryland was called for 12 stall warnings in last week's 11-5 win over Johns Hopkins.
Some moan and groan and whine and complain that the way Maryland won was an atrocity and a blight on the great sport of lacrosse. To those I say, "Too bad." This is the same topic that came up last season when Maryland beat Syracuse in the quarterfinals. And, I'll say the same thing now that I did a year ago - Never, not once, during the week was it the plan to play "stall ball." Coach Tillman addressed it after the game as well, saying it's not something that's ever in the plans because basically it would be telling his players that he didn't believe they were good enough to beat their opponent.
So, what did happen? Maryland ran a very patient offense and took the best shot - NOT the first shot. Isn't that what you're supposed to do? Defenses are going to give up shots; that's part of the game. However, defenses are designed to give up the shots they want to give up; the shots that are the best for their goalie to save. Shouldn't it be the offense's job to do it's best to get the best opportunity to score? Should a right-handed midfielder take a 14-yard left-handed shot just because that's what the defense is giving him?
Obviously, these are rhetorical questions, but lets look at some facts.
Out of the 16 teams that made the NCAA tournament 13 averaged better than 10 goals per game.
The top scoring offense is Colgate at 13.11 goals per game. Maryland is averaging 10.88 goals per game (a difference of 2.23 goals).
Colgate also takes more shots than any team that made the tournament with 42.1 shots per game. The Terps are taking an average of 34.3 shots per game (a difference of 7.8 shots), which is 14th among NCAA teams.
Are the eight extra shots a good thing if they are not good shots? Especially when those shots only net an extra two goals. Maryland is only allowing 7.8 goals per game, so the 10.88 scoring average is more than enough to win most games.
The stall warning itself is something that contributes to more deliberate possessions. Offenses are restricted to a more confined space, which also confines the defense. This makes it harder to generate "time and room" for quality shots. It forces offenses to work the ball around more in order to get the defense to move and create quality shots.
Another factor to consider is the defenses themselves. The offense can only "stall," truthfully, if the defense lets it. Defenders can push out and pressure the ball, forcing the offense into action. The problem is that if defenses push out then it can create the space that offenses are looking for. It's better for defenses to play the percentages and keep trying to force the offense into poor shots from bad angles by playing solid possession defense.
The risk of the high-risk high-reward is often too great, especially if the offensive team is winning the faceoff battle. If the defending team is winning the faceoff battle then giving up a goal isn't that big of a deal. Give up a goal, win the faceoff, score one of your own and then play "make it, take it" from there on out.
There are two other ways (besides a shot clock, which, in my (and mine alone in this blog) opinion would be the worst thing to every happen to college lacrosse) to stop a team from patiently waiting for the best opportunity. First, maintain your own possessions. In the case of last Saturday's game, Hopkins was successful on only 14 of 21 clear attempts. Second, score goals when you do have the ball. It's hard to play a deliberate pace when you're playing catch up.