Wow, a lot has happened since the last blog, which was on hiatus last week due to the Terps' midweek game at Mount St. Mary's. Since I last posted the Terps have played three games, going 2-1, a Maryland senior reached a historic milestone and apparently the rest of the lacrosse world has turned upside down heading into the NCAA tournament. Oh, and by the way, Maryland still has a huge game left on the regular season schedule. Let's get to it all.
No one will forget what happened the last time these two teams met. In case you weren't around (or actually did forget, which if in fact happened - shame on you), the Terps were coming off of a roller coaster week a year ago, winning the program's first ACC tournament title since 2005 with wins over UNC and Duke, and then busing up to Long Island to attend Maria Young's funeral the next day (she passed away after a long battle with pancreatic cancer on April 17, a week before the ACC finals).
Maryland was physically and emotionally weary after that eight-day span, but appeared ready for a Senior Day game vs. the Raiders after an open week the Saturday after the ACC tournament.
Colgate came to College Park after a loss to Bucknell in the finals of the Patriot League tournament and was playing for its postseason life, figuring a win over the Terps would be enough of a boost to get the Raiders an at-large berth.
In the end, the Raiders pulled off the upset they needed, topping Maryland, which was playing without two of its leading scorers in Grant Catalino and Joe Cummings, who each suffered broken fingers in the ACC finals, 10-8.
Maryland never had the lead in the game, but battled back from a 6-3 halftime deficit to tie the game at 8-8 late in the fourth quarter. But Colgate's main man, Peter Baum, lifted the Raiders to the win, assisting on the go-ahead goal with 2:12 left and then scoring the insurance tally at the 1:14 mark.
The result saw the Terps drop from a likely seeded team with a home game in the first round of the tournament to not getting a seed and heading to the No. 8 seed North Carolina in the opening round. The win was bittersweet for the Raiders, who despite the win over the 6th-ranked Terps were still left out of the tournament field.
Fast forward one year and some things are different and yet eerily similar.
The Terps, with a win, are a reasonable candidate to get a seed and a home game if they should pull off the win over Colgate. The Radiers are again coming off of a loss in the Patriot League finals (this time to Lehigh, 16-14) and would bee much more confident about securing an at-large berth with a win over the Terrapins on their dossier.
One big difference for the Terps will be that they will have their full compliment of players going into this year's meeting. Last season, Catalino and Cummings were tied for the team lead in goals with 24 apiece and accounted for nearly 25 percent of the team's total offensive production. Neither team is going to be 100 percent healthy going into the game, but Maryland will not have to play this one without two of its top offensive players.
But this will be no easy game. Colgate is for real and one main reason why is Baum, who is currently leading the NCAA in points per game (5.73) and goals per game (3.93). As a team, the Raiders are second in the nation in scoring offense with 13.6 goals per game, which trails only Robert Morris, which is putting up 14.29 goals per game. Maryland is no slouch in offensive production, coming in at No. 15 in scoring offense (10.92 gpg), but the difference could be the teams' defensive units. The Raiders are 29th in scoring defense, allowing 9.67 goals per game, while the Maryland defense is eighth in the nation, giving up just 7.46 goals per game.
If you're looking for one key area to watch on Saturday (and if you get Time Warner Cable Sports you'll be able to watch the game live) it will be the faceoff X. Teams need the ball to score goals, so how the Terrapin combo of Curtis Holmes and Charlie Raffa matchup with Colgate's Robert Grabher will go a long way in deciding this one. Grabher is winning 56.9 percent of his draws with many of those going to himself (he's 2nd in the nation in groundballs per game with 7.93).
NCAA Tournament Field Revealed Sunday
The 2012 NCAA Tournament bracket will be revealed live on ESPNU on Sunday, May 6 at 9 p.m. The Terps, as we talked about above, could potentially be a top-eight seed and would receive a bid to host a home game on the weekend of May 12-13. Details will be available on umterps.com following the bracket being released.
A couple of things to remember when watching the show, which should save a lot of headaches:
1. The polls don't mean anything. So forget about everything that's been put up all season about who are Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc. None of that means a thing come tournament time. Look at it this way - a grand total of six coaches cast votes in this week's USILA coaches' poll. SIX! Not exactly a wholesale sample.
2. There are seven automatic qualifiers and nine at-large bids which make up the field of 16. Only one of the seven AQs has been awarded (congrats to Lehigh) with the remaining six to be settled this weekend in conference tournaments (America East, Big East, CAA, ECAC, Ivy and MAAC). The NEC does not have an AQ in its first season as a lacrosse conference, but that is set to kick in next season, which means if the current format stays in place there will be only eight at-large slots.
3. Remember the "Pirate Code" in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie? Consider the published NCAA selection criteria in the same manner - more of guidelines rather than hard and fast rules. So, should UMass go undefeated it's not out of the realm of possibility that the Minutemen could be seeded anywhere from No. 1 to No. 8. Don't laugh; it has happened before. You only have to go back to 2009 when an undefeated, but largely untested Notre Dame team was seeded seventh (Terp fans surely remember how that turned out). You can also look at 2007 when an undefeated Cornell team was seeded fourth behind Duke, Virginia and Johns Hopkins, which combined had a total of nine losses. The Big Red made it to the Final Four before losing to the top-seeded Blue Devils in one of the best tournament games of recent memory.
4. Game times are set by television. This is no longer the regional "Mom & Pop" sport that gets by with all of its games at 1 p.m. The growth of the sport and increasingly positive television ratings mean that ESPN will have its say on which game is played on which date. Schools can request not to play at certain times or to play on either Saturday or Sunday depending on other events on campus, final exams, etc., but that doesn't always work out. I distinctly remember 2007 when Coach Cottle was on the NCAA selection committee. When he left Indianapolis Maryland was slated to play the noon game on Saturday. When the bracket was revealed the Terps were playing in the 7:30 p.m. game on Sunday and the Duke-Providence game was kicking off the tournament on ESPN. If you think back to what was going on with the Blue Devils in 2007 you can figure out why ESPN wanted them to open its tournament schedule. In case you're wondering, the first year the entire tournament was broadcast on the ESPN family of networks was 2006, so the two-day buffet of lacrosse is a relative new phenomenon.
One last thing on the bracket - a tough road doesn't mean impossible and there are no easy paths. Last year the Terps were sent on the road to play UNC with a game vs. No. 1 seed Syracuse with its "Super Seven" ahead of the winner. Maryland rolled over the Tar Heels and took down the Orange in OT to advance to the Final Four. Then there's 2007 (yes, that year again). The Terps were the last game of the first round, playing UMBC in the Sunday night game. Earlier in the day No. 2 seed Virginia was upset by an Alex Smith-led Delaware team, which meant that all Maryland would have to do to get to its fourth Final Four in five season was beat the Retrievers and then take on the unseeded Blue Hens in Annapolis. Funny thing happened - UMBC, with a svelte and vociferous Kevin Warne roaming the sidelines, snapped an eight-game losing skid to the Terps with a 13-9 win. Delaware went on to beat the Retrievers, 10-6, in the quarters before going on to the Final Four in Baltimore and losing to eventual NCAA champs, Johns Hopkins, 8-3.
A much happier "Senior Day" than a season ago, as seven Terps closed out their regular season home careers with a 12-7 victory over the Knights.
A lot of times "Senior Day" becomes a showcase for one of the underclassmen, as it is an emotionally charged day for the seniors, who often are unfocused and otherwise distracted by pregame festivities. That certainly wasn't the case on Saturday. Joe Cummings turned "Senior Day" into his own personal showcase as he tied career highs with six points, four goals and two assists. It was also a good day for fellow senior, Michael Shakespeare, who tied his career high with two goals. Drew Snider also chipped in with a goal, while David Miller was effective in his role as a short-stick d-middie. The other three seniors - MJ Leonard, Pat Morrison and Tim Shaeffer - were all solid in supporting roles.
Midway through the third it looked like the Terps would pull away in this one, but Bellarmine showed it can score, putting up four-straight to make it a 10-6 game early in the fourth. Again it was the seniors stepping up as Shakespeare and Cummings responded with fourth-quarter goals to put the game away.
One big bright spot for Maryland was the faceoff play of junior Curtis Holmes and freshman Charlie Raffa, who combined to win 15-of-23 draws with 11 groundballs between them. The Terps will need to get consistent faceoff play as the season winds down and this could be the game that propels Maryland's duo to better results in May.
Rewind: Mount St. Mary's (or JC gets to 100)
Not a heck of a lot to say about this one, except for the milestone Cummings reached with his fourth point of the night. With that third quarter goal he became just the 38th player in the 87-year history of Maryland men's lacrosse to reach 100 career points.
This one probably snuck up on a lot of people. Throughout his career Cummings has always been a team-first kind of player and never worried about putting up gaudy numbers. For his first three seasons he played out of position, filling a need at midfield, while creating matchup nightmares for opponents. The result wasn't always points for him, but Cummings' presence cutting through the crease from the midfield created many of those "time and room" shots that Catalino and Travis Reed canned from 2009-11.
A time like this allows me to think back to one of my favorite memories of Cummings. In 2009, Maryland was unseeded in the NCAA tournament and was shipped out to play at No. 7 seed Notre Dame, which entered the tournament with a perfect 15-0 mark. The Irish's offense featured one of the top crease attackmen in the nation, Ryan Hoff. At the time, Cummings was listed as the fourth attackman on the Terps' depth chart, but his role that week was to play Hoff on the scout team. It was a role he played extraordinarily well. Hoff was held without so much as a shot in the game, while Cummings scored the Terps' second goal of the game, ironically on a play he ran as the Irish scout team as Hoff. He came off a screen and cut through the crease where Will Yeatman hit him with a pass from behind the cage. On that day in South Bend, Ind., Cummings proved to be a better Hoff than Hoff was.
Rewind: Duke (ACC Semis)
This one seems like a long time ago, but this is the first chance to go over things. I won't go into this one in a lot of depth, but here are a few things that stand out from this one.
1. There were two really unexpected goals that really cost the Terps. The opening goal by Duke's CJ Costabile came just six seconds into the game and caught Maryland a bit flat-footed. It goes to prove that you can't relax even for a second. Most probably thought the first faceoff was going to be a scrum, but Costabile pushed it clean and the result was a clear shot. The goal at the end of the second quarter was one of those "What the heck just happened!" moments. No one was expecting the ball to come out of the scrum with the velocity and accuracy that Josh Dionne got on it. Even after watching the replay several times it's still hard to believe it happened that way. Hindsight is always 20/20, but you have to wonder how things would have turned out his one of the Terps had just bulldozed the pile and was whistled for a loose ball push. The Blue Devils would have had the ball with a second or so to go and could still have scored, but the chances would have been very low. Of course, the chances of Dionne doing what he did were astronomically low.
2. I usually break this one out once a year and this seems like a good time to paraphrase Mark Twain - "The reports of my demise are greatly exaggerated." That must have been what Mike Chanenchuk felt like after scoring twice vs. the Blue Devils. That snapped a four game scoreless skid for Chanenchuk, who came into the season with near unreal expectations heaped upon him by many outside the program. Many people forget that Chanenchuk didn't play at all last season and wasn't with the team in the fall. Couple that with an injury that limited him in the preseason and it totals nearly two years without playing organized lacrosse for Chanenchuk. His shot looks to be rounding into shape and as his health has improved, so has his play. Since that four-game skid, he has scored in three straight games and is shooting nearly 30 percent in Maryland's last three games.
3. The two best long poles (there really isn't an argument about this, so there's no point in putting the "arguably" in front here) in the nation were on the field for this one and at times it seemed like a pair of gladiators battling in the arena rather than two lacrosse players going for a groundball. Jesse Bernhardt and Costabile showed the nation (or whoever turned in to the ESPNU broadcast) why they are the best at their position. Costabile wasn't credited with a caused turnover, but the havoc he created turned into a number of Maryland's eight turnovers. Bernhardt was credited with four caused turnovers. His tenacity was on display late in the fourth quarter as the Terps trailed by two goals. Bernhardt chased any Blue Devil with the ball with under three minutes to play and forced the ball to the turf twice and finally picked up the loose ball which led to Cummings' goal at the 2:09 mark to make it a one-goal game. If young players want to see what it means to play long pole they should head over to ESPN3.com and watch this one before it's gone.
That wraps up the return of the blog, but hopefully there is still a long way to go before this season is over.
One thing we do know is that the regular season finishes on Saturday at Colgate. The game is being broadcast live on Time Warner Cable Sports, but coverage seems to be limited to New York areas. Game updates will also be available on the Maryland men's lacrosse Facebook and Twitter pages. Like and Follow to get updates sent to you no matter where you are.
One last thing - VOTE for JOE! Don't forget to vote today and every day for Joe Cummings for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award. Click here to vote! You can also vote on your smartphone to double up your vote every day.
As always - Be The Best!