Here we go. The preseason is long gone and the regular season is in the books, so that can only mean one thing - the postseason is here! This week we will take a look at the Terps' NCAA opponent, Lehigh, as well as a quick hit on every first round game. We will also touch on why Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium was "Home Sweet Home" in 2012 and a rewind on the regular season finale.
A lot of times there is a lot of history to draw upon when it comes to Maryland's opponents. There is some history between Maryland and Lehigh, but its ancient history.
The series dates back to 1924 - the very first varsity season of men's lacrosse at Maryland. Lehigh is one of just four teams to win the first game of a series with Maryland, winning 3-0 in 1924.
The two teams played in 1925 and 1926 with Maryland winning both games, 5-3 and 7-3, respectively. The last time the two schools met was 1928 and Maryland took that one by a final of 15-2.
The last time these two programs met neither school had the nickname it currently has. Until the early 1930's Maryland's athletic teams were the Old Liners, while Lehigh changes its nickname from the Engineers to the Mountain Hawks in 1995.
That was interesting, but not particularly relevant to this week's game, so let's get to some nuts and bolts.
Lehigh is one of the elite defensive teams in the nation. Want proof? The Mountain Hawks rank second in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 6.63 goals per game. Lehigh allowed opponents to reach double-digits just three times in 2012 and two of those were to Colgate, which ranks second in the country in scoring offense and happens to have the game's most dynamic offensive threat in Peter Baum (more on him in the brief rewind of the Colgate game). The other time Lehigh allowed a team to score 10 or more goals was way, way back on Feb. 18, in a 17-7 loss to Villanova.
Some will say you can't take those games away, but to them I say - "Why not?" So ... if you take those three games away and just say they were aberrations then Lehigh has allowed just 64 goals in the remaining 13 games, which averages out to 4.92 goals per game.
I'd say that qualifies as an elite defense. Wouldn't you?
What makes them so good? I can't really say I've seen a lot of Mountain Hawk games this season, so here is what ESPN's Quint Kessenich had to say in his "Breaking Down the NCAA First-Round Matchups" column on Inside Lacrosse: "They slide to ball carriers the moment they step off the bus. Maryland ranks only 35th in assist ration; you must handle double teams to beat Lehigh."
So it looks like good all movement and solid stick skills by Maryland's offensive players may be the key. One thing I noticed last weekend at Colgate, which put up 11 and 14 goals, respectively, in two games vs. Lehigh this season, was that the Raiders' stick skills were terrific. Passes were crisp and in the spots they needed to be in. That's the type of execution (tip of the cap to Eamon McAnaney on the execution reference) the Terps will need to be successful this weekend in Bethlehem.
Numbers can be crunched to support the argument that's being made, so take this with a gain of salt and I will be the first to admit there is a bit of a Catch-22-type of thing going on with this stat. (If you're not familiar with Joseph Heller's satirical masterpiece and his tale of Captain John Yossarian, then do yourself a favor and pick up a copy for some beach reading this summer.)
With that disclaimer aside: Lehigh is the No. 2 defense in the country and no one can say otherwise, but the average scoring offense rank of the teams the Mountain Hawks played in 2012 is 32.4. That is also brought down a bit by playing Colgate (#2) and Army (#25) twice each. If you take out the second games vs. the Radiers and the Black Knights then the average jumps to 35.1. The Catch-22 comes in if you're willing to admit that one of the reasons Lehigh's opponents' scoring averages are low is because they faced the Mountain Hawks. (Again - read Catch 22 and it will make sense.)
Fair is fair, so let's look at the Terps under the same microscope. Maryland's defense is ranked 9th in the nation, giving up 7.86 goals per game. The scoring offense average of Terrapin opponents this season is 22.4. Applying the same principle that I did with Lehigh, if you take away the second game vs. Duke (#14), the scoring average rank increases only slightly to 23.0.
What does all of that mean? It means if you like a defensive battle then you're likely to love this one. This is the only first round game that features both teams ranking in the top 10 in scoring defense. The only other first round pairing that is close is Virginia-Princeton, which finds the Cavaliers at No. 11 defensively and the Tigers at No. 6.
One thing Maryland learned last season during its run to the NCAA title game is that having a freshman goalie isn't necessarily a detriment. That's something Lehigh hopes holds true for it this season, as the Mountain Hawks have freshman Matthew Poillon in between the pipes. One thing about having a freshman goalie is that there really isn't a lot of film on him, meaning there's less tape out there from which to pick up his tendencies. One thing is true for every goalie though - if you can make the opponent take the shots you want them to take the chances of making a save is much better. Lehigh seems to do a very good job of putting Poillon in situations where he's comfortable with the shots he facing.
Another factor in the Mountain Hawks' defensive success is ball control. Junior faceoff man Ryan Snyder is winning 51.0% of his draws. He has won 132 faceoffs this season and has 92 groundballs (I know there is a likelihood that not all of them are on faceoffs, but the majority of them probably are.), which means he is winning most of the faceoffs to himself to the tune of 69.7 percent. Unlike the Colgate faceoff man, who similarly liked to win the draw to himself, Snyder's numbers don't paint him as an offensive threat (1 goal on 19 shots, 1 assist). That means he's probably the quintessential FOGO and is more interested in possession of the ball, which in what figures to be a low scoring game is everything.
Offensively the numbers for both teams are comparable with a slight edge to the Terps. Maryland averages 10.9 goals per game (#16), while Lehigh is putting in 10.5 goals per game (#20).
Breaking down the numbers a little bit doesn't really help. Lehigh's starting attack has a total of 109 points on the season, while Maryland's has totaled 93 points. The Terps' first midfield is a bit more potent than the Mountain Hawks with a 68-58 edge in points. The one area that Maryland may have an advantage is in transition scoring by short stick Landon Carr and long pole Jesse Bernhardt, who have combined to score seven goals and added five assists this season.
This game is going to be one of those grind-it-out types of games. It is quite possible that the outcome could be decided as much by the players who aren't on the field as the one's who are on it.
Right now many reading this might be saying to themselves - "Huh? What the heck does that mean?" I'll tell you.
When the game is a grind many times the team with the most energy is the one that finds a way to make the key play, pick up the tough 50/50 groundball or make the big save. Energy doesn't always come from the guys on the field. It often time comes from the guys on the bench; the one's who gave everything all week on the scout team knowing there wasn't a chance they would see the field (teams can only play 32 players in an NCAA tournament game). Those are the guys that can give the boost needed to get a team through a grinding game. If the bench can bring energy, passion and intensity then Maryland will be in a much better position to grind out a win in this game.
Preview: The First Round
If you're still reading this give yourself a hand because that was a long preview of a very important game. I promise the breakdown of the other games will not be as in-depth, but we'll go around the first round here.
#1 Loyola vs. Canisius: The semi-regular trip of the MAAC champ to the No. 1 seed has not ended well for the MAAC champ. Since the tournament field expanded to 16 teams in 2003, the MAAC champ has played the top seed five times (2004, 2005, 2007, 2010 and 2011). The aggregate score of those five games is 83-20 in favor of the No. 1 seed. The MAAC winner is 0-10 in the tournament since 2003. The Greyhounds are, obviously, very good and will come ready to play. Loyola, which missed the tournament last year, is making its fourth NCAA appearance under head coach Charlie Toomey, but is still looking for its first NCAA tournament win since 2001.
#8 North Carolina vs. Denver: The Pioneers were the upstarts a year ago, making it to the Final Four in the second year of Bill Tierney's head coaching tenure in the Rocky Mountains. This is the fifth trip to the dance for Denver, which is 2-4 all-time in tournament games (two of those losses coming to Maryland). This one might be the opposite of the Maryland-Lehigh game with both teams ranked in the top 10 in scoring offense. North Carolina is the No. 8 seed for the second-straight season and is making its sixth-straight trip to the dance. The Tar Heels have to be ecstatic with its draw in the bracket simply because there are no other ACC teams in their path to the Final Four, which they have not been to since 1993. In UNC's last five tournament appearances the Tar Heels have been eliminated by a fellow ACC team four times (three times by Duke, once by Maryland). The only time the Heels were taken out of the tournament by a non-ACC team since 2007 was 2008 when Navy upset Carolina in Chapel Hill in the first round.
#5 Virginia vs. Princeton: Two of lacrosse's premiere programs are paired up for a first round game in Charlottesville. These two teams have combined for 10 of the 42 NCAA championships and have met for the title twice (1994 and 1996) with the Tigers coming out on top on both occasions. The Cavaliers have not lost a first round game since 2007 (a stunning loss as the No. 2 seed to Delaware), while the Tigers are back in the tournament after a one-year absence. Princeton has made it out of the first round just twice in its last four tournament appearances (2006 - losing to No. 2 Maryland in the quarterfinals and 2009 - losing to No. 5 Cornell in the quarters).
#4 Notre Dame vs. Yale: The Fighting Irish was the odds on favorite for the No. 1 seed before they lost to St. John's in the Big East tournament semifinals. Notre Dame boasts the nation's stingiest defense, allowing just 5.92 goals per game. The Irish might seem offensively challenged (50th in scoring offense, 8.31 gpg), but they play to their strengths and a slow, slugfest suits them just fine. The Bulldogs own the nation's second-longest winning streak, winning their last nine games, including beating Cornell and Princeton in the Ivy League tournament to secure the league's automatic bid. This one may not be the most "television friendly" first round game, which is probably why it is in the 5:15 p.m. timeslot on Mother's Day. Got dinner reservations?
#3 Duke vs. Syracuse: The Orange were all but dead and buried after losing back-to-back games vs. Georgetown and Notre Dame in late April. But Syracuse stormed past Villanova in the Big East semis and stopped party-crashing St. John's in the finals to earn the AQ and make it into the tournament for the fifth-straight season. Duke was another team that could have made a claim for the top seed, but a loss at Denver in its regular season finale ended that. Of course it may be better for the Blue Devils to avoid the top seed. Duke was the top seed in 2007 and 2008 and lost to Johns Hopkins both times. The Blue Devils won their only national title in 2010 as a No. 5 seed, topping Notre Dame in the title game. These two teams met earlier this season with the Blue Devils taking a 12-10 decision at the Big City Classic in MetLife Stadium. This time Syracuse will have to head to Koskinen Stadium where Duke is 36-5 since 2009.
#6 UMass vs. Colgate: This one could be the track-meet game of the first round. The undefeated Minutemen are No. 3 in the nation in scoring offense, while the Raiders are No. 2. This game also features two of the country's top offensive players in UMass' Will Manney and Colgate's Peter Baum. Neither of these teams get a lot of national TV coverage during the season, so this will be many lacrosse fans' first look at these two, which are ranked No. 3 and No. 1, respectively, in points per game this season. UMass didn't play a team in the NCAA tournament field, so this will be a bit of a measuring stick for the Minutemen. UMass head coach Greg Canella has tournament experience, taking the Minutemen to the title game in 2006 (I'm still trying to forget how they got there, as I'm sure many Terp fans are).
#2 Johns Hopkins vs. Stony Brook: Prior to this year there have only one school made the tournament with a losing record since 2003 (Providence in 2007). This year has two with Canisius (6-7) getting top-seeded Loyola and the Seawolves (7-9) drawing No. 2 seed Johns Hopkins. Just like things don't look promising for the Golden Griffins, Stony Brook is just as big of an underdog. The Blue Jays are making their 41st consecutive tournament appearance and have never lost a first round game at Homewood Field since the tournament expanded in 2003. The only first round game since the 16-field came into existence was in 2010 when Hopkins was sent to Durham, N.C., and lost 18-5 to the eventual NCAA champion Duke Blue Devils. 2010 was the last time Stony Brook made the field and the Seawolves beat Denver in the first round before falling to No. 1 seed Virginia, 10-9.
Home Sweet Home
Congratulations are in order for you - the Maryland men's lacrosse fans, family and alums - and to Katie Thompson and her staff in the Maryland athletic marketing office. The Terps finished the 2012 regular season with the fifth-highest home attendance average among Division I teams. Maryland averaged 3,334 fans over its seven-game home schedule. Here's how the top five shook out:
1. Syracuse (6 games) - 4,447
2. Virginia (7 games) - 4,018
3. Navy (6 games) - 3,378
4. Ohio State (8 games) - 3,364
5. Maryland (7 games) - 3,334
Ohio State's numbers were bumped thanks to 19,213 fans in attendance for its game vs. Air Force on April 21, which happened to be played prior to the Buckeye's spring football game, which featured the coaching debut of Urban Meyer. Ohio State averaged 1,099 fans for its other seven home games.
Navy's season average was boosted by 11,917 in attendance for the Mids' 8-2 victory over Johns Hopkins in their final home game. Navy's average in its other five home games was 1,670.
This one will be quick.
The Raiders played inspired lacrosse on their Senior Day, while the Terps made too many mistakes, both physical and mental.
That being said, Maryland had a 9-7 lead late in the third quarter and had all of the momentum on its side. That is until an ill-advised pass on a clear found the stick of Baum, who had a clear path to the goal. Just like that the Terps were up one with 39 seconds left in the third. Maryland won the ensuing faceoff and it looked like at the very worst the Terps would go into the fourth up by a goal. But, as these things have a tendency to do, a blocked shot by Colgate with 12 seconds remaining turned into a transition opportunity for the Raiders, who scored with two ticks left on the clock. Just like that it was Colgate with all of the energy and momentum heading into the fourth quarter and the Raiders outscored the Terps, 4-2, over the game's final 15 minutes to take the 13-11 win.
Maryland didn't play its best lacrosse and still had a chance to get a road victory over a very good Colgate team. That says something about this Terrapin team, but it also says that these Terps are not good enough to make mistakes against top teams and still win. This is a lesson Maryland has to learn if it's going to make any kind of run in the NCAA tournament.
Final thought on this one - Peter Baum is the real deal. I don't know if he will with the Tewaaraton Trophy (last year at this time everyone thought it was a lock it was going to Cornell's superman Rob Pannell, but some tournament magic by Virginia's Steele Stanwick left an impression on the voters and it was Stanwick holding the trophy in the end), but I do believe he is among the top players in the game. He doesn't have any holes in his game. He can go with either hand (take note young laxers) and shoots with power and accuracy going in either direction. He can create shots for himself off the dodge or create opportunities for his teammates, which is aided by tremendous stick skills and pinpoint passing. He's also a former midfielder, who can take close defenders out of their comfort zone by dodging them from the top of the box. Maryland had a good defensive game plan for Colgate and focused a lot on Baum. Freshman Goran Murray did an admirable job, but a player like Baum is going to get his points and has a knack for being in the right spots at exactly the right time.
That does it for the first round edition of the Maryland men's lacrosse blog. As I was finishing this up, news came across my desk that the game vs. Lehigh is already sold out. Tickets for the 2,000-seat Ulrich Sports Complex were only on sale for 24 hours before being sold out.
I've gotten a few e-mails about why the game isn't being played in the 16,000-seat Goodman Stadium, where the Mountain Hawks play their football games [edited 5/9] and according to sources Lehigh submitted a bid to host a day game with the idea of playing it in Goodman Stadium, which does not have lights. The NCAA, with input from ESPN (or vice versa) decided to make the game a 7:30 start, forcing the game to be played in the Ulrich Sports Complex, which has lights. Regardless of where the game is going to be played, Maryland will have to be ready to play smart, focused lacrosse for 60 minutes in order to have any chance for a win.
If you're among the lucky ones to get tickets, I look forward to seeing you proudly wearing your red and black in Bethlehem, Pa. If you weren't able to get tickets or just couldn't make the trip, the game (and every first-round game) will be broadcast on ESPNU. The games are also available online at ESPN3.com or if you're away from home you can download the WatchESPN app and watch it on your wireless device.
Be The Best!