Maryland men’s lacrosse begins championship hunt in NCAA Tournament opener vs. Vermont

Maryland Men’s Lacrosse – Game 15, Vermont, Maryland Stadium, Sunday at 12:00 PM

Season Records: # 1 Maryland (14-0), Vermont (12-6)

Series Record: Maryland leads, 2-0

Last Meeting: 2021, 17-11 Maryland, First Round of NCAA Tournament

Media: ESPNU

Stats: HERE

Whock Preview

Two of the hottest teams in the NCAA Division I lacrosse meet on Sunday in College Park for an opening-round NCAA Tournament game. The Catamounts have won 10 straight games after tearing through the America East Conference regular-season and tournament. The Terrapins have won 14 straight games, and they have won 18 straight home games dating back 2019. Oh, and the game is a rematch of last season’s NCAA Tournament opening game, which the Terrapins also hosted.

The Opponent

It’s tempting to simply copy and paste last season’s preview, because the Catamounts return nearly the same exact roster this season. The Catamounts played a more rigorous early-season schedule after beginning the year with a preseason national ranking of 17th. Aside from an eight-goal loss to open the season at then third-ranked Duke, the Catamounts ’other five losses have come from a combined seven goals. Some of those losses happened against RPI also-rans like Providence (RPI 46) and Dartmouth (RPI 32). Five of the Catamounts’ six losses have also come on the road.

Yet after a two-goal road loss to UMass (RPI 27), the Catamounts began their current successful run. Their average margin of victory during the 10-game run is 9.1 goals, with a 13-11 win in the America East semifinals against UMBC being their closest win. Of course, the Terrapins’ average margin of victory for the season is 8.85 goals.

From a statistical profile – by Lacrosse Reference – the Catamounts possess the 26th ranked opponent-adjusted offense, the 14th ranked opponent-adjusted defense, the seventh-ranked opponent-adjusted face-off unit, and the 10thth ranked opponent-adjusted goaltending. Even though these metrics account for a team’s opponents, the Catamounts did face the nation’s 40th most difficult schedule.

Much of the early commentary of this game will focus on the match-up between each team’s face-off specialist. Last season, UVM’s Tommy Burke came into the game winning 72-percent of his face-offs but won just 11 of 26 draws against Maryland’s then top face-off specialist, Justin Shockey. This year, Burke comes into the game winning 62.4-percent of his draws, and Lacrosse Reference pegs Burke as the 16th strongest FIRE in the country.

Possessions fuel UVM’s offense and defense.

On offense, the Catamounts feature a Canadian-heavy lineup and a scheme that includes many lacrosse-related box principles. Midfielder Thomas McConvey (60g, 13a) leads the offense in goals and scoring. At 6-foot-4, 210 pounds and already committed to play next year at UVA as a graduate transfer, McConvey is a load to handle on the wings and possesses one of the hardest shots in the game. McConvey doesn’t carry the ball much in the offense and is more of a shooter off of UVM’s pairs offense sets. McConvey, while listed as a midfielder, plays more like an attackman and is seldom seen running back on defense.

Attackman David Closterman (28g, 34a) is the Catamounts’ primary initiator and distributor. When the Catamounts initiate their pairs sets from the wing – two-man pick games – they will swing the ball through X to Closterman, who looks to feed to the back side of a defense. Brock Haley (25g, 24a) and Liam Limoges (31g, 9a) – two Canadians – join Closterman at the attack.

Griffin French (10g, 17a) and Michael McCormack (39g, 10a) round out the Catamounts ’top six offensive players. As seen in the goal and assist breakdowns, McConvey, Limoges, and McCormack serve as shooters and finishers, while Closterman, Haley, and French provide more service to the offense. McCormack’s game looks like McConvey’s, while Limoges is a classic Canadian, box-trained inside finisher and wing shooter.

Haley and French saw limited time in last year’s game against the Terps, but the other four players combined for 12 total points in that game.

Defensively, the Catamounts start three close defensemen – Jackson Canfield (1a, 45gb, 18ct), Tim Manning (17gb, 7ct), and Will Jones (29gb, 19ct) – that have good size. Canfield is the most disruptive defenseman, while Manning acts as a more traditional “stay at home” defenseman. Ryan Cornell (8.24 goals against, 57-percent) backstops the Catamounts’ defense. Cornell, who came into last season’s game with similarly strong statistics, gave up all 17 goals to the Terrapins in last season’s game.

In terms of scheme, the Catamounts do press out quite a bit to dodging threats. Their top LSM, Nick Alviti (8g, 4a, 79gb, 30ct) is a threat in transition, especially off of the wings during face-offs. Alviti was a non-factor in last season’s game and was regularly run past by Terrapin midfielders. The Catamounts’ coaching staff is well known to the Maryland program. Head coach Chris Fiefs and offensive coordinator Jake Bernhardt played at Maryland and obviously have strong relationships with the Terps’ coaching staff.

Inside the Match-Up

This Catamounts team rightly has garnered some national buzz. They return much of their scoring from last year and have added another year’s worth of experience to a team that, prior to last year, had never made the NCAA Tournament. Given Tommy Burke’s career success at the face-off dot and McConvey’s Thor-like shot, the Catamounts could be seen as a serious threat to the Terps.

The question to ask, however, is: Are the Terps better this year compared to last year? Lacrosse Reference’s database can provide data to assess that question.

Last season the Terrapins opponent-adjust offensive, defensive, and face-off efficiencies were 40.3-percent, 24.5-percent, and 51.9-percent, respectively. Those metrics ranked second, sixth, and 27th in the nation, respectively.

This season, despite the graduation of Jared Bernhardt, the Terrapins’ opponent-adjust offensive, defensive, and face-off efficiencies are 43.3-percent, 23.1-percent, and 66.6-percent, respectively. Those metrics rank first, second, and first in the nation, respectively. Maryland FOGO Luke Wierman has gone from the 23rd strongest FOGO in the nation last year while winning 45.2-percent of his draws to the fourth-strongest FOGO in the nation this year as he has won 65.4-percent of his draws. Wierman helps provide the Terps on average 10 more possessions per game than their opponents.

Tommy Burke, on the other hand, has seen his performance slightly regress from last season, going from 68.9-percent and the 10th strongest FIRE to 62.4-percent and the 16th strongest this season. Vermont averages six more possessions per game more than their opponents.

In terms of match-ups, last season, the Terps bumped Nick Grill up to cover McConvey, while Brett Makar hounded Closterman into an overall rough outing. The development of Ajax Zappitello will allow the Terps to likely bump Makar up to McConvey so that Zappitello can harass Closterman. Matt Rahill’s off-ball coverage and communication skills make him an ideal match-up against Limoges. This might mean that Catamount attackman Brock Haley might draw an LSM. McConvey’s bulk is the wild card in these match-ups. If the Terrapin staff feels that one of the Terps’ LSMs – John Geppert and Owen Prybylski – can handle McConvey’s size, that might allow the Terps to maintain more traditional defensive match-ups.

On defense, the Catamounts will likely cover Keegan Khan and Eric Malever with Canfield and Jones, leaving the more old school defenseman in Tim Manning to hang on against Logan Wisnauskas. UVM’s defense leads the nation in allowing the fewest shots per game at just 32. In last season’s game, the Terps managed just 33 shots; but they also shot over 50-percent for the game. UVM struggled containing Maryland’s athletic dodgers, especially in the midfield. Given the Terps’ midfield athleticism and depth, this does not bode well for the Catamounts.

The Prediction

Draft Kings has installed the Terps as an 8.5-goal favorite, which does feel a little high. The Catamounts lacked the athleticism to hang with the Terps last season, and their inability to win face-offs put too much pressure on their defense. They also turned the ball over 19 times. In order for the Catamounts to keep this game close, they need Burke to win face-offs and use long possessions on offense to keep the ball away from the Terps. The Terps’ defense has played at an elite level all season and features the best defensive midfield in the nation. The Terps will not worry about their short-stick defenders crumbling under the size of UVM’s shooters and finishers. Whenever the Terps even perceive a threat or disrespect, they respond quickly and strongly. Expect the same on Sunday.

IMS prediction: Terps 18-10.

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