Midfielder Joe LoCascio is one of several reasons for Maryland’s torrid pace to start the season. (Mandatory Credit: Greg Vasil/InsideLacrosse)
The Teams: No. 8 Maryland Terrapins (4-1) at No. 15 Villanova Wildcats (5-1)
The Time: Saturday, 1 p.m.
The Location: Villanova Stadium, Villanova, Pa.
The Backstory: With the amount of turnover on Maryland’s roster, there were several question marks entering the 2015 season. However, the Terps are silencing many of their critics early on. Maryland has established itself with a strong commitment to defense, which has always been a staple of Coach John Tillman.
Since dropping a tough one to Yale on the road, Maryland has only allowed 14 goals in three games against the likes of Drexel, Penn, and Princeton. The Terp defensive unit is forcing 17 turnovers-per-game over these last three games. Senior defender Casey Ikeda has been one of the biggest reasons for the team’s success thus far. Ikeda was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the week earlier in the week after a stellar performance against Princeton. Ikeda and his fellow Terps own the top unit in terms of scoring defense as they are only allowing 5.00 goals-per-game. That high-powered defense has in turn allowed goalie Kyle Bernlohr to own the nation’s lowest goals-against-average at 4.91.
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Despite a strong commitment to defense, Maryland’s offense has also been a focal point through five games. As expected, attackman Matt Rambo has led all scorers with 15 points (11 goals & four assist) while shooting at a 50 percent clip. As impressive as Rambo has been since returning to the team, the Pennsylvania native has a talented supporting cast to help out with the scoring load. The Terps have seven players that have scored multiple goals this season and ranked in the top 45 in goals-per-game with 9.6 per contest. One of the nice surprises has been attackman Jay Carlson. Carlson lost his starting job in 2014, so it was a big question on how much he would be able to produce coming into 2015. However, Carlson has definitely been up to the task so far as he has 10 points (nine goals & an assist) for the Terps. The Cockeysville native had a pair of goals and scooped up two groundballs in last weekend’s win over Princeton. Carlson is also one of only five players on Maryland’s roster that has double-digit groundballs (10).
On the other hand, Villanova is an extremely talented squad as well. The Wildcats can score and stay with just about any team in the country. Freshman attackman Danny Seibel leads the team in goals (16) and can score from just about anywhere on the field. Seibel has a cannon for a shot and is Villanova’s most efficient shooter at 61.5 percent. Seibel also ranks 25th in the country with 2.67 goals-per-game. Junior midfielder Jack Curran dodges as well as any player around and has a knack for making things happen around the cage. Curran leads the Wildcats with 21 points (14 goals & seven assists) and is one of six players that are shooting 50 percent or better this season. Freshman midfielder Sean Cerrone may not be lighting it up in the scoring column, but he’s a great table-setter, which is evident in his team-leading 14 assists. The Wildcats actually rank ahead of the Terps in terms of scoring as they net 11.67 goals-per-game, which is good for 20th in Division I lacrosse.
Keys/Storylines To Watch:
1.) True test for Maryland’s defense – As was mentioned above, Maryland has been incredibly impressive on the defensive end so far. The Terps are coming off a week in which they held the Princeton offense to just four goals. Defenders like Matt Dunn and Ikeda are coming to be huge in this one. Villanova is the most lethal offense Maryland has faced since Yale and the Wildcats are averaging just 1.5 goals-per-game less than the Bulldogs. One area of weakness for Villanova is getting to the 50/50 groundballs. Getting to those loose balls is going to be very key for the Terps if they want to escape with a ranked win.
2.) Establishing consistent offensive pressure early – With Villanova’s being pretty talented in its own right, Maryland definitely will have to play very smart early and keep the pressure on the Wildcats defense. The Terps shot selection has been questionable at times this season, so they’ll have to be smart about picking their spots on Saturday. Crisp passing and the use of screens is going to be paramount to their success. When you have guys like Rambo, Carlson, Joe LoCascio, and Henry West, finding the back of the cage is a necessity.
3.) Homecoming for Maryland players – The Terps have several players that hail from the Philadelphia area, so Saturday will be a homecoming of sorts for a few Maryland players. Obviously, College Park is only a few hours from Philadelphia, but it’ll be a treat for these players to play in front of their families. Rambo attended LaSalle College High School and is from Glenside while Ikeda went to Conestoga High School and hails from Berwyn. Both are a half four or less from Villanova Stadium, so there should be a pretty strong Maryland contingent in attendance.