Maryland Lacrosse: Big Ten Tournament primer

The Maryland lacrosse team will enter Thursday’s Big Ten Tournament as the heavy favorites.

The Terrapins haven’t lost since March 5 when they fell to Notre Dame in the Pacific Coast Shootout. Maryland dropped two of their first three contests as they lost to Yale in addition to the Fighting Irish.

However, there are four extremely talented teams in this year’s field. Only one conference win separated Johns Hopkins, Penn State, and Rutgers.

The field looks quite a bit different than it did a season ago with Ohio State somewhat surprisingly absent. The Buckeyes finished under the .500 mark, but were really hurt by their 1-5 mark away from Columbus.

No. 1 Maryland (12-2, 5-0 Big Ten) versus No. 4 Penn State (8-6, 2-3)

Maryland’s Key Wins: Albany, Johns Hopkins, Navy, Penn State, Rutgers, & Yale
Penn State’s Key Wins: Denver
2016 Matchups: On April 10, Maryland erased a four-goal deficit and defeated Penn State 11-10 in overtime in Happy Valley. Midfielder Bryan Cole scored two goals and added an assist, including scoring the game-winning goal with 43 seconds left in overtime.
The Skinny: As was mentioned above, the Terps are one of the hottest teams in college lacrosse ranks. Maryland boasts one of the deepest offensive units in the country with eight players that are capable of scoring. The Terps boast one of the most prolific one-two punches around on attack in Colin Heacock (32 goals & five assists) and Matt Rambo (26 & 15). This isn’t a team that will outrun the opposition, but they can score in transition if the situation arises. Coach John Tillman’s group is very methodical and patient bunch that is comfortable waiting for the right shot and picking opposing defenses apart. As impressive as the offense is, the defense is just as potent. Matt Dunn and Tim Muller lead the charge for a unit that only surrenders 7.79 goals-per-game. It also doesn’t hurt that Maryland has All-Big Ten First Team goalie Kyle Bernlohr in net. Bernlohr owns a 7.62 goals-against average, which is good for sixth in the nation.

Penn State had quite the turnaround during the 2016 season after just a 5-9 record a season ago. Coach Jeff Tambroni really had this team ready to play this season even after the Nittany Lions suffered a horrific loss with the death of goalie Connor Darcey during the offseason. Much like Maryland, Penn State is loaded when it comes to offensive firepower. There are eight Nittany Lions that have scored double-digit goals on the season. It all starts at the top with attackmen Grant Ament (19 & 34) and Nick Aponte (26 & 19). While Penn State is a team that likes to run, they’re really going to have to take smart shots against a talented netminder like Bernlohr. The Nittany Lions will also have to take advantage of their man-up opportunities if any come their way. On the season, they’re converting 52.2 percent of their man-up scenarios.

No. 2 Rutgers (10-4, 3-2) versus No. 3 Johns Hopkins (8-5, 3-2)

Johns Hopkins Key Wins: Navy, Penn State, & Towson
Rutgers Key Wins: Johns Hopkins & Penn State
2016 Matchups: On April 2, Rutgers jumped out to an 8-3 halftime advantage and didn’t look back in a 16-9 home victory over Johns Hopkins. Three Scarlet Knights registered at least five points in the win.
The Skinny: This is a matchup that shouldn’t be short on offense. Johns Hopkins and Rutgers are the top two scoring teams in the Big Ten as they both tally 12.6 goals-per-game. Rutgers came out of nowhere and was certainly the surprise team of the conference. The Scarlet Knights have finished three of the past five seasons with a losing record, but that certainly wasn’t the case in 2016. Rutgers is led by Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and star attackman Scott Bieda. Bieda does a little bit of everything as he registered 26 goals and 32 assists, which equals out to 4.14 goals-per-game (first in the Big Ten). In their first meeting against the Blue Jays, Bieda, Adam Charalambides, and Jules Heningburg combined for 18 points. Rutgers’ attack unit is about as lethal as they come. For a team that scores on 31.3 percent of their shots, Rutgers will look to test Johns Hopkins early and often.

Contrary to a season ago, Johns Hopkins is playing well entering the Big Ten Tournament. The Blue Jays return several of their key playmakers with attackmen Ryan Brown (36 & 14) and Shack Stanwick (18 & 34) back in the fold. This is a group that scores the most goals-per-game (12.7) in the Big Ten along with the most assists-per-game (7.6). Johns Hopkins is a very balanced team with the potential to outscore anyone in the nation, including Rutgers. The battle at the “X” may be where the game is won or lost. Johns Hopkins got a career performance from Craig Madarasz this past Saturday against Maryland. Madarasz won 17 face-offs in addition to scooping up nine ground balls. If Madarasz can set the table, it’ll mean more possessions for the Blue Jays and with an offense this high-powered, more balls are bound to find the back of the cage.