These teams have met just once before, with Albany routing Loyola Maryland, 19-10, in the first round of the 2007 NCAA tournament. The Greyhounds are 9-0 at home this season and 4-3 at home in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Albany (11-5) went 4-5 through the nonconference portion of its schedule, but righted the ship by buzzing through the America East and claiming the league tournament for the second straight year. The Great Danes are 1-4 against teams that qualified for the NCAA tournament. In addition to leading the team in both assists (69) and points (114), junior attackman Lyle Thompson is tied with senior defenseman Cody Futia for the team lead in caused turnovers (14).
Third-seeded Loyola (15-1) has not lost since opening the season with a 14-13 overtime setback to Virginia on Feb. 6. The Greyhounds are 2-1 against teams in this year’s NCAA tournament. Senior Jack Runkel is the only goalkeeper in the NCAA tournament ranked in the top three in both goals-against average and save percentage.
Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Ridley Athletic Complex in Baltimore on Saturday at noon.
1) Loyola’s ground balls. The Greyhounds have made a living on ground balls, ranking fourth in Division I by scooping up 35.8 per game. On the flipside, Albany has struggled at picking up loose balls, averaging 29.3, which ranks 35th. But Loyola coach Charley Toomey said the Great Danes are prolific at turning ground balls into instant offense, and that transition is something the Greyhounds must be wary of.
“I think Albany is the most dangerous team in the country after they pick up a ground ball,” Toomey said. “A lot of their offense is created off a scramble situation where they pick up a ground ball, and two passes later, they’ve got one of the Thompsons somewhere around the crease with the ball in his stick. We definitely are going to talk about the ground ball battle. We have to win the 50-50s, and faceoffs give us that opportunity as well. But it’s going to be pretty important for both teams on Saturday to have those extra possessions.”
2) Albany’s Blaze Riorden. Defense has not been the Great Danes’ calling card this season as the unit ranks 51st in the nation after surrendering 11.5 goals per game. But the defense has been anchored by Riorden, a sophomore goalkeeper who ranks fourth with 13.1 saves per game. The 6-foot, 215-pound Riorden has good size and fills up a decent amount of the cage, but Toomey said the biggest concern is Riorden’s ability to make a save and ignite Albany’s transition game.
“He’s got great hands, and what I think he does best is his ability to catch the ball and start their offense and really start transition for a team that is similar to us,” Toomey said. “They want to play between the lines and play fast.”
3) Loyola’s Pat Frazier and David Manning. Much has been made about the tantalizing matchup between Greyhounds senior defenseman Joe Fletcher and Albany junior attackman Lyle Thompson, and it is a storyline that will draw a lot of eyeballs. But CBS Sports Network Evan Washburn said another key will be how Frazier and Manning, both juniors, fare against Great Danes senior attackmen Miles Thompson (74 goals and 34 assists) and Ty Thompson (36, 12).
“The emergence of Frazier and Manning over the course of the year, they have really improved, and they’re solid, top-tier Division I defensemen,” said Washburn, a former Delaware defenseman. “But Albany offers a second option in Miles Thompson, who I think is as good as any attackman in the country. What Frazier does in that matchup, how they slide to Miles Thompson, how they handle that, what will [senior short-stick defensive midfielder Pat] Laconi do, that is interesting. I know that Joe Fletcher and Lyle Thompson will go at it all day, and it will be great. I think Joe will do a nice job, and I think Lyle will get his here and there, but can Frazier hold up against Miles?”