Maryland owns a commanding 13-2 advantage in this series and has won the last eight meetings. But the two teams have not played since March 18, 2000, and Cornell is 2-1 against the Terps in the NCAA tournament.
The Big Red (12-3) have lost all three contests by one goal each, but a setback to then-No. 12 Princeton in the semifinals of the Ivy League tournament on May 3 cost the team one of the NCAA tournament’s eight seeds and a home game in the first round. But that does not hide the fact that 2011 Tewaaraton Award finalist Rob Pannell (36 goals and 44 assists) and fellow senior attackman Steve Mock (48, 9) headline an offense ranked second in Division I (14.4 goals per game).
The Terps (10-3) bounced back in their regular-season finale with an 18-6 thrashing of Colgate, and that victory cemented the sixth seed and a home game in the first round. All six offensive starters have accumulated more than 20 points each, and the group is led by senior attackman Kevin Cooper (19, 21).
Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Byrd Stadium in College Park on Sunday.
1) Maryland’s attack. Cooper leads the offense in assists (21) and points (40), but senior Owen Blye’s numbers are down from last year (20 goals and 20 assists in 2012 to 21 and eight this season) and the third attack spot has rotated between sophomore Jay Carlson, senior Billy Gribbin and freshman David Goodwin. The Terps are 6-1 when the attack leads the team in scoring, and coach John Tillman said a productive attack can fuel the offense. “When you have guys that are attacking above and below, it just makes you so much more dangerous because you’re not one-dimensional,” he said. “You’re attacking from all areas, which we feel like is harder on the other side. You’re a little bit less predictable. So now you can spin the ball and attack from just about anywhere, which really puts a little bit more pressure on the defense because it’s hard to target where the attack is going to come from.”
2) Cornell’s intensity. A few weeks ago, the Big Red was considered a lock for one of the tournament’s eight seeds and a home contest in the first round. But after a pair of one-goal losses to Syracuse and Princeton, Cornell was pitted against Maryland in one of the most intriguing matchups of the opening round. “I think there’s plenty of motivation as it is,” Big Red coach Den DeLuca said. “But I will say that being the underdog, I don’t think anyone expects us to win this game, certainly based on where we’re seeded and with the University of Maryland being seeded. They’re a team that has been to the national championship game the last two years. They have a tremendous amount of experience in the tournament. They have a tremendous amount of talent. They’re very well coached. Coach Tillman is a Cornell guy. We have a ton of respect for him. He’s done a great job with that team. So I think our guys are relishing the role of the hunter and the underdog.”
3) Special teams. The Terps are ranked 13th in Division I in man-up offense, converting 40.5 percent (17-of-42) of their extra-man opportunities. Meanwhile, Cornell’s man-down defense is eighth after stopping 74.1 percent (40-of-54) of opponents’ chances. Taking advantage of man-up situations could be the remedy for Maryland’s troubles on offense. “If you’re struggling offensively and you get a man-up goal, maybe that takes a little pressure off and you can build off that,” Tillman said. “But they do a great job with their man down. They’re very well coached. Ben’s always done a really good job down there. They have a good goalie. They have very athletic defensemen that have good sticks. So they’ll get to your hands, they’ll knock down passes, they play skip lanes very well. But we’ve got to do a good job and if we have opportunities especially at this time of the year, we’ve really got to capitalize on them.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun