Hartford at Maryland: Three things to watch

Saturday’s game may be the first-ever meeting between these schools, but there is reason for intrigue. The No. 19 Hawks are the unanimous preseason favorites to repeat as America East champions and lost just two starters to graduation. The No. 10 Terps’ losses to graduation are well-documented, but that hasn’t diminished the expectations surrounding a program that reached the NCAA final last spring. Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome.

1) Maryland’s defense. This is the unit that perhaps sustained the most damage from graduation as three starting close defensemen, the starting long-stick midfielder and one of two starting short-stick defensive midfielders bid farewell. Coach John Tillman has been tight-lipped about who will take the field for the first time, but Hartford coach Peter Lawrence is anticipating the introduction of a talented group. “I know some of the young guys they have, and I just think that the reality is that a program like Maryland – which I have a lot of respect for and Coach Tillman – some of those guys [on the bench last year] can be starters at other programs,” Lawrence said. “So the fact that they were behind a bunch of guys who were almost all All Americans, I don’t think there’s any shame in that. So I don’t think they’re going to be putting guys out there who aren’t capable of playing at a very high level. So I still expect them to put out a close defense that’s going to make it very competitive and will be a good challenge for our attackmen.”

2) Hartford’s faceoffs. On the flipside, this is where graduation impacted the Hawks. Tim Fallon won 62.1 percent of his faceoffs and collected 166 groundballs. Junior Mike Brown, redshirt senior Michael Cudmore and freshman Ty Schuldt are candidates to succeed Fallon, but someone will have to deal with junior Curtis Holmes, who won 62.6 percent of his faceoffs last season. “This is going to be a huge challenge,” Lawrence said. “I think Holmes is one of the best in the country, and so this will be a good challenge for us, to see how we do against him.”

3) Groundballs. Both teams are hard-nosed outfits that depend heavily on grabbing loose balls. Maryland averaged 33.2 groundballs per game in 2011, while Hartford averaged 33.1. The key is that the Terps allowed opponents to amass 23.6 groundballs, but the Hawks surrendered 27.3 to opponents. “I think groundballs will be the difference in the game,” Lawrence said. “I think they’re a scrappy, tough team, and that’s what we’re going to need to be to compete with them.”

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