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Maryland vs. Johns Hopkins: Three things to watch

These two in-state rivals will meet for the 109th game all-time and the 13th time in the NCAA tournament. Johns Hopkins won nine of the 12 tournament contests, but Maryland, which defeated the Blue Jays, 9-6, on April 14, can take comfort in the knowledge that the regular-season winner is 7-5 when the sides meet again in the tournament. No. 2 seed Johns Hopkins (12-3) is 21-9 in the NCAA tournament under coach Dave Pietramala and seeking its first berth in the Final Four since 2008. The Terps (10-5), who are aiming for their first national crown since 1975, advanced to last year’s tournament final before falling to Virginia. Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome of this NCAA tournament quarterfinal at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis Saturday afternoon.

1) Maryland’s midfield. The Terps have relied heavily on their starting attack of senior Joe Cummings (a team-best 29 goals and 14 assists) and juniors Owen Blye (17, 19) and Billy Gribbin (19, 3). Lately, however, the offense has been the recipient of improved production from the midfield. In the last four contests, the first line of junior John Haus, senior Drew Snider and redshirt sophomore Mike Chanenchuk have combined for 14 goals and 11 assists. The second midfield of senior Michael Shakespeare, junior Kevin Cooper and freshman Jay Carlson has totaled eight goals and three assists. The emergence of the midfield hasn’t escaped Pietramala’s attention. “We went into the first game concerned about those midfielders,” he said. “So it’s not like I’m going, ‘Whoa, there’s a surprise.’ We think the world of their midfielders. They can shoot the ball extremely well. They’re athletic. … So we had great respect for them before. There’s no reason why we wouldn’t have as much respect – if not more – for them in the second round.”

2) Johns Hopkins’ attack. The Blue Jays’ recent three-game winning streak has coincided with the play of their starting attack. Junior Zach Palmer, sophomore Brandon Benn and senior Chris Boland have combined for 23 goals and 15 assists during the team’s run. Maryland coach John Tillman marveled at how the attack and the Johns Hopkins coaching staff responded to criticism generated by the unit’s poor showings in losses to the Terps and Navy. “We’ve got to look at a little bit more film, but they’ve definitely kind of reinvented certain aspects of their play on offense,” Tillman said. “They’ve done some things a bit differently. They’ve used a little bit more pick action, especially with that second group. So that’s something we’re going to have to deal with and look at and take a look at. Their coaches are really good coaches. They’ve all been there a long time, they’re all really bright guys. When things aren’t going as well as you want, they did exactly what you think they’d do – kind of look at every aspect of their team and say, ‘What can we do differently? [Junior midfielder John] Greeley’s not with us. How do we change?’ And they’ve done an awesome job. They’re putting guys in the right spots. They’re figuring out ways to create leverage and get guys in shooting spots and guys in finishing spots.”

3) Maryland’s ball protection. The Terps are a physical, scrappy group and yet their preference for mixing it up hasn’t translated into many turnovers. Maryland ranks first in Division I in giveaways per game, averaging just 11.7 this season. The players’ ability to protect the ball poses the Blue Jays with a dilemma. Ramp up the aggression to pressure the Terps’ ball carriers or pull back on the reins and concentrate on playing solid defense? “Pressure is an interesting thing,” Pietramala said. “It’s not as easy to pressure these days as you’d like to think. The ball doesn’t come out of the sticks, and it’s tough to pressure a guy when he’s got a short stick and you’ve got a short stick on him or he’s behind the goal. So this is a team that we’re going to have to be very sound fundamentally [against]. We’re going to have to be prepared to defend extended possessions. We’re going to have to be prepared for them not to turn it over. So that means that every ground ball is that much important, every clear is that much more important, and every faceoff is that much more important because if they’re not giving it up unnecessarily, then you’ve got to capitalize on the opportunities that you have.”

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