Maryland owns a 5-2 advantage in this series, but Notre Dame boasts the most recent win in a 6-5 decision on April 25 en route to capturing the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament crown. The Terps are making their third appearance in the NCAA tournament semifinals in the last four years, while the Fighting Irish are in the Final Four for the third time in five seasons.
Seventh-seeded Maryland (13-3) has won three straight games since that surprising loss in the ACC tournament. The program is 11-10 in the semifinals and advanced to the title game in 2011 and 2012. Senior attackman Mike Chanenchuk, whose nine points on five goals and four assists in Saturday’s 16-8 rout of Bryant in the quarterfinals were the most for a Terps player since March 28, 1979 when Bob Boniello finished with 13 points (three goals and 10 assists) against Duke, was named a first-team All American on Thursday.
Sixth-seeded Notre Dame (11-5) is enjoying a five-game winning streak – a spurt that began with a run through the ACC tournament. The program is 1-2 in the Final Four, reaching the NCAA tournament final in 2010. Sophomore attackman Matt Kavanagh (35 goals) and junior attackman Conor Doyle (30) are the first pair of Fighting Irish teammates to score 30 goals in the same season since 2001 when Tom Glatzel (40) and John Harvey (30) did the same.
Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
1) Maryland’s clears. The Terps rank fifth in Division I in clearing percentage at 91.5 percent (236-of-258). But Notre Dame’s rally from a 12-7 deficit in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s quarterfinal against Albany was sparked in part by their timely switch to a 10-man ride in which junior goalkeeper Conor Kelly helps cover an opposing attackman to hamper an opponent’s ability to clear the ball. Notre Dame got three goals by foiling the Great Danes’ attempts to get the ball from defense to offense, and Maryland coach John Tillman is bracing for the Fighting Irish to use that tactic again.
“They have fast attackmen that ride hard,” he said. “So they’ve ridden teams pretty well all year. They make you get the ball up and out, and you really have to practice getting the ball out even if they’re not in a 10-man. They just hustle and they do a nice job there. With the 10-man, we practiced it for the first game, and we were fortunate to get the ball and break the 10-man. … It is something that we will have to practice against again. They’re very athletic, they’re very aggressive.”
2) Notre Dame’s faceoffs. Senior Liam O’Connor ranks 12th in the country in faceoff percentage, having won 59.9 percent (193-of-322), and junior Nick Ossello has won 46.8 percent (36-of-77) of his draws. But the duo were overpowered by Maryland junior Charlie Raffa, who won 81.1 percent (30-of-37) of the faceoffs in two meetings with Fighting Irish. Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan thinks O’Connor and Ossello are much different from a month ago.
“I think Liam in the first two games was at a point where he had a little bit of a lull in his season, but he’s been playing very well again of late,” Corrigan said. “He played great early. So hopefully, he’s ready to battle a little bit more than the previous two games, and I know Nick Ossello will get in there and compete athletically. We just have to do a good job and be smart on the wings and try to equalize the number of possessions in the game.”
3) Notre Dame’s Conor Kelly. The junior has backstopped the Fighting Irish’s five-game winning streak, compiling a 10.95 goals-against average, a .504 save percentage, and double-digit stops in three contests. Kelly surrendered 17 goals and made 26 saves in two meetings with Maryland, and his play will be critical, according to ESPN analyst Mark Dixon.
“For Notre Dame, they have to get good goaltending,” the former Johns Hopkins midfielder said. “If Maryland does get some opportunities early because Raffa is winning the faceoffs, they’re going to get their shots, and Kelly is going to have to come up with some saves.”