Maryland owns a 39-22 advantage in this series with its Atlantic Coast Conference rival, but North Carolina has won four of the last six meetings. The No. 10 Tar Heels are 4-3 this spring but have followed every win with a loss. They dusted Dartmouth, 13-5, on Monday as senior attackman Marcus Holman (Gilman) registered four goals (including the 100th of his career) and one assist. The top-ranked Terps, who are the only undefeated team left in Division I, are seeking their first 7-0 start since 2004. Sophomore attackman Jay Carlson (St. Paul's), who scored five goals in the team’s 10-7 win against Villanova a week ago, will make his third consecutive start. Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Byrd Stadium in College Park on Saturday.
1) North Carolina’s zone defense. Maryland entered the week ranked second in the country in scoring, averaging 15.0 goals so far. The offense has seen several defenses throw out a zone, and coach John Tillman expects the Tar Heels to do the same. That might put the onus on long-range shooters like redshirt junior midfielder Mike Chanenchuk and fifth-year senior midfielder Jake Bernhardt to bust the zone. “They can stretch the defense, they can go left-handed or right-handed, and those two guys can play inside or outside,” Tillman said of Chanenchuk and Bernhardt. “It allows you to move some people around. I think with the new rules, you’re going to see more and more zone defense because I think it allows people to just stand in spots. Sometimes that makes people feel more comfortable. So you just need to make certain that you have a zone mentality offensively and you can kind of recognize what they’re doing. Carolina’s a team that has zoned us a lot in the past. So we’ll be working on that this week. We worked on it last week. I think with us, having an older group in there definitely helps.”
2) North Carolina’s starting attack. The Tar Heels are averaging 11.9 goals this season, and a significant portion of the credit goes to the starting attack of Holman and sophomores Joey Sankey and Jimmy Bitter. Holman, a favorite to be named a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award, leads the team in goals (18), assists (14) and points (32). Sankey ranks second in goals (16) and points (25), and Bitter is second in assists (10). That trio should test the Terps’ starting close defense of junior Michael Ehrhardt and sophomores Goran Murray and Casey Ikeda. “I think like anything else, we’ve just got to play our defense and our system,” Tillman said. “We’ve got to do a good job on seven-on-six. They do a good job of sharing the ball and moving it. They have very good skills. They play fast. We’re just going to have to a very good job of the fundamentals and the schemes that we’ve worked on this week and making sure that we’re communicating well and make it a seven-on-six game.”
3) Maryland’s offense. North Carolina is just 1-3 when its defense surrenders 10 goals or more. That doesn’t bode well as the Terps have scored at least 10 goals in every contest. ESPN analyst and former Johns Hopkins midfielder Mark Dixon said he will be interested in seeing how the Tar Heels intend to limit Maryland. “It’s team defense and goaltending because [North Carolina] can score,” Dixon said. “That offense with Holman and Sankey and Bitter is tremendous, but they’re living dangerously by just trying to outscore teams. They did it against Princeton, but they weren’t able to do it against Notre Dame. … At the end of the day, it’s their defense that has let them down over the last couple of years, and it has left them down a little bit this year.”