Maryland has won five of six meetings in this series and took home a 12-8 victory over Notre Dame on Saturday. The top seed in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, the Terps are just 11-14 in semifinals and are seeking their first title-game appearance since 2011. Rookies in the ACC, the No. 4 seed Fighting Irish did not advance out of the semifinal round of the Big East tournament in 2012 and 2013.
No. 10 Notre Dame (6-5 overall and 2-3 in the league) finished ahead of No. 7 North Carolina and No. 8 Virginia in the league standings, but the team is in danger of missing the NCAA tournament. Traditionally known for stingy defense, the Fighting Irish rank 23rd in Division I at 9.2 goals per game. They have been more generous in ACC play, as opponents averaged 11.4 goals.
No. 6 Maryland (10-2, 4-1) has enough significant wins and no bad losses that the team could lose this game and still earn an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament. But a victory would further tighten the Terps’ grip on playing host to a first-round game in College Park. Senior midfielder Mike Chanenchuk and freshman attackman Connor Cannizzaro have scored 12 and 10 goals, respectively, in ACC play this season.
Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at PPL Park in Chester, Pa., on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
1) Keep an eye – or four – on Notre Dame’s Matt Kavanagh. Maryland emerged beat the Fighting Irish last week, but not without considerable resistance from Kavanagh. The sophomore attackman finished with six points on two goals and four assists and solidified his reputation as Notre Dame’s top offensive threat.
“Matt’s a terrific player, and I think you always have to be careful of keeping too much of an eye on one player and allowing other players to do more things,” Maryland coach John Tillman said. “Yet, you have to know that a guy like Matt, who is aggressive and very talented, is very dynamic and you can’t leave him out on an island. And Notre Dame is a really smart with their schemes. They do some things to get Matt leverage and get him spots where he can create things. It’s a credit to him. He’s been getting marked pretty well, and people have been helping and sliding to him, and he’s been great with just finding the open man and being unselfish. So we’ve got to take a look and see if there’s anything we can do better to try to defend him.”
2) Help out Maryland’s Niko Amato. Notre Dame put 17 of its 21 shots on net last week, and Amato, the Terps’ senior goalkeeper, made nine saves. Amato, who ranks in the top 10 in the country in both goals-against average (fifth at 7.38) and save percentage (.571), is certainly game for considerable action on the defensive side of the field, but Tillman said the defense needs to do a better job of alleviating that pressure.
“If you look at that game, they take 21 shots and score eight goals, and we really had a lot more faceoffs,” Tillman said. “That’s something that really concerns you. Of their 21 shots, 17 were on goal. So you wonder if they took more shots, what could have happened. So we really have to look at what we’re doing in every aspect and try to improve and clean it up this week.”
3) Rein in the penalties. Maryland killed off three of five extra-man opportunities for Notre Dame, but fouling the Fighting Irish is usually not a formula for success. They rank second in the nation in man-up offense after converting 54.5 percent (24-of-44) of their chances. All five of Notre Dame’s extra-man situations took place in the second quarter, and Tillman said the Terps have to avoid repeating that scenario Friday.
“Five fouls in one quarter is really something that we are not very excited about and something that we’ve got to look at,” he said. “We don’t want to have five fouls for a game, and we had five fouls in the second quarter, and you’re really flirting with disaster there. So we’ve got to do a better job and be more disciplined and not put ourselves in the penalty box, because a team like Notre Dame is one of the best in the country and you’re asking for trouble there. So it’s something we’ve got to take a look at and be more disciplined with the things that we do.”