Villanova at Johns Hopkins: Three things to watch

Johns Hopkins has won all six meetings in its series with Villanova, which is resuming for the first time since 2002. The Blue Jays have outscored their opponents, 82-61, while going 5-2 at home, while Villanova has outscored its opponents, 69-67, in its 3-4 record on the road.

The Wildcats (5-7) have won four of their last six games, but an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament seems unlikely. They do have the Big East tournament AQ as a means to NCAAs. Senior long-stick midfielder John LoCascio has recorded four goals and 12 assists this season and is ranked fifth in Division I in caused turnovers per game (2.3).

The No. 5 Blue Jays (9-3) have won three straight contests after dropping three in a row. Sophomore attackman Ryan Brown and senior attackman Brandon Benn lead the offense in goals with 33 and 31, respectively, and are the first pair of teammates to score at least 30 goals in the same season since Chris Boland and Kyle Wharton finished with 34 each in 2011.

Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Homewood Field on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

1) Capitalize on turnovers. Villanova’s subpar campaign has been complicated by the players’ inability to hang onto the ball. The team ranks 52nd out of 67 programs in Division I in turnovers per game at 16.3. That weakness might encourage Johns Hopkins to ask its players to pressure ball carriers, but coach Dave Pietramala said Villanova seems comfortable gambling with defensive players pressing the issue on offense.

“They are a team that does take some risks,” he said. “They have a pole on man-up, they allow their defenders to push transition. … They let these guys play. They let their defensemen get up and down. They let them take some chances, and with those chances, they have high rewards at times. It’s also high risk, and you do risk turning the ball over. They are slick, they are skilled. If for whatever reason they’re not on point, it can lead to a couple turnovers. But the way they play, they try to generate goals in other ways than just six-on-six.”

2) Protect the ball. On the flipside, the Wildcats are one of the best teams in the nation at causing turnovers, registering an average of 9.9 takeaways. LoCascio leads the team with 28 caused turnovers, and senior defenseman Christopher Conroy ranks second with 21 takeaways. Pietramala said the Blue Jays must be cognizant of Villanova’s knack for pressuring opponents.

“This is a defense that will stretch a little bit,” he said. “There is a consistency. In order to run and get a little transition, they are willing to extend a little bit. They are willing to play the ball a little bit more aggressively. They are willing to take a risk and knock the ball to the ground and then get up and out. That’s the way they create their transition.”

3) Take advantage of the extra-man advantage. Johns Hopkins boasts one of the country’s best man-up offenses; the unit ranks fourth in Division I after converting 53.5 percent (23-of-43). But the Blue Jays will meet a tough task in solving the Wildcats’ man-down defense. That unit is 11th in the nation after killing off 72.0 percent (36-of-50) of opponents’ extra-man opportunities. Pietramala said Villanova relies on its sizable interior defense to disrupt man-up offenses. 

“When you play against a team like theirs, they’re long,” he said. “They get their sticks out in the lanes and they extend a little bit so they can create some havoc. We will have to be very good in that area. That’s an area that we put a great emphasis on. … We’ve got to be a little better than we were against Navy [on Friday night]. Two-of-7 isn’t a great day for us. The good thing is, we’re drawing fouls. What we’ve got to do is capitalize, especially in a game like this.”

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