The Wildcats (2-4) are seeking their first winning streak of the year and their third victory in their past four games. The defense has emerged as a vulnerability, tied for 63rd out of 69 Division I teams at 14.3 goals allowed per game thus far. The unit has started sophomore goalkeeper Nick Testa (14.93 goals-against average and a .338 save percentage) in the past five contests, but senior Dan Willis (13.67 goals-against average and .409 save percentage) has replaced him at halftime three times.
The No. 4 Terps (4-1) have not played since a 5-4 loss at No. 2 Notre Dame on March 4 because their game at No. 8 Albany a week ago was postponed because of hazardous wintry weather conditions. The eighth-most prolific offense in the nation also boasts the best man-up unit in Division I. Senior attackman Colin Heacock (Boys’ Latin) and freshman midfielder Jared Bernhardt have scored four extra-man goals each to help the man-up offense convert 64.3 percent of its opportunities.
Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Maryland Stadium in College Park on Saturday at 4 p.m.
1) Tempo. Only five offenses have launched more shots than Villanova has with 294 attempts, and that is a testament to the frenzied pace of play the Wildcats prefer. That style was on display when they erupted for 60 shots in their 17-15 decision over Brown last Saturday. Maryland has limited opponents to an average of 32.2 attempts, but can the team handcuff a Villanova squad that has taken no fewer than 42 shots in a single game this spring?
“I think what we’re most focused on is really trying to see if we can do a good job defending them because they took 60 shots against Brown, and Brown only got 32, and we know how good Brown is,” Terps coach John Tillman said. “Obviously, they’re a team that likes to play up-tempo.”
2) Faceoffs. Villanova’s accelerated pace is aided by a 54.4 success rate on draws, which ranks 22nd in the country. The team has a pair of players who have taken more than 60 faceoffs each in junior Luke Palmadesso (55.6 percent on 35-for-63 and 10 ground balls) and senior Jake Froccaro (64.5 percent on 40-for-62 and 43 GB). Maryland is only seven spots behind the Wildcats with a 52.0 faceoff percentage, but sophomore Austin Henningsen (55.1 percent on 54-for-98 and 23 GB) has taken more than 87 percent of the draws, and Tillman agreed that the Terps might have to distribute the faceoffs more equitably.
“We need to be prepared to use multiple guys,” he said. “… We like what Austin does. He can almost match up with anybody, but sometimes you’ll have a guy like [junior] Will Bonaparte that’s just the better matchup. So we’re not afraid to go to Will. We’ve used [senior] Jon Garino [Jr.] in the past. We’ve used [sophomore] Curtis Corley in the past. So we feel like we have some different options down there and if it turns into a more high-scoring game, I think you’ve got to be willing to go to another guy just by the nature of the game if it’s that fast-paced of a game. Guys are going to get tired, guys are going to get worn down, and it’s nice to have some depth down there.”
3) Extra-man situations. While Maryland’s man-up success poses a problem for many opponents, Villanova is not exactly a wallflower as it ranks 23rd in the country at 44.1 percent. The Wildcats’ two most dangerous players with the extra man are junior attackman Christian Cuccinello and graduate student midfielder Jack Curran, who are tied for the national lead in man-up goals with five each. The Terps rank 14th in Division I in man-down defense after killing off 72.7 percent of opponents’ opportunities, and Tillman said the unit cannot afford to concentrate solely on Cuccinello and Curran.
“I think they’ve looked for those guys, but those guys are pretty unselfish, too,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like they’re just running set plays for those guys. It just seems like when those guys have had their opportunities, they’ve canned them. But those two guys will look for their teammates just as much as those guys look for them. That is a really good unit. They have a great feel for each other, they move the ball very quickly, they have really good range, they skip the ball well, they’re accurate shooters.”