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Villanova at No. 1 Maryland lacrosse: Three things to watch

Unbeaten Terps have won all seven meetings with slumping Wildcats

By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun

10:00 AM EDT, March 14, 2014

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Maryland has won all seven meetings in this series. The Terps have been especially overpowering at home, outscoring Villanova by an average of nine goals in four contests in College Park.

The Wildcats (1-3) have dropped their last two games, but they have lost all three contests by a combined four goals. The offense has a definitive Baltimore flavor with senior attackman Kevin O’Neil (Boys’ Latin) leading the team in goals (seven) and points (10). Freshman midfielder Austin Frederick (McDonogh) is tied with sophomore attack Johnny Gallaway for second in points (eight).

No. 1 Maryland (5-0) is seeking its third 6-0 start in five years. Senior long-stick midfielder Michael Ehrhardt ranks eighth in Division I in caused turnovers per game (2.4) and ranks second on the team in ground balls (18). The defense has yet to allow an opponent to score 10 goals this season, and the Terps are 124-26 when holding opposing offenses to nine goal or less since 2002.

Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Byrd Stadium in College Park on Friday at 7 p.m.

1) Turnovers. Only Atlantic Coast Conference rival North Carolina has been better than Maryland at protecting the ball. The Tar Heels rank first in the country with just 10.6 turnovers per game, while the Terps are second at 10.8 turnovers. The challenge is that Villanova ranks third in the country in causing an average of 11.3 turnovers. Senior long-stick midfielder John LoCascio, senior defenseman Christopher Conroy and senior defenseman Chris Piccirilli (Archbishop Spalding) rank second, sixth and 15th in the nation respectively in caused turnovers per game. Their ability to disrupt offenses concerns Maryland coach John Tillman. “They’re very fast, they’re very aggressive,” he said. “I think their pressure has created some problems. Watching the Penn game, they pressured Penn extensively in the first half, and Penn really struggled with it. [Penn] got into a little bit of a groove in the second half, but [the Wildcats] have very athletic guys that can put some pressure on you and make you uncomfortable, and that’s a little bit different. Most teams aren’t doing that right now.”

2) Ground balls. Both teams rank in the top 10 in the country in ground balls. The Terps are third at 37.4 ground balls per game, while the Wildcats are eighth at 35.5. When Villanova pounces on a loose ball, the defenders are quick to turn those opportunities into transition chances. Piccirilli has taken six shots and scored once, LoCascio has taken three shots, and junior defenseman Christian Kolderup has scored a goal. “Those ground balls are going to be critical,” Tillman said. “And they’re really critical because they do an excellent job of pushing in transition. If you look at their defensive guys, they have some guys that can really bring it. … That to me is pretty impressive. If you look at a lot of defensemen, they may take seven shots in a career, and they’re four games into it and [Piccirilli] has gotten six shots. So we want to make sure that we limit their transition, and the best way to do that is to try to get a lot of those ground balls.”

3) Extra-man opportunities. One of the easiest ways to spark an offense is to get goals via the man-up offense, and Maryland has fared well in that department. The team ranks seventh in the nation with a 55.6 conversion rate (10-of-18). But the Wildcats’ man-down defense is downright stingy, successfully killing off 80.0 percent (16-of-20) of opponents’ extra-man situations. Tillman knows that the Terps could make their lives a lot easier if the man-up offense can take advantage. “That will be a challenge for us,” he said. “They’ve got 22 penalties in four games. So that’s something we’ve obviously got to be prepared for, but they’re not giving up a lot of goals. So we have to make sure that we execute and that we execute pretty well.”

edward.lee@baltsun.com