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Denver vs. Johns Hopkins: Three things to watch

This is only the second meeting between Denver and Johns Hopkins and the first since 1998. Fresh off of a 13-10 victory over Villanova in the first round on Sunday, the sixth-seeded Pioneers (14-2) are riding an 11-game winning streak and seeking its first appearance in the NCAA tournament semifinals. The No. 3 seed Blue Jays (13-2) walloped Hofstra, 13-5, on Saturday and are 28-9 in the quarterfinals. Here are a few factors that could influence the outcome at James M. Shuart Stadium at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., on Saturday.

1) Solve Denver's two-man game on offense. As profiled in Friday's editions of The Sun, Johns Hopkins' defense is playing superbly, surrendering an average of 6.8 goals this season, which is the lowest since Dave Pietramala became the program's head coach for the 2001 season. But one of the Blue Jays' two losses came at the hands of Princeon, which utilized a two-man game on offense to win 8-3 on March 5. Enter the Pioneers, who employ a similar strategy. ESPN analyst and former Virginia All-American attackman Matt Ward said Denver's system is a bit more structured than Princeton's. "They have the better personnel to execute those types of plays," Ward said of the Pioneers. "… I would say it's more designed than Princeton's. Princeton kind of does a big circle with a lot of two-man individual games. Everyone in Denver's offense is moving for a purpose – even if they're not in the two-man game, which creates goals coming off of two or three passes."

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2) Beware of faceoffs. After winning just 47 percent of faceoffs (162-of-345) last season, Johns Hopkins boasts a 65.3 success rate (211-of-323) this spring. Senior Matt Dolente leads the nation with a .672 faceoff percentage (178-of-265) and faces another stiff challenge in Pioneers sophomore Chase Carraro (.603 on 213-of-353). But Pietramala said the problem isn't limited to solely neutralizing Carraro. "They face off with their first midfield out there. So Carraro faces off, [sophomore Cameron] Flint plays on one wing and [freshman Jeremy] Noble plays on the other. So if they get it, they make it challenging for you. You can't sub off your faceoff guy. … So it's a really unique faceoff group that they have. There's a greater challenge than just winning the draw and winning the ball. If they win the ball, they can put a ton of pressure on you, and that's an area where we're really going to have to be good at."

3) Force Denver's defense out of its comfort zone. Despite graduating their entire starting close defense and starting goalkeeper, the Pioneers is giving up an average of 8.3 goals with freshman Jamie Faus in the net. The starting unit of seniors Jeff Brown and Steve Simonetti and redshirt junior Brendan DeBlois has played solidly, and Pietramala said the unit has evolved. "They've really grown as the year has gone on," Pietramala said. "In the beginning of the year, they were doing a lot of sliding and since the midpoint or three-quarters of the way through, they've dialed that back and done a lot less sliding, which – when you think of a Coach [Bill] Tierney defense – makes you think, 'Wow, they're not sliding.' So he's really played to their strengths."


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