Towson is enjoying a six-game winning streak that has contributed to an 8-4 record against Massachusetts. The Minutemen are making their fourth overall appearance in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament final, beating Drexel in 2012 and losing to Delaware in 2011 and the Tigers in 2015. Towson advanced to its third consecutive title game and 10th overall with a 6-3 record that includes victories in 2013, 2015 and 2016.
Massachusetts (7-7), the No. 3 seed in the league tournament, upended No. 2 seed Hofstra, 13-12, on Thursday night thanks to a last-second, buzzer-beating 35-yard goal from redshirt senior midfielder Dan Muller.
Although the defense ranks 29th in Division I after giving up 10.1 goals per game, Isaac Paparo ranks sixth in the nation in average caused turnovers at 2.2. The sophomore defenseman's 31 takeaways are a school high since it became a recognized statistic by the NCAA in 2010.
Towson (9-4), the top seed in the conference tournament for the second year in a row, bounced No. 4 seed Drexel with an 8-4 victory on Thursday. Although the offense ranks 48th in the country in scoring at 9.3 goals per game, senior midfielder Mike Lynch has been a consistent presence recently. The Forest Hill resident and Boys' Latin graduate has two or more points in five of his last six starts, including a two-goal, one-assist effort against the Dragons.
Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson on Saturday at 1 p.m.
1) Faceoffs. Towson sophomore Alex Woodall ranks seventh in Division I in faceoff percentage at .620 (155-for-250) and is tied for 17th in ground balls per game at 6.0. Massachusetts junior Noah Rak ranks eighth in faceoff percentage at .614 (140-for-228) and 20th in ground balls at 5.8. In the Tigers' 11-8 win on April 8, Woodall won 12 of 22 draws (54.5 percent) and picked up six loose balls, but Rak won 10 of 19 (52.6 percent) and matched Woodall with six ground balls. With both players enjoying strong performances on Thursday (Woodall was 12 of 14 with nine loose balls and Rak was 17 of 26 with five ground balls), Minutemen coach Greg Cannella predicted that Saturday's tilt would be a battle.
"Alex has had a great year," he said. "I think he's sort of been the MVP of their team because that was something that they didn't have and they really needed that this year. He's done a good job, and Noah's done a good job for us. So we'll see. Something's probably going to give, but if it goes 50-50, I wouldn't be surprised either."
2) Offense. Towson defeated Drexel despite receiving only one assist from senior attackman Ryan Drenner (Westminster) and one goal from senior attackman Joe Seider (Hereford). As the Tigers' top two offensive threats, Drenner (23 goals and 21 assists) and Seider (23 goals and eight assists) are expected to spark the unit. But the team did get two goals and one assist from Lynch and two goals each from senior attackman Tyler Konen and senior midfielder Tyler Young (Arundel), and coach Shawn Nadelen said the offense has enough depth not to depend solely on Drenner and Seider.
"The nice thing is that we've got some balance," Nadelen said. "So we've been able to win games without those guys lighting up the scoreboard in either goals or assists. We have Michael and T-Young and Konen getting a couple. … We've been able to spread the wealth a little bit and not have to rely heavily on Ryan or Joe. Luckily, other guys have stepped up and done a good job, and that's a credit to our offense and those guys capitalizing on opportunities."
3) Penalties. Massachusetts has had to attempt to kill off 53 man-down situations, which ranks as the 11th-highest total in Division I. The man-down defense took the field 11 times against Hofstra, which could only score twice. Towson has converted only 29 percent of its extra-man opportunities (nine of 31), but Cannella said he would prefer if the Minutemen did not give the Tigers high-percentage chances to fuel their offense.
"Our guys played aggressive in the first half, and that's what we wanted out of them and that's what we've wanted out of them all year," he said. "So you can't fault them when somebody hits them in the shoulder or the head. It's all about effort for us at this point and attitude. But if you do that against Towson, they'll bury you."