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Princeton at Johns Hopkins: Three things to watch

These teams rank second and third in Division I in national championships with Johns Hopkins winning nine and Princeton six. The Blue Jays have dominated this series, winning 55 of 82 contests. Prior to Johns Hopkins' 10-8 win last year, however, the Tigers had won three consecutive games. No. 14 Princeton opened the season last Saturday with a 10-7 victory over Hofstra that featured the debut of four freshmen in the starting lineup. The offense is headlined by junior midfielder Tom Schreiber and senior attackman Jeff Froccaro. The No. 5 Blue Jays improved to 3-0 on the strength of a 17-8 walloping of Michigan last Saturday. Senior attackman Zach Palmer and junior attackman Brandon Benn are tied for the team lead in points with 11 each, but the offense may be forced to play without junior midfielder Rob Guida (undisclosed injury) for the second straight contest. Here are a few factors that could influence the outcome at Homewood Field in Baltimore Friday evening.

1) Score in various ways. Johns Hopkins is averaging 14.7 goals per game this season, and the new rules designed to help accelerate the pace of play have been very accommodating to the stable of athletic midfielders that includes seniors John Ranagan, John Greeley and Lee Coppersmith. The graduation of four starters and the season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered by junior defenseman Rob Castelo has forced Princeton to start a freshman goalkeeper and a close defense that includes a freshman, a converted long-stick midfielder and a converted short-stick midfielder. But Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala would like to see the offense take advantage of opportunities in transition, in extra-man opportunities and off faceoffs and unsettled situations. “I think we have to find ways to generate easier opportunities,” he said. “Princeton, when they can settle into their half-field defense, they’re very well-coached. [Tigers defensive coordinator] Greg Raymond was one of ours. He does a very good job. So they do a really good job there. So we need to find other ways other than just six-on-six to score because they’re so well-schooled in their slides and their support system.”

2) Contain Princeton’s offense. The Tigers are one of the best in the nation at using picks and off-ball movement to create scoring chances against opponents. Since Chris Bates succeeded Bill Tierney as head coach prior to the 2010 season, Princeton has won two of the last three meetings, and the team’s box lacrosse-style offense has been a significant factor in those victories. Pietramala is fully aware of the defensive task his players will undertake against the Tigers. “[W]e’ve got to do a good job of playing their picking game,” he said. “They – at moments – play an offense where there are a lot of picks. So I think we not only have to be very communicative in our efforts against their picking game, but we also have to be very good in our technique.”

3) Control time of possession via faceoffs. One way to keep Princeton’s offense under wraps is to take control of time of possession, and the battle at faceoffs could play a role in that. Senior Mike Poppleton has won 80 percent (40-of-50) of his draws, and Johns Hopkins as a team has succeeded at a 75 percent clip (54-of-72). The Tigers won 55.6 percent in the win against Hofstra and can throw senior Bobby Lucas, sophomore Justin Murphy and freshman Jake Froccaro at Poppleton and sophomore Drew Kennedy (10-of-16 for 62.5 percent). “Quite honestly, I’m not sure we’ve been tested like we will be tested this week and in weeks to come,” Pietramala said. “As you play teams that are higher ranked, you’re also going to see different players and players that are better at their specific positions. Princeton can throw a few guys at you. … So we’ve got to be very willing to adjust. We’ve got to be prepared to see some different faces and we’re going to have to be prepared for hopefully not only Mike to do a good job, but for our other personnel to step in.”

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