Two games on tap for this afternoon at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium. Let’s take a look …
No. 6 Denver (15-2) vs. No. 7 Virginia (11-5), 4
Summed up simply, it’s the new guys against the ultimate wild card.
Don’t trust the reputations of the two coaches to dictate how this one will unfold. Denver, under Bill Tierney, is operating at a greater tempo (at least on perception) than all but his most elite Princeton teams. Virginia, long a reflection of mano-a-mano defensive principles thanks to its superb athleticism, is playing primarily zone under Dom Starsia.
The Pioneers possess an intriguing assortment of offensive pieces, doling out plenty of quickness (if not pure speed). Defensively, they’re decent if not overwhelming; in four games against tournament teams, Denver has yielded 42 goals. The Pioneers will be content to try to outscore the Cavaliers.
Virginia remains intriguing, even minus the banished Brothers Bratton. Even without three starters from early in the season, the Cavaliers deploy copious amounts of talent. Sure, the likes of Rob Emery and Harry Prevas were pushed into higher-profile roles earlier than expected. They’re all still plenty capable.
Denver, by virtue of its two-month-plus unbeaten streak and carving up of Hopkins, has consistency going for it. Virginia could come out and win by six or lose by eight. It’s easy to forget that before last week’s masterful rout of Cornell, the Cavaliers barely squeezed past an underrated Bucknell outfit at home.
And therein demonstrates Virginia might be the greater variable. Even after seeing a quarter of the Cavaliers’ games in person, they remain a tough puzzle to solve. Steele Stanwick will probably be the best player on the field. A lot, then, depends on how Denver attempts to neutralize him. Given Tierney’s history in the postseason – especially a 3-0 mark against Starsia – it’s awfully hard to bet against him.
Pick: Denver 12-10
No. 5 Duke (14-5) vs. Maryland (12-4), 6:30
There’s no secrets here, kids. Just two teams that have become quite familiar with each other over the years – and particularly this season.
Duke’s in-season renaissance effectively began with its overtime defeat of Maryland in early March. The teams played against type that afternoon in Durham. The inexperienced Blue Devils were fearless and committed, while the veteran Terrapins unnecessarily toyed around with a team with plenty of incentive, since Duke already had lost to Notre Dame and Penn.
So Maryland was sloppy and lost. It also led with five seconds left in regulation, so all was not entirely lost.
In round two, the Terps (behind faceoff man Curtis Holmes and wings Brian Farrell and Dan Burns) dominated the draws and thus possession. Both Grant Catalino and Joe Cummings were hurt, but the Terps still snagged a two-goal victory on Duke’s home field for an ACC title.
Maryland was especially emotional on that muggy afternoon, played a week to the day of the death of the mother of attackman Ryan Young. Coach John Tillman used only 22 guys, but the Terps still withstood the defensive pressure from the Blue Devils.
So now comes round three. The stakes are far too high for much of anything external to be a major factor. That includes championship weekend experience, something the Blue Devils own and Maryland’s roster knows virtually nothing about first hand.
Unlike Syracuse, Duke will probably permit the Terps to slip into transition a few times throughout the day. Two- and three-minute possessions will not abound. Maryland’s veteran defense should keep Duke’s capable attackmen in check, leaving it to Justin Turri and Robert Rotanz in particular to be crucial sources of offense for the Blue Devils.
What will be curious from Maryland’s perspective is whether it can generate scoring from the midfield. Cummings has only a goal in two games in the tournament, though he effectively lured Joel White away from the action much of last week, a ploy that carried great value. Drew Snider and Kevin Cooper had huge games in the opening round, and Scott LaRue scored twice last week. Perhaps today will provide a turn for Jake Bernhardt and John Haus?
The goalie variable will be crucial here. Dan Wigrizer is basically coming off the game of his life last week, a 14-save virtuoso performance against Notre Dame just days after being cleared from a concussion. Niko Amato is probably a steadier option, but is a bit less experienced than the guy in cage for Duke a year ago on Memorial Day weekend.
Ultimately, this is a coin flip. I’m not sure anyone should expect this to be more than a two-goal game in any direction. This is a case where the predicted score probably is a safer bet than the predicted winner. This has a chance to be a memorable semifinal.
Pick: Duke 10-9 (OT)
Last week: 1-3