Michigan has run up a nice early-season record on the back of what is, quite frankly, an easy slate of opponents. Will the best team they’ve faced since Notre Dame (who gave the Maize and Blue their lone loss) put them in their place, or are the Wolverines for real?
Maryland is one of the nation’s perennial powers, and this year’s results – one-goal losses to Notre Dame and Villanova with solid-to-very-good wins on the other side – don’t do anything to diminish that reputation. The Terps are strong offensively, strong defensively, and well-tested.
Heading on the road to play a team like that is… a tall task for an 8-1 squad that has only beaten two above-average teams (Penn and UMBC, which to be fair were the last two times out). However, UMd is not an unconquerable force – as we saw last year when a much worse Michigan team took a better Maryland team to the brink in the Big House.
The Terps’ offense is loaded with former top recruits, with none more important than Matt Rambo. The senior tank is balanced with 17 goals and 15 assists, and runs the offense from attack (or can invert out to midfield). He was the No. 1 recruit in the 2014 class, and despite hiccups here and there, has lived up to it.
There are five other double-digit scorers dotting the lineup, led by fellow attackmen Colin Heacock (another big boy at 6-3, 210 – though it makes more sense when you realize he’s been lining up in midfield) and Dylan Maltz (not so big – 5-8, 170) to make it a full round of seniors. This is an experienced, obviously talented, and productive attack. Both Heacock and Maltz are shoot-first 12/9 and 14/1, respectively – you’ll see more assists in the midfield – but are more than capable of filling the back of the net. Tim Rotanz with a mere 7/6 is the third starting attackman.
That midfield, with Heacock fitting into this trend more so than his fellow nominal attackmen, is balanced in shooting and feeding. Conor Kelly (12G, 7A) and Jared Bernhardt (10G, 5A) finish more than the feed, sure, but this is a group that can definitely do either.
The next-leading scorer is FOGO Austin Hennigsen, so the offense isn’t particularly deep beyond the starting lineup. To be fair, Hennigsen does have seven points on the year (Rotanz only has 13), but the drop from 29 shots to seven (LSM Matt Neufeldt has eight) indicates there aren’t backup dudes doing a whole lot on offense.
The defense has been outstanding, a second top-10 unit among those we’ve discussed so far. Neufeldt has been elite in collecting ground balls, and senior Isaiah Davis-Allen is the only non-faceoff specialist to outstrip him in ground balls. That LSM/SSDM combo is an intimidating one.
Senior Tim Muller, junior Bryce Young, and sophomore Curtis Corley have started all seven games on close defense. Corley is the dangerman with 13 takeaways – the other two have seven each – but all three are quite good. That opponents have assists on nearly half their goals could be considered troublesome… if the Terps were doing worse than giving up 8.7 goals per game despite playing at a faster pace than they have in years.
Backup up that whole effort is junior keeper Dan Morris, who is saving .559 despite the fact that opponents are assisting (or having to rely on assisting, if you want to frame it that way) as many of their goals and shots as they are. He’s not one of the country’s best goalies, but behind an impeccable defense, he’s more than adequate.
Hennigsen has taken the vast majority of Maryland’s faceoffs, though with just a .519 win percentage, he’s been nothing to write home about thus far in 2017 (he also has ground balls on about 40% of his wins, a good-not-great indicator of winning himself, rather than just relying on wing play). Against Michigan’s good-not-great options… this could be an interesting battle, and the avenue through which Michigan keeps it close enough to spring an upset attempt.
The Terps are absolutely elite (over .900) clearing the ball and don’t put much effort into the ride. Expect U-M to go with the occasional 10-man ride only in the instance of faceoff wins backwards, and otherwise slow down – but not attempt to force turnovers – UMd clears. The Maize and Blue should clear just fine themselves, as well.
The Maryland man-up is pretty good, nearly .700, while their man-down defense is insane, allowing less than .250 to opponents. Fortunately, they’ve played relatively clean games both ways, so the penalty game may not be too huge a factor.
Win this one, and the Wolverines go from “decent record, but untested” to one of the country’s top teams. U-M would also place itself firmly into the Big Ten race by knocking off one of the top contenders – even though as the clear No. 6 team entering conference play, they’d still have four games worth of work cut out for them.
Lose, and it’s not a huge deal. Win, and Michigan becomes a lacrosse contender seemingly overnight (thanks to two months of regular-season work already in the books in reality, of course).
Despite what’s’ at stake… there’s a reason to expect this to not go Michigan’s way: Maryland has similar (or greater) stakes with a much better team to defend them. I do think Michigan will be more competitive than against Notre Dame, but not enough to seriously challenge for a victory. 13-8 Terrapins.