For the third consecutive season, the Maryland men’s lacrosse program has been selected as the top seed in the NCAA Tournament. With the Big Ten regular season title, the nation’s toughest schedule and having been to the last three national championships, the No. 1 seed wasn’t a lock.
“I know our numbers were pretty good, but also looking at a team like an Albany, Johns Hopkins and Yale, they had good seasons too so it was hard to tell,” head coach John Tillman said regarding the No. 1 seed. “I told our guys today we’re not sure where we are going to be, but we know we are going to play somebody good, and that’s all that matters that we have another week together and another week to practice to get better.”
Tillman and company are coming off a Big Ten Tournament championship loss at the hands of archrival Johns Hopkins, who they beat a week prior in thrilling fashion. Still, Maryland (12-3, 4-2) played the nation’s toughest schedule for the third straight year, losing to a then-No. 1 Albany and last season’s runner ups Ohio State, who missed out on an at-large bid in this season’s tournament.
“What we’re hoping is that through a really tough schedule, which I thought we had, the guys are ready,” said Tillman. “And that will be our message to them, ‘You’ve played in a lot of big games all year, don’t take your preparation and your mindset, you’re ready for this.’”
The Terps were drawn the play-in matchup of the nation’s two lowest-seeded automatic qualifiers, Canisius and Robert Morris. Tillman said seeing Robert Morris in the play-in game took him by surprise, noting their RPI was higher than that of the 15-seed Richmond.
“I was [surprised] only because, and not being critical, typically it usually works bottom up in terms of RPI,” Tillman said. Richmond had an RPI of 29 while Robert Morris was 19.
Maryland’s senior class knows nothing except making it all the way to that coveted Memorial Day title game, a level of experience that has proved valuable for the Terps in the past.
“There is value value to having that experience, the only thing I would say is that you have to utilize it,” said Tillman. “It’s one thing if you’ve been there, but if you don’t take those lessons and apply them then it really doesn’t come to fruition. I have a feeling our kids will do a good job of that.”
This senior class will need to provide the necessary leadership to make improvements as the team will have a potential dangerous quarterfinal matchup between the winner of Syracuse and Cornell.
In Maryland’s last two losses, the Terps have been outscored 16-8 in the first and third quarters, something Tillman wants to improve upon.
“In the first five minutes, we haven’t been great so that’s something we’ll take a look at how we come out of the locker room both before the game and at halftime,” he said.
Tillman also noted there’s room to improve in all three facets of the game, especially faceoffs. The Big Ten Tournament semifinal win against Rutgers marked the first time the Terps had won more than half the game’s faceoffs – 14-24 overall – since March 24 against North Carolina, a breakout game for freshman Justin Shockey.
“Obviously, faceoffs, you can look at the statistics, we’ve been very inconsistent there,” Tillman said. “I’d love to see Justin, Will Bonaparte and Austin [Henningsen] really play their best lacrosse here down the stretch to put it all together.”
While potential matchups with Johns Hopkins and Albany wouldn’t occur until Memorial Day weekend, the Terps are focused on taking it one game at a time.
“We have a couple days here to focus on what we can do better and things we’re trying to improve and once we find out the winner [of the play-in game],” Tillman said. “We’ll get a little more into a our game prep and strategy specific to that team.”
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