NCAA Tournament first-round preview: No. 1-seed Maryland men’s lacrosse vs. Vermont
For the second consecutive season, Maryland men’s lacrosse enters the NCAA tournament with an unblemished record and massive expectations.
The Terps are the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed and are in the field for the 19th consecutive time.
Maryland sits at 14-0 with both the Big Ten regular season and tournament championships under its belt. Throughout the regular season, the Terps defeated four NCAA tournament invitees by a combined 31 goals. They met Rutgers for a second time in the Big Ten tournament championship game on May 7, coming away with a 10-goal win and some hardware.
“It wasn’t a perfect game for us, but I think it’s important to kind of get caught up in that stuff and realize that we won a Big Ten championship and that’s a pretty cool experience,” graduate midfielder Jonathan Donville said.
Now, Maryland will play one last time at Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium against the Vermont Catamounts with a trip to the quarterfinals on the line.
“We’ve just got to play our game and keep working,” Maryland head coach John Tillman said. “[We can’t] let anything take away from the whole goal which is winning on Sunday to have another week together. “
Sunday’s game is set to start at noon and will be broadcast live on ESPNU.
Vermont Catamounts (12-6, 8-0 America East)
2021 records: 9-5, 7-2 America East
Chris Feifs is in his sixth season as head coach at Vermont and led his 2022 squad to the NCAA tournament for the second time in program history, the first being last season. Feifs played college lacrosse at Maryland from 2004-07 and was the first scholarship athlete from North Carolina ever to suit up for Maryland men’s lacrosse. He has coached the only teams with at least 10 wins in a single season in Vermont men’s lacrosse history – one this season and the other in 2018.
Vermont started the 2022 season with a 2-6 record, but five of those losses came by two or fewer goals. After turning their luck around, the Catamounts have been scorching hot. They’ve won their last 10 games, including a 13-11 win over UMBC in the America East title game and the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament victory, blowing Manhattan out, 15-3. Vermont led 9-2 at halftime over the MAAC champions and kept its foot on the gas, outscoring the Jaspers by five goals in the second half. The Catamounts will now try and keep their season alive with a win at top-seeded Maryland on Sunday.
Players to watch
Thomas McConvey, senior midfielder, No. 44 – The 2022 America East Offensive Player of the Year and a USA Lacrosse Magazine All-American Honorable Mention, McConvey is Vermont’s most dangerous offensive weapon. He has netted a whopping 60 goals this season, the most of any player in the country entering the first round of the NCAA Tournament. He has scored 24 goals in the team’s last four games, including five against Manhattan. If he gets going on Sunday, he could cause Maryland some major issues on the defensive end of the field.
“Thomas McConvey was the MVP of the America East,” Tillman said. “He’s a great player. Really, really good. He’s going to be a guy that you’ll see on the professional level. ”
Tommy Burke, junior faceoff specialist, No. 3 – Tommy Burke ranks fourth nationally in faceoff winning percentage, and he put his skills on display in the team’s NCAA Tournament play-in game against Manhattan. Burke won 19-of-21 faceoff opportunities against the Jaspers for a winning percentage over 90%. He was also a USA Lacrosse Magazine All-American Honorable Mention and should be a tough test for Maryland junior faceoff specialist Luke Wierman, who has established himself as arguably the nation’s top option at the faceoff “X.”
Ryan Cornell, graduate goalie, No. 14 – Cornell became the first Vermont player ever to be named America East Defensive Player of the Year after leading the conference in both goals-against average and save percentage. He trails only Georgetown’s Owen McElroy for the national lead with just 8.24 goals allowed per game and had a monster game against Manhattan, making 13 saves and only allowing three goals. If the Catamounts want to have a chance to beat the Terps, they’re going to need to slow down the highest-scoring offense in the country, and that starts with a big performance from Cornell in goal.
Defensive efficiency. Vermont is one of the nation’s best defensive teams, ranking fifth in Lacrosse Reference‘s measurement of defensive efficiency. The Catamounts held nine opponents under 10 goals this season, including three occasions where their opponent scored just three goals. They proved they could perform on the biggest stage with one of their best performances against Manhattan, but the Terps are a different beast. Vermont’s defense will no doubt be put to the test on Sunday.
Depth. A remarkable 75% of Vermont’s production comes from its top 10 most active players, according to Lacrosse Reference. That number ranks among the highest of any team in the tournament field and could pose a problem when the Catamounts face off against the Terps. Maryland’s players have little to no issue with matching up against any of their opponents, and lacking depth players that can provide energy could be costly if Vermont’s stars are unable to make a major impact.
Three things to watch
1. A family affair. Maryland and Vermont’s coaching staffs are well-acquainted with each other, to say the least. Feifs, who played at Maryland, is assisted by offensive coordinator Jake Bernhardt, whose brother and former Terp teammate Jesse is currently Maryland’s defensive coordinator.
“[It’s] brother vs. brother again, ”Tillman said. “Jake works with the offense there and he’s done a tremendous job.”
Also, the two teams met last year in virtually the same spot. Vermont traveled to Maryland for the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament, and the Terps advanced after defeating the Catamounts, 17-11. That experience and familiarity should show itself on Sunday.
2. Time of possession. Vermont averages nearly 33 minutes of possession per game, the third-best mark in the country, according to Lacrosse Reference. On the other hand, Maryland has the seventh-best average time of possession per game. The Catamounts also have the second-most possessions that have lasted 60 seconds or more this season. The Terps rank first in that category. Whoever wins the possession battle will have a good chance of coming out on top on Sunday. If the Catamounts are able to slow down the game and take time off the clock, that could be an equalizer that keeps them within striking distance for longer.
3. Postseason experience. With both teams having made the NCAA tournament a season ago, nearly everyone that plays on Sunday will have an NCAA tournament appearance to their name. Some transfers, however, haven’t played on the sport’s biggest stage in years.
“Ironically, the last game I played in [an NCAA] tournament was against Maryland in 2018. So that’s kind of a funny full circle moment, ”Donville, who transferred after four years at Cornell, said. “This is what it’s all about… I just think it’s one of the coolest parts about college sports when teams are playing for the opportunity to play another week together.”