This weekend’s Big Ten slate is loaded with games with significant post-season implications. Coming down the stretch, most teams know their route to the NCAA tournament, with potentially up to three teams making the NCAA tournament. Friday and Saturday contain multiple important games:
Ohio State (8-3) @ Michigan (3-9)
After starting the year 7-0 against non-conference opponents, the Buckeyes have struggled against Big Ten foes. After getting pumped by Rutgers, Ohio State lost to a strong Penn State squad, had a comeback victory of Hopkins, and then dropped an OT heartbreaker last weekend to Maryland. Ohio State is loaded with offensive studs like Tre Leclaire (34,3) and Jack Jasinski (21,11) but they have struggled playing an entire 60 minutes. Michigan has taken a step back this year in Kevin Conry’s second year, but they still have a couple of standouts. Alex Buckanavage always leaves it all on the field and has put up a respectable 43 points this year. Michigan however is amongst the worst in the NCAA at the Faceoff dot and will struggle with Ohio State’s Justin Inacio, the 2017 Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Michigan’s season is done regardless of the results of this game, and they are playing for pride in this rivalry game. The Buckeyes on the other hand must win this game to advance to the Big Ten Tournament, and they need Rutgers to beat Penn State and Maryland to beat Hopkins.
Rutgers (7-6) @ Penn State (11-1)
No team has impressed this much as Penn State this year, and the Nittany Lions have dominated teams. Their one stumble has been to Yale, and that was mostly because of a dominant performance at the X by the Bulldog’s TD Ierlan. Rutgers has struggled this season, but they have shown glimpses of excellence in losses to Syracuse and Maryland. Their best performance was a 14-6 victory at Ohio State, and they will need to channel all of their focus to beat this Penn State group. Jeff Tambroni has a lethal offense, led by Grant Ament (17,63) who has earned his spot in the conversation for the Tewaaraton, and he is flanked by weapons like Nick Spillane (22,14) and Mac O’keefe (46,12). The Rutgers defense will have to rely on a stellar performance from goalie Max Edelmann (58%) in order to keep this game within reach. Brian Brecht has his own group of offensive studs, and has two of the best attackmen in the country in Kieran Mullins (22,35) and Adam Charalambides (43,10). The key to this game will be the defensive game plan of the Scarlet Knights, and their ability to contain the potent Penn State offensive. An already weakened defensive midfield core led by Zack Franckowiack and Robert Marron will need to find a way to compete with the waves of talented Penn State midfielders. Interestingly, this game will most likely be played again next weekend, with Penn State likely claiming the top seed in the Big Ten tournament and Rutgers likely being the fourth seed, assuming Penn State wins this matchup.
Johns Hopkins (6-6) @ Maryland (11-2)
Maryland has proven to be the model of consistency in D1 lacrosse, and this year is no exception. They are led by Jared Bernhardt (40,24), and he is joined by Logan Wisnauskas (37,28) to form one of the most explosive offensive tandems in the country. Maryland maintains their strong defensive tradition with Curtis Corley and Brett Makar, and Danny Dolan (52%) has gotten the job done in cage for the Terps. Up in Baltimore, the Blue Jays are in the midst of their least successful season in decades, and Dave Pietramala has to be concerned about his job if Hopkins fails to make the NCAA tournament. A bright spot this season has been freshman Joey Epstein (31,16), but Kyle Marr (24,9) and Cole Williams (17,14) have struggled this season. Coming into the season, defense was believed to be a strength of Hopkins, with the entire starting defense and both LSMs returning, but the Jays have only been able to keep Mount St. Mary’s and Michigan below ten goals this season. Hopkins needs to rebound after a brutal 20-9 loss to Penn State last weekend, but they will be fighting an uphill battle Saturday against a seasoned Terrapin Squad that has shown few weaknesses this season. In order for Hopkins to win, they will need big days from faceoff man Kyle Prouty and goalie Ryan Darby (48%) and they cannot fall victim to the inconsistency that usually plagues them. Hopkins will still likely make the Big Ten tournament as either the second or the third seed, but the AQ will most likely be their only path to the NCAA tournament. Maryland will likely be the second seed, and once again this matchup will likely occur again next weekend in the Big Ten semis.