Denver vs. Maryland men’s lacrosse: Three things to watch

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Maryland owns a 4-1 record in this series, but Denver won the most recent meeting, 10-5, in the 2015 NCAA Division I tournament final for its first national championship. The Pioneers are appearing in the semifinals for the third time in four seasons. The Terps are making their fourth consecutive trip to championship weekend and sixth in seven years.

Denver (13-3) is attempting to become the first No. 5 seed to move onto the title game since Duke in 2010. The program had six players receive All-American honors from the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association on Wednesday. The group was led by junior faceoff specialist and Tewaaraton Award finalist Trevor Baptiste (75.7 faceoff percentage and 10.8 ground balls per game).

Maryland (14-3) is the first No. 1 seed to make back-to-back appearances in the final four since Virginia did so in 2009 and 2010. The school had nine players earn All-American accolades, the highest total since 1998. Four of them – senior attackman Matt Rambo (40 goals and 43 assists), junior midfielder Connor Kelly (42 G, 11 A), senior defenseman Tim Muller (31 ground balls, 16 caused turnovers, 4 G, 1 A), and senior short-stick defensive midfielder Isaiah Davis-Allen (37 GB, 2 CT, 1 G, 3 A) – were placed on the first team, which marked the third time in the NCAA era that the program had four first-team selections.

Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., on Saturday at 2:30 p.m.

1) Denver’s offense. The Pioneers enter the weekend with an offense that has scored an NCAA tournament-high 33 goals under the supervision of offensive coordinator Matt Brown. A good deal of that success stems from Baptiste’s 89.7 faceoff percentage (44-for-49) and 31 ground balls, but it is also a testament to the unit’s firepower in its starting attack of freshman Ethan Walker (38 G, 32 A), senior Connor Cannizzaro (41 G, 24 A), and sophomore Austin French (28 G, 18 A). Maryland has surrendered 9.0 goals per game this spring, which is strong but still the worst average among the semifinalists. As explosive as Denver can be, Terps coach John Tillman said the Pioneers will not rush things.

“They are very skilled,” he said. “They don’t drop passes. They are very organized, and they are very methodical. They will work and work and possess and possess and grind your defense into the ground. So we’ve got to be on our toes, we’ve got to be focused. We can’t have breakdowns or they’re going to make you pay. We have to stay focused for maybe two, three minutes at a time because they will possess and possess and wait for the perfect shot.”

2) Maryland’s Rambo. Junior midfielders Tim Rotanz and Kelly scored five goals each in postseason wins against Bryant and No. 8 seed Albany, respectively. But the catalyst of the Terps offense is Rambo, a Tewaaraton Award finalist. With two goals and six assists against the Bulldogs and four goals and four assists against the Great Danes, Rambo became the first player in program history to post eight points in back-to-back games. Already the first player in school history with 40 goals and 40 assists in the same season, Rambo needs just one more goal to total 154 in his career and break a tie with former attackman Joe Walters for the all-time lead in goals. Denver has allowed an average of 8.8 goals, and coach Bill Tierney knows the defense must pay a lot of attention to Rambo.

“The guy can dodge, he can shoot, he can feed, he can ride, he’s a great kid,” Tierney said. “He’s just a special player that has done a great thing with a special group of teammates. There’s nothing this guy can’t do, and you’ve got to try to stop him and keep his numbers at a minimum.”

3) Matt Ward’s perspective. The former Virginia attackman and 2006 Tewaaraton Award winner will join former Princeton attackman and four-time All-American Ryan Boyle and host Chris Cotter in the ESPN studio to analyze Saturday’s semifinals and Monday’s final. He offered his thoughts on keys for both teams.

“For Maryland, can they neutralize the faceoffs to some degree?” Ward said. “They have to get 40 percent of the faceoffs. For Denver, can they get production out of their midfield? We know that their attack is solid and we know that Maryland’s defense is solid. So when you get guys like [sophomore midfielder] Colton Jackson getting goals early on, it makes life easier for your attackmen because now the defensive players can’t focus on taking Connor Cannizzaro out of the game, on taking French out of the game, on taking Ethan Walker out of the game. They now have to start thinking about getting pressure from up top, and that should open up the windows for Denver.”

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