The 2014 season is months away. Let's punch fate in the face and make wild assumptions about what could be the best 20 teams in the country next year.
Important People: Niko Amato (G); Goran Murray (D); Casey Ikeda (D); Michael Ehrhardt (D); Mike Chanenchuk (M); Matt Rambo (A); Jay Carlson (A)
Formerly Important People: Kevin Cooper (M); Owen Blye (A); John Haus (M); Jesse Bernhardt (LSM); Jake Bernhardt (M); Billy Gribbin (M); Landon Carr (SSDM)
Final 2013 Poll Positions: Media: 10; Coaches: 5
2013 Record: 10-4 (2-1, ACC)
2013 Snapshot: Kaboom!
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It's not just that Maryland is going to rely on a bunch of freshman -- admittedly highly regarded freshman -- to drive its offense in 2014 that raises concerns about the Terps' ceiling next spring; it's that these freshman are going to be counted on to carry a high production load while: (1) playing in the toughest conference in the nation, featuring a handful of teams -- notably Notre Dame and Syracuse -- that are defensive monsters with some of the best defensive coaching in the nation; (2) working within an offense that returns two -- Carlson and Chanenchuk -- conspicuous contributors from 2013, attempting to fill the vacuum left in the wake of the departures of tent pole producers; and (3) attempting to erase the memories of an offensive performance last spring that looked like a tactical nuclear weapon in the first half of the season but morphed into an abstract rendition of its potential at the most pressing point of the year. The combination of attempting to find reliance while also attempting to define roles with young players is a difficult situation to address, even if Rambo, Colin Heacock, Connor Connizzaro, and Tim Rotanz look like the core to which could -- down the line -- lead Maryland to its first national title since 1975. It's a unit that is likely going to look and perform a lot different in April than it will in February, and that growth pattern and learning curve is an area of concern until it starts to take shape. The difference between "Everything will be fine if everything comes together" and "Everything may be fine should everything come together" is an important one, and it’s the biggest difference between Maryland being a top 10 team and one lurking somewhere behind that sect.
A Thousand White Doves
There aren't going to be 10 teams that are better defensively than Maryland. Given the fact that the Terrapins lose two stalwart defensive hammers in Bernhardt and Carr, that says a lot about what Maryland is returning to Byrd Stadium and the structure in which these players perform. There were questions in 2013 as to whether the Terps would take a step back after the departure of former defensive coordinator Kevin Warne to Georgetown, but Maryland remained a defensive machine under Kevin Conry, holding the line as one of the most productive defenses in the nation (the team ranked 12th in adjusted defensive efficiency) while dragging the Terps' struggling offense into the NCAA Tournament. The core that will headline Maryland's defensive effort in 2014 is ripe with cats with experience and high-level ability: Murray is a horse, Ehrhardt is going to find first team All-America honors in 2014, most teams would kill for Ikeda to be their "third defensemen" and may find time at long-stick midfield next spring (an option that speaks to where the Terrapins are defensively), Brian Cooper has experience and should take on increased visibility in the spring, and Niko Amato has steadied his play over his tenure in College Park and is one of the better keepers in the nation. Building from the defensive end is Maryland's key to success in 2014, suffocating the opposition and letting its offense find its groove; this isn't an exciting brand of lacrosse, but it is one in which John Tillman can create circumstances conducive to success as the team's defense has assets that will yield strong value.
The Stars, The Moon, Six Feet Under
The Stars: Tillman does what he does -- figures things out through the regular season and Maryland turns it on in the NCAA Tournament, relying on a curbstomping defense to make a deep run through The Big Barbecue; Rambo is every part the savant he is characterized to be, becoming a high-level producer that exceeds his experience at the college level; and the Terps play for the ACC Tournament title on its way out the door to the Big Ten.
The Moon: The team struggles on the offensive end early in the season, but manage to find their purpose later in the season, integrating all of the freshman that are getting comfortable with the speed and ability in Division I lacrosse; the Terrapins stick around the NCAA Tournament conversation all season, avoiding tragic defeats and winning at least a game against an elite opponent; NCAA Tournament fate is determined by matchups; and the defense is top five unit.
Six Feet Under: The offense has parts that excel but the totality of the offense is inconsistent; the defense can't overcome the offense's woes; the Terrapins are murdered in their final run through the ACC; Maryland sits as a bubble-out NCAA Tournament team; and the Terrapins suffer a dreaded mid-week brain fart and lose to an inferior team.