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The Big Ten Boys: Week 2 Conference Primer

A look at some of this weekend’s juicy Big Ten matchups.

NCAA Lacrosse: Semifinals - Johns Hopkins Blue Jays vs. Maryland Terrapins Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Week 1 of B1G lacrosse play didn’t exactly live up to the hype of my previous conference primer. I expected three close, hard-fought contests between evenly-matched teams and what we got were essentially three blowouts.

First, on Friday night, Johns Hopkins handled those scrappy Jersey boys from Rutgers 12-6. “Handled” might be putting it lightly—the Jays controlled the game from the opening whistle and never looked back. Kyle Marr had another studly game with 5 goals and an assist, Shack Stanwick orchestrated the offense with Mozart-like splendor to the tune of 4 goals and 2 assists, and goalie Brock Turnbaugh—getting the start over graduate transfer Gerald Logan—was a brick wall in net, saving 12. For the first time since the demolishing North Carolina in February, Hopkins simply won all their matchups. Nick Fields put in another All-American performance, rendering Rutgers leading man Jules Heningburg irrelevant. Rutgers is certainly capable of better play, but they looked out of it on Friday night, and will need to turn things around fast. The Jays laugh at your silly “RTempo” hashtags.

Then, on Saturday, Maryland waltzed into Byrd Stadium and beat the visiting Michigan Wolverines 15-8 in what was perhaps the worst broadcast angle in the history of lacrosse. Not a whole lot about this game for ants to report—Michigan played better than the score indicates but the result was never really in doubt. Maryland’s Kelly, Rambo, Maltz, and Bernhardt chipped in 4 points apiece while goalie Dan Morris has a nice showing saving 60%. After dropping two one-goal games in a row to Notre Dame and Villanova, Maryland has won its last two games by a combined score of 30-15 and are starting to look more like the team that nearly won the national championship last year.

And finally, on the first edition of BIG TEN SUNDAYS, Penn State and Ohio State played an excellent, hard-nosed half of lacrosse before the Nittany Lions completely dominated play after the break. Despite an excellent showing from OSU’s Jake Withers at the faceoff dot, the Buckeyes were not able to capitalize on their offensive possessions against a suddenly in-sync and aggressive Penn State defensive unit. The PSU D collectively got on the hands of every OSU shooter, forcing them to take pretty weak shots that goalie Colby Kneese was able to mop up. If Penn State’s defense can continue playing anything like that, they’ll be a bona fide title contender. But let’s see them string two good defensive performances in a row against top competition first. For OSU, the defense still played well against Penn State’s treacherous attack, but they’ll need more energy on offense this week if they want to net their first conference win.

All in all, a pedestrian weekend by B1G standards. Let’s hope things get a little more wacky in week 2. Here are how things stand now:

Penn State (10-0, 1-0 B1G)

Media poll ranking: 1

RPI: 3

Strength of schedule: 45

Notable wins: Villanova, Ohio State

Maryland (6-2, 1-0 B1G)

Media poll ranking: 8

RPI: 7

Strength of schedule: 9

Notable wins: Yale, North Carolina

Johns Hopkins (6-3, 1-0 B1G)

Media poll ranking: 11

RPI: 4

Strength of schedule: 2

Notable wins: North Carolina, Virginia, Rutgers

Ohio State (9-2, 0-1 B1G)

Media poll ranking: 9

RPI: 9

Strength of schedule: 37

Notable wins: Denver, Towson, Marquette

Rutgers (8-2, 0-1 B1G)

Media poll ranking: 13

RPI: 11

Strength of schedule: 49

Notable wins: Army, Princeton

Michigan (8-2, 0-1 B1G)

Media poll ranking: Unranked

RPI: 15

Strength of schedule: 57

Notable wins: Zzz

Based on Inside Lacrosse’s first attempt at sorting out the NCAA tournament field, five B1G teams will ultimately get in (all except poor Michigan). I think when all is said and done, the conference will get four teams in (1 AQ and 3 AL), but certainly there are at least five teams with convincing at-large resumes and even Michigan can put themselves in the conversation with a few wins in conference play. The four teams that make the conference tourney will be in rock solid shape while the fifth team that just misses out could be on the NCAA tournament bubble. I think the dream of getting all six teams into the playoffs is dead for now, unless Michigan does something extremely unexpected.

Without further adieu, this week’s yummy matchups:

The Hangover Game

Rutgers @ Michigan

Saturday, April 8, 11am (Big Ten Network)

Wake up bright and early Saturday morning for what’s sneaky one of the best D1 games of the weekend. Both teams are desperate coming off losses. The loser of this game, at 0-2, is likely to miss out on the conference tournament in Columbus. That gives this one arguably higher stakes than any other B1G matchup this week. And for that reason, I expect both squads to be playing with energy and emotion with their seasons potentially already on the line.

Both offenses have nearly identical analytics numbers, separated by just two-tenths of a point on Lax Film Room’s adjusted offense scale. The difference is defense, where Rutgers comes in at 4th and Michigan’s at 31st. Rutgers plays fast, while Michigan plays at about an average pace—maybe a bit slower than average. Perhaps Rutgers will be able to exert its “RTempo” on the Wolverines. But don’t expect the Maize and Blue to roll over in what is unquestionably its biggest game of the season, and possibly its biggest game in program history. They’ll need goalie Tommy Heidt to have a big game if they want to keep dimming hopes of the postseason alive.

The “How is Grant Ament not on the Tewaaraton Watch List yet?” Game

Penn State @ Maryland

Saturday, April 8, 1pm

In what may be the best matchup of the week, the surging Maryland Terrapins play host to the 10-0 Penn State Nittany Lions, now ranked #1 in the country. The #1 ranking has not been kind to most teams who’ve held it, so it should be interesting to see how PSU deals psychologically with being on top of the lacrosse world. They’d be wise not to let the ranking go to their heads as Tillman and the Gang will make quick work of them if they’re not well prepared for this one.

Coming off perhaps his best game ever, PSU defensemen Chris Sabia will have his hands full with the “Run DMC” attack unit of the Terps (I can’t tell you how much I hate that nickname). I assume Sabia will shadow “M”att Rambo, but he could float around and cover multiple guys as he did against OSU, which worked out pretty well.

PSU freshman fogo Gerard Arceri got brought back down to Earth by crafty OSU draw-man Jake Withers. The Buckeyes weren’t able to cash in on their possession advantage, but Maryland likely will with a similar margin.

Big Ten Sundays: BLACK JAYS EDITION?!

Johns Hopkins @ Ohio State

Sunday, April 9, 7pm (Big Ten Network)

The question on everyone’s minds is: Will the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays wear their black uniforms for this game? The Jays typically bring out the black unis once or twice per year for late-season road games. This one would definitely fit the bill, as their only remaining road game after this one is at Maryland to wrap up conference play April 29.

(Ed. Note: LET'S GOOOO!)

Now back to lacrosse. The Jays once again looked like that championship contender we all saw in February, by exacting revenge on Rutgers. Both sides of the ball appear to be coming together, but going into the Horseshoe against a hungry, well-coached Nick Myers squad is a tall task. The faceoff X in this one will be critical. If Hunter Moreland can keep things even with Withers, the Jays will have a great shot to wear down OSU’s stalwart defense, and prevent their own D from wearing down. But should Withers dominate at X (as he did in last year’s matchup, winning 18 of 28), then the Buckeyes have the slow-paced style to suck the life out of this game and keep Hopkins from mounting a comeback attempt. Virginia’s run-n-gun style allowed the Jays to creep back into their game with the Hoos, but the Buckeyes would surely do things differently should they find themselves up on Hopkins.

OSU security blanket Ben Randall should be matched up on Jays QB Shack Stanwick, and I expect Nick Fields to cover Eric Fannell, as he’s the Buckeyes closest thing to an initiator. But don’t be surprised if Fields migrates over to freshman phenom Tre LeClaire if it appears he’s winning his matchup on one of Hop’s other defenders.