The Maryland Terrapins have been the personification of May excellence in the John Tillman era. In Tillman’s seven seasons at the helm, Maryland has won 18 games in the NCAA Tournament, five more than the second most wins by any team in that time span; they’ve been to the Final Four six times, one more than Denver who has the second most in that span; and have appeared in the championship game five times, three more than Duke and Notre Dame who have the second most with two. They’re the #1 seed again this year, for the third year in a row, the first time anyone has done that since the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays from 2002-05.
This year though, the Terps occupy a different space as they enter the tournament: That of the defending champion. After so many years of nearly breaking through and reaching the mountaintop, they now sit on the throne and have to defend the crown. So with that in mind, it’s time to take a look at why the Terps will and why they won’t be able to repeat and make it back to back championships this May.
Why Maryland Will Repeat as Champion
- They know how to get it done in May - Seems simple, but it’s true. No one knows how to win big games and win games in the NCAA Tournament like Maryland. The current crop of Maryland seniors has been to the championship game every year of their college careers. They have a record of 12-2 in conference and NCAA Tournament play. In a year where everything feels so wide open and it’s hard to feel confident in any team, it’s hard to bet against the team that’s been there and done that
- Elite talent at the key positions - If you look throughout the recent history of the NCAA Tournament, the teams that win the title have elite players at at least two of the three key spots on the field - Attack, Close Defense, and Goalie. The best teams have had great ones at all three - Maryland last year as the best example - but most have at least two. This year, Maryland does have three. Connor Kelly was a Tewaaraton Finalist and is one of the best offensive players the country, whether you think he plays attack or midfield. Bryce Young is one of the best Close D in the country, was a Preseason and Midseason First Team All-American and will likely be First or Second Team this year, and Dan Morris is rock solid in goal. When you have elite players at those spots, there’s a good chance you’ll get the job done.
- Elite Offense - Per Analytics Lacrosse, Maryland ranks 2nd in the country in Offensive Efficiency. Dating back to 2014 - as long as that site has been running these stats - the national champion ranked in the Top 3 in Offensive Efficiency every year. You need to be elite on offense to win the title, and Maryland has as good an offense as anyone in the country.
Why Maryland Won’t Repeat as Champion
- Inconsistent Recent Play - In last year’s run to the National Championship, the Terps were coming off a three game win streak over three teams that would get home games in the NCAA Tournament - Hopkins, Penn State, and Ohio State - and had won eight of their last nine. The year before that, in 2016, they were on an incredible 13 game win streak heading into the tournament. This year, it’s a little different. They lost the Big Ten Championship Game to Hopkins after a rough second half, and they also lost less than a month ago at home to Ohio State. They’re 2-2 in their last four. While not everyone who wins the title is hot coming into the tournament - many simply get hot during and ride that wave - it is a potential concern for the Terps.
- Face-Off Play - From Big Ten play onwards, Maryland was face-offing at a meager 43%. Justin Shockey’s hot start as a freshman tailed off and they’ve been using both Austin Henningsen and Will Bonaparte since. While face-offs impact are generally overrated - you don’t have to be an elite face-off team to win a title, and teams who are elite at face-offs aren’t inherently great because of it - this is a Maryland team that isn’t super deep and has been forced to use Tim Rotanz and Adam Dimillo, normally offensive midfielders, at Short Stick Defensive Midfield tis year. It also isn’t it’s usual tremendous self on defense - 18th in Defensive Efficiency. If they have to play a lot of defense because they’re not winning face-offs, it could pose a potential problem.
Maryland is the best bet out of this field. They have an elite offense, they have elite talent, and they’re the team who knows how to get it done most. However they do have more flaws than they’ve had in recent runs to the Final Four, and those could be what stops them from making it back to back National Championships.