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2019 Conference Tournament Primer: Big Ten

The GAWD Conference is coming to New Jersey

Penn State Athletics

It’s conference tournament time! A redemptive time of year when all of one’s flaws from the regular season and conference play can be washed away with a little two-game winning streak.

Chris started the ball rolling last week with the ACC Tournament preview. This week the nation’s attention turns from North Carolina to the Garden State as Penn State, Maryland, & Johns Hopkins travel to the great state of New Jersey to play in the 2019 Big Ten Tournament hosted by Rutgers. Directly below is the bracket for this week. The semifinal round is Thursday evening and the title game is on Saturday night.

No. 1: Penn State Nittany Lions

  • OFFENSIVE PLAYER TO WATCH: If it weren’t for the fact that Grant Ament existed in the same timline as Pat Spencer, Ament would probably be the undisputed best college lacrosse player in the country. Ament leads the nation in Points/Game, averaging 7.3 points a contest and has been playing some of his best lacrosse in conference play. While he only have two assists in Penn State’s win over Maryland in limited action, he was consistently excellent versus the rest of the Big Ten. Ament scored 8 points versus OSU (2Gs, 6As), another 8 versus Michigan (1G, 7As), 7 against Johns Hopkins (4Gs, 3As), and another 7 versus Rutgers on Sunday (0Gs, 7As). 30 points is a decent year for many players and Ament got that in four games against Big Ten defenses. It’s tough to find a college lacrosse player better than Pat Spencer in 2019. But if you had to pick one, Grant Ament might be the guy.

One quick note about the PSU offense in general, they don't need a ton of shots to be effective. During the Penn State vs. Rutgers game this weekend a stat showed that PSU was 44th in the country in shots with 490 but still first in the nation in goals with 210. Penn State’s shooting percentage this year (42%) is one of the things that separates this team from some of the other greats in years past. Penn State is deadly when they can fire away with impunity, but they can do plenty of damage with only 30-35 shots in a game as well, as they showed against Rutgers when they had 14 goals on 37 total shots (26 on goal).

  • DEFENSIVE PLAYER TO WATCH: Team captain Chris Sabia leads the Penn State defense. Sabia usually draws the opponent’s best offensive player, and is third on the team in GBs (27) & first in caused turnovers (16). Sabia has been a starter ever since he stepped on Penn State’s campus and if the Nittany Lions can keep playing the next four weeks like they have played the last three months, Sabia may finish his Penn State career in Philly for the Final Four.
  • PENN STATE WINS IF: Penn State wins if they can keep Rutgers under 12 goals. The Scarlet Knights were the only Big Ten team to have a good day offensively versus Penn State. Maryland got 10 goals when they played the Nittany Lions, but the Terps were down 8-0 after one quarter and Maryland didn’t really put up a fight until after Ament left the game in the second quarter due to an injury. Ament returned in the second half but he did not register a point the rest of the game. When Penn State plays defense like they did against Maryland, Michigan, Ohio State, or Hopkins, they look unstoppable. Nevertheless, things get trickier when the Nittany Lions get into a shootout.

Penn State is 3-1 when an opponent scores 13 or more goals. However, three of those games were decided by a single goal (Yale 14 vs. PSU 13, PSU 15 vs. Penn 14 and PSU 14 vs. Rutgers 13). Outside of beating Cornell 19 to 13 the Nittany Lions have had trouble with teams that can keep up with them offensively. I don’t know if Rutgers can have a repeat performance this Thursday like they did over the weekend, but if it becomes another shootout, Penn State could be in a precarious situation going into the fourth quarter.

No. 2: Johns Hopkins Blue Jays

  • OFFENSIVE PLAYER TO WATCH: The wunderkind Joey Epstein has been a blessing for Hopkins fans this season. I don’t know where the Jays would be this year were it not for Epstein’s 53 points (35Gs, 18As). Epstein is the only player with 30 or more goals on JHU and leads the team in assists. Epstein had a quiet game against Penn State last week, but he delivered on Saturday versus the Terps, as he finished with 6 points on the night (4Gs, 2As).
  • DEFENSIVE PLAYER TO WATCH: Patrick Foley is JHU’s best defenseman. Hopkins has struggled on defense this year, but the unit stitched together a 3-2 conference record and had the best defensive performance of the year when they needed it most versus Maryland. Foley leads the team in caused turnovers (12), always has to face the opponent’s best player, and still found the time to get four points on the season (1G, 3 As).
  • JOHNS HOPKINS WINS IF: JHU will win over Maryland if Cole Williams can get rolling. Teams have been putting their best defender on Joey Epstein the last several weeks as Epstein’s has become JHU’s most dangerous threat on offense. That means Cole Williams has to step up and be the goal scorer Hopkins needs right now.

Williams is a great player and one who I thought was going to do really well after his stellar sophomore year. However, he has had seven games with one (4) or zero goals (3) this season. Most of those were towards the start of the season when Epstein didn't draw as much attention as he does now. As teams have focused on Epstein more, Cole has had more time and space to play. When Cole Williams has time and space, very good things happen for Johns Hopkins.

in his last four games versus Rutgers, Ohio State, Penn State, & Maryland, Williams has had three hat-tricks and played with a lot more confidence. JHU went 2-2 in those games, but outside of the Penn State game and the second half of the Ohio State game, the Blue Jays offense looked much more formidable and efficient than they did earlier in the season. That has a lot to do with Cole Williams connecting more on his shots and being the offensive threat many expected him to be going into the 2019 season. If Hopkins is going to beat Maryland, they are going to need Cole Williams to step up.

No. 3: Maryland Terrapins

  • OFFENSIVE PLAYER TO WATCH: I was going to go with Jared Bernhardt here, but Logan Wisnauskas doesn’t get the credit he is due. Let's be clear here, Bernhardt is absolutely a great player and probably one of the top offensive players in the country. However, Wisnauskas has been having a wonderful year as well. Indeed, presently, Logan leads the team in points (69), is second to Bernhardt in goals with 38 to Bernhardt’s 42, & leads the team in assists with 31. Wisnauskas has really turned it on in the last third of the season, averaging 5.16 points/game in his last six games.
  • DEFENSIVE PLAYER TO WATCH: Curtis Corley has helped to lead a defensive unity that up until conference play had only given up more than nine goals twice in eight games. Corley is also second on the team in caused turnovers (8). The 2018 USILA Honorable Mention All-American has been one of the key parts of the Maryland defense this season.

Nick Brozowski is also someone to watch on the Maryland defense. Brozowski doesn’t start, but the LSM leads the team in caused turnovers (9) and is 5th on the team in GBs (28). His energy helps to make the most of his limited time.

MARYLAND WINS IF: Maryland should beat Hopkins if Danny Dolan has a good game. You hate to put it all on the goalie, but when Danny Dolan is on his game, Maryland is tough to beat. However, Maryland is vulnerable if Danny is having a below-average or bad day. Dolan has been solid in the net for the Terp this season, however there have been a couple major hiccups, namely versus Notre Dame earlier in the season and Penn State several weeks ago.

Moreover, Dolan hasn’t had the best stretch of play in conference, as Michigan found the back of the net a dozen times when they played Maryland. Rutgers went off for nine goals in the first half of their game versus Maryland, before the Terps turned it around for the 16-13 win. Dolan had 10 saves in the Terps 10-9 overtime win over Ohio State a couple of games ago, but then gave up 16 versus Hopkins on Sunday. Again, when Dolan is on, Maryland’s tough to beat. But Maryland is not the same team when opponents get to him early or if he is off his game.

No. 4: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

  • OFFENSIVE PLAYER TO WATCH: Kieran Mullins is the engine that motors this Rutgers offense. Adam Charalambides is a great player and extremely fun to watch, but Mullins is the key on the offensive side of the ball for Rutgers. Mullins is tied for the team lead in points (59), second in goals (23), & first in assists (36), despite having played in only 12 of RU’s 14 games, Mullins has been on a tear, averaging 4.875 points/game in his last 8 contests. If Mullins can play in the Big Ten Tournament like he has the last two months, RU might have a chance to take home the AQ.
  • DEFENSIVE PLAYER TO WATCH: Rutgers may be 7-7 on the season, but if it weren’t for Max Edelman, the Scarlet Knights would probably be 5-9 or worse. This is no exaggeration. Princeton scored 8 unanswered goals in the second half of their 9-8 loss to Rutgers. I was at that game, Rutgers would’ve given up the lead midway through the 4th were it not for Edelman’s 18 total saves and 8 saves in the 2nd half.

Additionally, Rutgers probably doesn’t beat Hofstra 10-7 were it not for another 18 saves performance by Edelman. Additionally, Rutgers probably doesn’t make the Big Ten Tournament without Edelman’s 17 saves versus Ohio State. Edelman leads the Big Ten in save percentage at 57.2%. If he can conjure up another big game versus Penn State on Thursday afternoon, Rutgers might be dancing for the Big Ten Tournament title on Saturday night.

  • RUTGERS WINS IF: Rutgers has to find a way to close if they want to beat Penn State this week. We know that when Rutgers plays to its potential the Scarlet Knights can play with the best teams in the country. Indeed, the game on Saturday was a great example. RU was with Penn State all game, had the lead at various points in the 4th quarter, & if Adam Charalambides’ shot in the final minute when the game was tied at 13 was an inch or two lower, Rutgers leaves Happy Valley with the victory.

The Penn State game is just one example from this year. RU looked like it was going to run Maryland off the field in the first half of their game two weeks ago, then Maryland started chipping away at the lead before finally pulling ahead for good late in the 4th quarter. Rutgers was good enough to compete and even had the lead in both games but just wasn't able to close it out.

Rutgers is going to have to find a way to go above and beyond their potential if they are going to go on a two-game winning streak and break down that NCAA Tournament door with the Big Ten AQ chain around their neck. Rutgers dismantled Ohio State a few weeks ago and that’s the level of play they need to bring on Thursday if they want to beat Penn State, because now is not the time to be pleased with almost winning the big game. Now is the time to go out there and actually do it. If RU loses to Penn State on Thursday, no one is going to remember that the Scarlet Knights were +1 in goal-differential versus Penn State, Ohio State, Johns Hopkins & Maryland in the regular season this year. To paraphrase one of our main slogans here at College Crosse, no one remembers moral victories in lacrosse. If you want to be remembered you gotta close out and win and that’s what Rutgers has to do on Thursday if they want to keep playing this year.

Offensive Player of the Year: Grant Ament, Penn State
Defensive Player of the Year: Chris Sabia, Penn State
Freshman of the Year: Joey Epstein, Johns Hopkins
Co-Specialists of the Year: Justin Inacio, Ohio State & Max Edelmann, Rutgers
Coach of the Year: Jeff Tambroni, Penn State

First Team All-Big Ten
Joey Epstein, Johns Hopkins
Jared Bernhardt, Maryland
Curtis Corley, Maryland
Ryan Terefenko, Ohio State
Grant Ament, Penn State
Mac O’Keefe, Penn State
Chris Sabia, Penn State
Adam Charalambides, Rutgers
Max Edelmann, Rutgers
Kieran Mullins, Rutgers

Second Team All-Big Ten
Pat Foley, Johns Hopkins
Cole Williams, Johns Hopkins
Logan Wisnauskas, Maryland
Alex Buckanavage, Michigan
Nick DeCaprio, Michigan
Justin Inacio, Ohio State
Tre LeClaire, Ohio State
Gerard Arceri, Penn State
Colby Kneese, Penn State
Kyle Pless, Rutgers