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NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Tournament National Championship Preview: (3) Maryland vs (4) Virginia

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It’s the final game of this most remarkable season. Who’s going to be celebrating at the end of the day? We preview the national championship

2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Lacrosse Championship Photo by Larry French/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

The 10,000 Foot View

Date and Time: 1 PM ET

Location: Rentschler Field, East Hartford, Connecticut

Network: ESPN2

LaxRef Win Probability: 70.5% Maryland

Your Anticipation Level: THROUGH THE ROOF

The Nitty-Gritty Numbers

Maryland vs Virginia

THE STATS Maryland Virginia
THE STATS Maryland Virginia
Adjusted Offensive Eff. 38.4% (2nd) 36.4% (4th)
Adjusted Defensive Eff. 22.0% (3rd) 28.3% (32nd)
Adjusted FO% 52.1% (28th) 65.3% (4th)
Clearing Percentage 86.1% (28th) 85.5% (35th)
Ground Balls Per Game 33.0 (19th) 42.24 (1st)

The Key Match-Ups

  • Cole Kastner vs Jared Bernhardt
  • “Project 39” is what the Virginia coaching staff calls the 6’7’, 200 lb. freshman who has emerged in this NCAA Tournament as one of the key pieces to help the Cavaliers back to another Championship Game appearance. It’s been Kastner’s abilities as an on ball, #1 cover guy that has helped propel the UVA defense into a territory it hasn’t been all season, mauling Georgetown in the Quarterfinals last weekend and containing the North Carolina offense, the most dominant unit in the country all year, to just 11 goals in Saturday’s semifinal. Cade Saustad and Kyle Kology, while both veterans of the championship win in 2019 and both incredibly rangy and athletic defenders are more effective as a #2 defender in Saustad’s case and an off ball, roving, leader of the defense through his communication type in Kology. Neither functions best as the #1 cover guy taking on the opponent’s best threat. That’s what Kastner has done well the last couple of weeks and it’s made Virginia’s defense more balanced. But boy does Kastner have a different assignment in store for him today. Can you really put a freshman, one who’s just gaining starting experience and coming on the scene now, on a 5th year senior and the best player in the country, who has been unguardable all year long? The pressure on Kastner and the problems posed by Bernhardt will be unlike anything he’s seen. If he’s unable to handle it, it’ll look like what Bernhardt did to Jack Kielty which forced the Irish to alter their defense and eventually wear down in the 4th Quarter. More likely is Virginia puts Kastner on Bernhardt but leaves the sliding defender in the crease all game to be quick to double. That has had some success on him this year - see the Hopkins-Maryland games - but the Terps pick offense has become incredibly effective in this tournament. They routinely got Bernhardt matched up on shortsticks through it against Duke, and Bernhardt was able to become a feeder and conductor when one or two sliding poles came to him in that game to find open men. Virginia’s pick defense, if sharp and on point, could mean having that sliding defender in the crease could limit Bernhardt and throw a wrench in Maryland’s notoriously fluid and poetic ball movement. But if Kastner can’t stick with #1, then it all goes out the window.

Justin Shockey vs Petey Lasalla

  • Shockey shocked (pun not intended I swear) on Saturday but taking 9-of-12 draws from Duke freshman phenom Jake Naso in the first half of Monday’s semifinal to propel Maryland to a 8-3 halftime lead. Duke wound up throwing three more FOGOs at Shockey and while it did work as he finished 11-of-21, the damage was done in the first half. In the 2nd Quarter, Shockey won five consecutive faceoffs for Maryland and even scored on one of them. That took a 4-3 Terps advantage to an 8-3 one without Duke ever touching the ball. There’s always been an element of a runaway train to this Maryland team this year if they could get a faceoff advantage and they got it on Saturday. While it’s possible to envision Maryland winning this game while only winning 40% of the draws, it’s hard to see Virginia doing the same if they only won 40%. But that’s what the Cavs have Petey Lasalla for. They’re 4th in the country in Adjusted FO% for a reason and it was Lasalla’s run on Saturday similarly to Shockey of 9 straight faceoff wins in the 2nd Quarter that allowed the Hoos to take over the ballgame. The fashion that they did it was remarkably similar. If Shockey is able to find a similar beat that he had on Saturday, with UVA not possessing the depth of options Duke had or the two-headed monster Notre Dame did that gave Maryland so many troubles, it’s possible to see Maryland build an insurmountable lead. If Lasalla does Lasalla things though, especially with his abilities in transition - he has an incredible 9 goals and 6 assists for 15 points on the year - then UVA will put Maryland in a similar bind to the one they had against Notre Dame where that dynamic offense played a lot without the ball. Worth noting, albeit less so now with the new rules: In their matchup two years ago in the Quarterfinals; Lasalla was 10-for-16 against Shockey.