As we enter the NCAA tournament quarterfinals this weekend, here's a look ahead at a very deep set of matchups:
Saturday, May 19
Maryland (10-5) vs. No. 2 Johns Hopkins (12-3) on ESPN2/ESPN3, noon ET
Forecast: The game's fiercest rivalry kicks things off with a rematch of an April 21 contest won by Maryland 9-6. The Blue Jays led that game 6-3 early in the third period before the Terrapins closed the game with a 6-0 run. Hopkins is 3-1 since and has refocused its offense. The attack is more involved, making the Blue Jays tougher to defend and less predictable. Maryland is on the road again after falling to Colgate in the regular-season finale. Seniors Drew Snider and Joe Cummings willed the Terps to a first-round win over Lehigh. Both teams have fought with bouts of inconsistency throughout 2012 but are 60 minutes away from championship weekend.
Tasty nuggets: The last time these two tangled in the postseason was 1998, a game Maryland won in overtime. The Terps are in their fifth straight quarterfinal and look to advance to the national semifinals for the second consecutive year. Johns Hopkins was a quarterfinalist in 2011 and has made it to this round 20 out of the past 21 years, but it is seeking its first championship weekend appearance since 2008.
Where the game will be won: Defense and goaltending will be huge in this one. Neither keeper has played his best lacrosse lately. Hopkins has to be able to defend against Maryland's attack, as Owen Blye torched the Jays for four goals in the first meeting. The Blue Jays have looked a bit vulnerable defensively in the past couple of weeks, especially off ball. It will be interesting to see how the Jays utilize top cover men Tucker Durkin and Chris Lightner. With Cummings and Jay Carlson, they will need to be on their game. While the Blue Jays' attack has been more productive of late, the bread and butter of Hopkins' offense is the strong dodging midfield. John Ranagan has shot better lately and is really moving the ball well. Rob Guida is a matchup nightmare, and Lee Coppersmith's lightning quickness requires instant help. Jesse Bernhardt and Landon Carr will be busy against this core Saturday.
Denver (9-6) vs. No. 1 Loyola (Md.) (15-1) on ESPN2/ESPN3, 2:30 p.m. ET
Forecast: Loyola-Denver Round 3 has all the makings of a very entertaining game. Loyola won both previous matchups, the latest in overtime in the ECAC tournament. Both offenses were humming in the first round, with Denver getting a much bigger test in its 16-14 win over North Carolina. Two of the sport's best attack units will be featured, with the Greyhounds possessing Mike Sawyer and Eric Lusby, and the Pioneers countering with Mark Matthews and Alex Demopolous. Give the edge on defense to Loyola, with goalkeeping being pretty even.
Tasty nuggets: Loyola is hoping to advance to its first berth in the national semifinal since 1998. This quarterfinal appearance marks the second in a row for Denver, and a win would give it a second straight semifinal appearance.
Where the game will be won: In the middle of the field. It starts on faceoffs with Denver's Chase Carraro, who has been lights out of late. JP Dalton of Loyola was great in the ECAC tournament but struggled mightily in the NCAA tournament first-round win over Canisius. LSM Scott Ratliff could be the answer, but will that compromise his ability to cover the likes of Jeremy Noble and Cam Flint? Noble had one of the finest games in NCAA tournament history against UNC with 10 points (3 goals, 10 assists). Loyola's defensive midfield could be the best in the country with Ratliff and SSDMs Josh Hawkins and Pat Laconi tearing things up box to box. Denver's defensive middie unit needs to ratchet it up in transition and coverage of a dangerous Greyhounds first midfield line.
Sunday, May 20
No. 5 Virginia (12-3) vs. No. 4 Notre Dame (12-2) on ESPNU/ESPN3, noon ET
Forecast: On paper, a matchup of offense versus defense. But a closer look reveals two teams that need to call upon opposite ends of the field to be successful. The Irish offense exploded for 13 scores against Yale, demonstrating a rhythm and potency that will be needed for the Irish to get to Foxborough, Mass. The Cavaliers needed a last-second stop to preserve a win over Princeton, and have a defense that can frustrate, shackle and simply shut down the best of offenses. Don't be surprised to see the Cavs play strictly zone against Notre Dame. This contest features a classic matchup of a great defenseman in Kevin Randall of Notre Dame and the game's reigning Tewaaraton winner in Steele Stanwick of Virginia.
Tasty nuggets: The last time the two schools met in the NCAAs was 2006, a 14-10 win by the Wahoos in the first round. Notre Dame is in the quarterfinals for the fourth time in five years and looks to advance to its second championship weekend in three seasons. Virginia looks to make it five straight trips to the sport's biggest weekend to defend its national championship.
Where the game will be won: Faceoffs and midfield play. Both struggled at the square in the first round (Virginia 5-14, Notre Dame 9-23) and will need to be better in Philadelphia. Possessions will lead to tempo, better offensive flow and execution. Once on offense, look for both teams to attack from up top in order to soften the defenses. Midfield productivity will be a key factor in determining a winner. Outside shooting from each will be critical, a perfect time for Virginia's Rob Emery and Ryan Tucker to get back on track. Notre Dame's Jim Marlatt has been on fire and could contend for a spot on the first- or second-team All-America list.
Colgate (14-3) vs. No. 3 Duke (14-4) on ESPNU/ESPN3, 2:30 p.m. ET
Forecast: Two teams that many expected to meet in the first round now meet in the quarterfinals. Both were impressive in early action, with Duke subduing a surging Syracuse team and Colgate rallying on Garber Field for a come-from-behind win over UMass. Duke and Colgate each have very good attacks, with the Blue Devils being a little deeper. Peter Baum is, for my money, the best player in college lacrosse in 2012. Duke counters with a superstar in CJ Costabile. How fun would it be to have these two titans square off one on one? How each team handles the other will be a tall task and should go a long way in determining the victor. Quick note: Every one of Duke's losses in 2012 was away from Durham.
Tasty nuggets: Colgate is fresh off its first NCAA tournament victory. Duke is becoming the new Syracuse in terms of success in the quarters and looks to clinch its seventh consecutive berth (not including 2006 suspended season) in championship weekend.
Where the game will be won: Between the pipes. Goaltending will be crucial in this one. Conor Murphy of Colgate was stout against UMass with 15 saves -- in his first career start. Duke will certainly be a test for the young sophomore. Dan Wigrizer has been on this stage before and has walked away with an NCAA title. His experience and A-game could be a difference-maker in this one. Both offenses have proved to be potent and diverse; if either netminder struggles, it could be a long day in Philly.