Fresh Hoyas, Terps focused on early-season matchup

For their Game of the Week matchup, the guys at Inside Lacrosse chose Saturday's Georgetown-Maryland duel (ESPNU, 1 p.m. ET). Sean Burns and Quint Kessenich give you everything you need to know about the game.

No. 8 Georgetown at No. 3 Maryland

By Sean Burns

There they sit, a pair of the most consistently successful programs in recent years of Division I lacrosse, a short jaunt around the I-495 corridor (or through Washington, D.C., depending on your fancy) apart.

As the crow flies, about 10 miles separate Georgetown from the University of Maryland, with one perched just off the Potomac in the District of Columbia itself and the other just outside it in Prince George's County. On Saturday, they'll face off in a big-time early-season showdown, with the Hoyas opening the year ranked eighth in the latest Nike/IL Media Poll and Maryland sitting pretty at No. 3 after going 2-0 at last weekend's Face-Off for a Cause event in Florida against Presbyterian and Air Force.

Much as with last week's Game of the Week (Navy-Ohio State, for those with short memories), both coaches realize that this game has weightier implications than the time of year feels as if it should dictate. … Particularly Dave Urick, whose Hoyas narrowly missed the NCAA tournament a year ago after falling short of the ECAC's automatic bid and very much could have used a quality win over the Terps for their résumé (Maryland won 11-6 in both teams' opener a year ago).

"It's definitely big, to an extent," he said. "You don't want to downplay this game, but it's definitely not a life-or-death situation. It's obviously going to be a factor at the end of the season, but one of many."

There are a lot of reasons to be excited about this one. It's arguably the biggest matchup of the February slate that isn't next weekend's double-barreled, 1-versus-2, Virginia-Syracuse, Friday-night-into-Saturday's mammoth Face-Off Classic action; it's a huge early-season test of a Maryland team that some contend is the best in a decade; and it's a chance to see whether Georgetown is ready to get back on the road to another NCAA tournament streak after its previous one was snapped.

Mostly, it's a chance to watch some great lacrosse in February -- either in person or on ESPNU. Here are a few things to think about while listening to the dulcet tones of Quint Kessenich on Saturday afternoon.

Have fun figuring this one out, Coach U

Well, it's actually Matt Rienzo who runs the defense, but we're guessing the Georgetown staff has all hands on deck trying to figure out how on earth to match up with the Terps' physicality on the offensive end this weekend.

With the return of Ryan Young from an early-season suspension after an offseason incident, it's tough to say that any team is harder to try to defend than Dave Cottle's crew. There's size (Will Yeatman and Grant Catalino have measurements that belong on football rosters more than lacrosse) and speed (Young is a shifty dodger, whether he takes things from the midfield or behind the net) and enough talent that all four people who are considered starters on offense (Young, Catalino, Yeatman and Travis Reed) have started every game of their college careers.

"The biggest thing for us is to make sure we're on the same page defensively as far as where we want to go and how we get there," Urick said.

Defensively, the biggest player for Georgetown in the regular mix is longstick middie Barney Ehrmann (6-foot-5, 210 pounds), who Urick said has seen plenty of time at close this spring in scrimmages and practice and could swap roles depending on how the Hoyas set up down low. Urick also likes the work of sophomore Dan Hostetler, but it's clear that no matter how they slice it, the Hoyas are going to have some physical mismatches Saturday.

"This is definitely the biggest offensive group I've ever had," Cottle said. "I'm curious to see how they try to match up, but I don't think I've ever gone on a field against Georgetown and felt that we had physical superiority over them. They've got plenty of size too."

You, too, Mr. Cottle

Every season, it seems as though Maryland has some massive players to talk about (see: Cinosky, Joe), but, as always, the dual midfield threat that is Georgetown's Andrew Brancaccio (6-4, 190) and Scott Kocis (6-4, 240) is enough to give any defensive coach pause. Although the pair had tough 2008 seasons -- Brancaccio had 18 goals and two assists, but hit on just 25 percent of his shots and scored nearly half his goals (eight) on extra-man; Kocis missed all but two games with injuries -- both are talented and physical and must be respected.

Then there's Georgetown's attack, which features lead returning scorer Craig Dowd as a feeder (14 goals, 23 assists) and Ricky Mirabito (15, 5) looking to take over the scoring role filled by Brendan Cannon and Andrew Baird a year ago. The third guy also might ring a bell with Maryland fans -- it's likely to be Brett Weiss, who was the odd man out of the Terps' all-frosh attack a year ago.

"Their top six offensive guys are all outstanding," Cottle said. "The key is to defend as a unit -- we can't leave guys out on an island. If we don't trust each other, [Georgetown] is going to score a lot of goals."

Finding yourself

Predictably, both coaches stress that their teams are only just starting to find themselves. It's Georgetown's season opener, but Maryland has just a handful more days than its Game 3 opponent.

"Our goal right now is to just get out there and play as hard as we can and play smart lacrosse," Urick said. "The intensity level with a game like this -- as a season opener and against a team like Maryland -- is going to be high. But we like to say you play lacrosse from the waist down and the neck up.

"If guys are making mistakes out there trying to make a play, that's one thing. But if you're doing things like not being in the right place or not substituting properly, that's what we can't afford."

For Maryland, between Yeatman's not being confirmed as a member of the team until after fallball and Young's waiting game, the full team hasn't been together for very long at all, even compared with an opponent that is opening its season.

"Hopefully we can find a way to get things done while we're still finding our way as a team," said Cottle, who gets no reprieve next week with ACC foe Duke on the schedule after he finishes his dance with the Hoyas. "The talent of the team we're playing this weekend is a major step up from the other two games, so we're going to have to do a lot to stay with them."

Out of position?

Oddly enough, in a game that features two of the best longstick middies from a year ago, it's not clear whether either will be playing midfield or defense heading into the weekend. As previously stated, Ehrmann probably will see some time at close to help out with the size disadvantage. Maryland's Brian Farrell, who shifted to close defense after a breakout freshman year at longstick midfield, might be bumped back up top to help bear the brunt of that midfield size Georgetown brings.

Fresh legs

Young, the leading assist man from a year ago -- is back in the mix and brings a whole new level of "motor" to the Maryland attack or midfield, depending on where he's needed.

"He's got that great energy. He works hard and cares about his teammates," Cottle said. "He plays with that high motor.

"I think last year, Ryan had a 20-goal season that somehow turned into nine goals. He played better than his numbers reflect, and I think once he gets going and shooting a little better, he'll start to be rewarded for that."

It's official

Whether they're ready or not, it's go time Saturday for both of these teams.

Maryland has a slight advantage because of having hit the field in live action before, but that was in Florida against a pair of teams that haven't seen the NCAA tournament since the Reagan administration (Presbyterian has never made it; Air Force saw postseason action back in 1988, when many of the players hitting the field Saturday were mere twinkles in their fathers' eyes …). Georgetown has some good scrimmages in, but this is a slightly different atmosphere.

"There's more at stake here, and there's going to be a lot more elements that cause guys to lose their focus," Urick said. "There's going to be a lot of people, TV cameras, game uniforms, all that. If your execution isn't right, errors magnify, and that's part of the deal."

Inside Lacrosse's Game of the Week

By Quint Kessenich


Georgetown at Maryland

Saturday at 1 p.m. on ESPNU

Under coach Dave Cottle, the Terrapins have had success inverting against Georgetown. So far this season, Maryland hasn't inverted at all -- instead relying on its circle offense. The circle has been effective because of off-ball movement and cuts -- the offense can create chaos because defensive roles change quickly. Teams typically slide near-man against a circle. Will Maryland stay with its circle or dip into its bag of tricks to give the Hoyas a heavy dose of the invert?

Maryland's strength this year will be in matchup superiority. How are teams going to find big-bodied personnel to defend Grant Catalino and Will Yeatman -- and account for speedy Ryan Young at the same time? The Terps eventually will showcase their big/little invert offense, sending a shorty behind the goal as Yeatman or Catalino begins to isolate. If you switch against the Terps this year, you're toast. A 180-pound midfielder will not be able to stop a 267-pound attackman. So teams will back off, hedge and stay with their original man -- avoid the switch. Or teams can choose a more proactive approach, doubling the ball and sending a third defender or goalie to cover the pick man.

Whichever way you slice it, if Maryland sets solid and honest picks, and shows the ability to slip a pick once in a while, the big/little invert will get defenses rotating and set its senior midfielders (Dan Groot, Jeremy Sieverts and Jeff Reynolds) up with 10-yard looks.

Hoyas must guard the invert -- whether it's a single invert, a double invert or a big/little pick behind the goal. Georgetown will try to "stay" and not "switch," maintaining its original matchup designation. But this can get dicey when picks become unpredictable.

Barney Ehrmann played close defense last week in a scrimmage against Albany. I'm guessing he'll stay down low to cover Yeatman or Catalino. If Ehrmann is forced to play down below on close defense, can he manage the second and third slides when he is off-ball?

The Terps have been breaking out from defense to offense with gusto this season. Georgetown must stop Maryland midfielders who like to dodge in semi-transition. Jeff Reynolds has made a living off of dodging a 4-on-4 scenario or a 5-on-5 breakout.

The Hoyas also must respect offensive-minded Maryland defender Brian Farrell when he has the ball in his stick -- treat him like an offensive midfielder and stop the ball with urgency and power. Farrell's goals provide the Terps with emotional juice.

On offense, Georgetown will have success if Andrew Brancaccio, Scott Kocis and Dan D'Agnes move the ball quickly off their dodges. Too often, the Hoyas settle for low-percentage alley dodges or turn the ball over when doubled. Memo to the Hoyas in 2009: The slides are coming, so get used to spinning the rock through X or back through O on a throwback. I'm not sold on the Terps defense yet; let's see whether the Hoyas can exploit some inexperience.

How To Win

Georgetown: Make 55 percent saves and effectively guard the invert. On offense -- handle the quick double-team when midfielders isolate … make the extra pass and don't settle for crappy shots (aka alley dodges).

Maryland: Break even at the face-off X and showcase a mixture of circle offense and invert. Defensively, the Terps will be challenged by Georgetown's first midfield. They must slide to Hoyas midfielders and recover quickly.

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