What to Watch in The NCAA Play-In Games

(Photo Courtesy of Vermont Athletics)

The 2022 NCAA Men’s DI Lacrosse Tournament gets underway on Wednesday night with the two play-in games. The America East champion Vermont Catamounts will host in MAAC champion Manhattan Jaspers in the first game while the CAA champion Delaware Blue Hens will host the ASUN champion Robert Morris Colonials in the second game.

The winner of Vermont-Manhattan will face top-seeded Maryland in the first round on Sunday. The Delaware-Robert Morris winner will have to face No. 2 seed Georgetown on Sunday.

Here’s a look at some of the themes and matchups to look forward in these two games.

Vermont vs Manhattan

Biggest Theme: Defense, Defense, Defense

Both the Catamounts and Jaspers feature a top-flight defense. Per Lacrosse Reference, Manhattan is ranked 5th in defensive efficiency while Vermont is ranked 6th. Additionally, the Catamounts have the third-best scoring defense in DI (8.8 goals allowed per game), while Manhattan is ranked sixth in that category as they have allowed 9.57 goals per game this season. Defense has been baked into the identity of these programs, and this season was no exception.

While each of these teams has a solid group of poles and short-sticks that make an impact on the back end, the headliner for each of these units lies in between the pipes. For Vermont, Ryan Cornell mans the cage as, statistically, one of the best goalies in college lacrosse this season. A two-year starter, he has made 175 saves with a 56% save percentage this season. That’s good for 10th best in DI. On the other end sits a five-year starter in Brendan Krebs, who made his name know in the defensive-heavy MAAC throughout his career. Krebs has made 144 saves with a 51% save percentage this season. The battle between those two keepers could very well be a highlight of this matchup.

Biggest Question: Tommy Burke’s Impact?

The Catamounts have a massive edge at the faceoff dot. Tommy Burke has continued his excellence this season, going 242-for-395 (61%). Burke’s success is partly to thank for Vermont being ranked fourth in time of possession, per Lacrosse Reference, as they have the ball approximately 54.6% of the time. Manhattan, on the other hand, is the worst faceoff team in DI lacrosse, having gone 31% as a team this season. However, with their defense – and especially Krebs – the Jaspers have been able to counterbalance the deficit at the faceoff dot, thus making those wins not as important or impactful as they otherwise would be. Can the Jaspers do it again against a Vermont offense that will be the most efficient unit they’ve faced since their opener against Duke?

Player to Watch (Manhattan): Tadgh O’Riordan, SSDM

O’Riordan is a leader od that rope unit as Manhattan’s top SSDM and can make plays on both ends, causing 15 turnovers, grabbing 20 ground balls, and tallying four points (3G/1A), in addition to being a one-man clear at times, this season. He is a big part as to why the Jaspers are one of the best clearing teams in college lacrosse as they have gone 90% this season in that realm.

Player to Watch (Vermont): Thomas McConvey, Midfield

The leader of a deep and talented Catamounts offense, McConvey has scored 55 goals and dished out 12 assists for 67 points this season. He comes into this week on his hottest streak yet as he had five goals in their regular-season finale and conference semifinal game before putting up seven goals in the America East title game.

Delaware vs Robert Morris

Biggest Theme: Offense With Canadian Flare

When the Delaware Blue Hens and Robert Morris Colonials meet in Newark on Wednesday night, it’ll be a matchup between two squads highlighted by good offenses with players from north of the border leading the way. Delaware has the 21st-best scoring offense in college lacrosse, putting up 13.56 goals per game. That includes their two performances in the CAA Tournament in which they won their semifinal game 19-6 and the title game 11-6. All in all, the Blue Hens have only put up less than double digits once this season (vs Michigan). On the other side, Robert Morris ranks 27th nationally in scoring offense (13.27 goals per game) and is also coming off a stellar outing as they beat Utah 18-17 in overtime of an offensive shootout.

Ontario natives Mike Robinson (48G/10A) and Tye Kurtz (43G/14A) are the top goal-scorers for Delaware and some of its biggest playmakers. Robinson had six goals in their CAA semifinal win whole Kurtz put up the same stat line in the CAA title game. Another Ontario native, Cam Acchione, has also made an impact this season. For Robert Morris, four of their top five scorers hail from north of the border. Taggart Clark (47G/15A), Corson Kealey (39G/17A), and Jake Boudreau (25G/21A) lead the way as the Colonials’ top three point-getters. Boudreau had seven goals and three assists in a massive ASUN title game performance.

Biggest Question: Who Wins The Faceoff Dot?

Delaware’s defense had a stellar performance last weekend, but their CAA title game run also featured an improvement at the faceoff dot. Sophomore Logan Premtaj went 75% (12-for-16) in the CAA semifinals and 63% (12-for-19) in the championship, marking two of his best performances of the season. For Robert Morris, sophomore Bo Columbus has been a revelation at the position. After being sub .500 at the dot as a team last season, Columbus has stepped in and gone 179-for-324 (55%) overall. However, recent struggles have put more on the shoulders of Steven DelleMonache, who has gone 35-for-72 (48%) this season, but had a strong 13-for-18 (72%) performance in the ASUN title game. This battle between these two will be an area of intrigue for sure.

Player to Watch (Delaware): Owen Grant, Defense

Another player from north of the border, Grant is the top defenseman for the Blue Hens. A two-year starter at close, he has only continued his success this season. Grant has grabbed 40 ground balls, caused 28 turnovers, and has made an impact in the transition game with six goals and three assists on the year.

Player to Watch (Robert Morris): Ben Savick, Goalie

Since the Colonials’ game against Marquette on March 16th, Savick has served as primarily the second half goalie while Nate Randall starts and plays the first half. Savick has been very effective in this role, making 71 saves with a 56% save percentage. He has only ended a game with a sub-50% save percentage twice this season, one instance of which was the ASUN title game (8 saves, 40%), where he came in during the first quarter and played 52 minutes.

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