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Championship Victory Factors

The field is officially set. Emerging from the top side of the bracket are nine/ten-time national champion Syracuse University and three-time national champion University of Virginia. Saturday will mark the first time since 2002 that Syracuse and Virginia have met in the NCAA Championships. Syracuse won that game 12-11 in overtime on a miraculous Tom Hardy goal.

University of Massachusetts and University of Maryland fought their way through the bottom portion of the bracket to claim their positions in Philadelphia. This is the Minuteman's first appearance at the Final Four. Maryland, constrastingly, is seeking its third NCAA crown (the first since 1975).

Syracuse v. Virginia

Victory Factors: Team Offense

All the talk this week is centered on the explosiveness of Virginia's offense and whether Syracuse will go toe-to-toe with the Cavaliers again. To cut right to the point, nobody (not even the vaunted Syracuse run-and-gun) can match Virginia's frenetic pace this season.

The number of weapons Virginia trots onto the offensive side of the field is almost unbelievable. Led by senior attack Matt Ward (33G, 25A), the Cavaliers' attack is relentless, outshooting their opponents by a wide margain this season. With secondary options in Ben Rubeor, Danny Glading, and Kyle Dixon, the Syracuse defense is going to have its hands full on Saturday afternoon.

What is truly staggering about the Virginia offense is the number of offensive possessions the team generates on a game-by-game basis. At almost 46 possession a game, Virginia outpaces its closest competition by a wide margin with regard to pace. If Syracuse were to try and match this frenetic tempo, it just may run itself out of the game, regardless of the fact that the Orange are about three offensive midfield lines deep.

Thus, the only real opportunity for Syracuse to stymie the Cavalier offense is to implement its Princeton-like offense. The Orange have flourished over the last two months with a more deflated pace and if the team is able to maximize its possessions, it necessarily deprives Virginia of the bean.

And that has to be a good thing.

Therefore, while everyone is anticipating an up-and-down style game, I would not be surprised to seek John Desko and Kevin Donahue slow down Syracuse's attack a little bit. If they don't, the Orange may lay the foundation for another 20-15 defeat.

Victory Factors: Team Defense

With all the talk about Virginia's awesome attack, everyone has forgotten about the Cavaliers' defense. Playing the "Riverboat Gambler" style of defense invented by a host of Syracuse greats, Virginia has done a great job stripping the ball and creating transition offense.

Kip Turner, not surprisingly, has anchored the defense with sound goal tending and timely plays. It has been his steady, yet not overly impressive play that has led Virginia to its awesome defensive goals per possession average.

From the Syracuse perspective, Peter Coluccini is going to need to have a monster game to stop Virginia. The freshman netminder looked incredibly timid last Saturday against Johns Hopkins and is going to have to come out firing on all cylinders to stop Virginia's offense. If Coluccini goes in the tank early, doom will be looming for the Orange.

Outside of Coluccini, there is little to worry about with Syracuse's defensive midfield and close defense. Steve Panarelli has become the pole that everyone anticipated four years ago while John Carrozza has been borderline masterful with the short stick as of late. Should this unit turn in the same kind of performance they have over the last month, Syracuse will be in good shape.

Massachusetts v. Maryland

Victory Factors: Team Offense

I cannot reiterate enough that the Syracuse-Virginia game is truly the national title game. Both Massachusetts and Maryland are nice teams that have done some impressive things this season, but neither measures up to the Orange and Cavaliers. Virginia essentially bitchslapped the Terrapins twice this season while Syracuse took Massachusetts behind the woodshed in the Dome just a month ago.

In short, both UMass and Maryland may have a shot at winning the national crown, but if they do, it will be because either Syracuse or Virginia mailed it on on Semifinal Saturday.

With that said, Maryland and Massachusetts will feature two of the games finest offensive forces on saturday afternoon. For the Terrapins, Joe Walters is the cog that drives the machine. In my opinion, he is more than worthy of taking home this year's edition of the Tewaraaton Trophy and may just be the most dynamic player on the field over the weekend (with apologies to Brett Bucktooth, of course). The Maryland offense is built around Walters' creativity, and if he gets it going, Massachusetts is going to be in for a long morning/afternoon.

Massachusetts is very much an offensive opposite to Maryland. The Minutemen enjoy getting up and down the field and tossing what feels like a million shots on net. Led by senior Sean Morris, the Minutemen have the attack to counterbalance Maryland's paced play, it is just a matter of when and how the Massachusetts attack will come out of the gate. The last two weekends the Minutemen have been slow to start, relying on a flurry of offense down the stretch to pull out two miraculous wins. Morris and Co. will have to be better from the onset to win on Saturday as Maryland's offensive efficiency will drown Massachusetts quickly.

Victory Factors: Team Defense

Massachusetts may have the nation's finest one-on-one defenseman in Jack Reid, but outside of him at pole, the Minutemen may have the worst defensive unit on the finals field. Maryland, constrastingly, boasts a defensive unit that simply goes out and gets the job done on a week-to-week basis. They are the quintessential hard hat and lunch pail type of defense.

The numbers bear out this assessment. Maryland is yielding only .197 goals per possession and less than a shot per possession. Moreover, the shots that Maryland's opponents are taking are not tickling the twine, as opponents are only shooting 21% against the Terps on the season. That's getting the job done.

Massachusetts, however, has not been quite as efficient. While the numbers above look good, one must remember that these statistics were tallied against competition much weaker than that seen by Maryland, Syracuse, or Virginia this season. That UMass defense is good, but it isn't as good as that thrown on the field by Dave Cottle.

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