North Carolina at Johns Hopkins: Three things to watch
No. 12 Johns Hopkins (4-4) is 64-10 at Homewood Field under coach Dave Pietramala, but will that translate into a victory against No. 3 North Carolina (9-0) on Saturday at noon? Here are a few factors that could account for the final score.
1. One key to a North Carolina win: The Tar Heels boast one of the most potent offenses in Division I, but the possible absence of junior attackman Billy Bitter (leg) and senior midfielder Sean DeLaney (shoulder) could slow down that unit. The loss of Bitter is mitigated by the presence of freshman Marcus Holman, who ranks third on the team in goals (14) and is tied for fifth in points (17). But if DeLaney, who was injured in the third quarter of the team’s 9-7 victory over No. 5 Maryland last Saturday, can’t play, no other player on the roster has scored more than three goals this season. After DeLaney went down against the Terps, North Carolina took just 12 shots and scored just four times. So pardon coach Joe Breschi if he’s been a little more concerned about his team rather than the Blue Jays. "I think from our standpoint, it’s not necessarily about worrying too much about preparing for Johns Hopkins, but trying to figure out – as some guys sit out for practice – who we are and how we approach things this week," Breschi said. "So it’s been a lot more about us and keeping our edge and our focus on how we prepare."
2. One key to a Johns Hopkins win: Everyone knows about senior attackman Steven Boyle and senior midfielder Michael Kimmel, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Opposing defenses have keyed on Boyle and Kimmel, and that duo has combined for three goals and three assists in losses to No. 2 Syracuse and No. 1 Virginia. Sophomore attackman Tom Palasek has shown that he can initiate, but he may draw a long-pole defender. That means that others – such as freshmen midfielders John Greeley and John Ranagan and freshman attackman Zach Palmer – must be aggressive and creative on offense to force defenders to slide from their original assignments, which could open up opportunities for Boyle, Kimmel and junior attackman Kyle Wharton. Since the season-ending knee injury to senior attackman Chris Boland on March 9, the offense has scored just 19 goals in three games, all of which are losses. "I don’t want to say we’ve been limited, but because of our youth, we’ve had to dial back the offenses and not run quite as much as what we’ve wanted," coach Dave Pietramala said. "So Coach [Bobby] Benson [the team’s offensive coordinator] has worked on doing a little bit more there. We’ve worked on more full-field, to work on our between-the-box game. We’ve talked about trying to find ways to score goals other than in half-field [sets]. In transition, we’ve worked on that. We’ve worked all week on our groundball play to improve that, to increase the number of possessions. We’ve worked to get goals off face-offs, goals off the ride, goals off transition."
3. One key matchup: Syracuse and Virginia may have provided a blueprint for strangling the Blue Jays’ offense by shutting off Kimmel. Long-stick midfielders Joel White and Bray Malphrus were masterful in staying in front of Kimmel and forcing him to give up the ball to one of his teammates. Kimmel also looked tired as he spent extensive time on defense against the Orange and Cavaliers. Kimmel gets another tough challenge in North Carolina senior long-stick midfielder Sean Jackson. "I think Kimmel is a phenomenal player," Breschi said. "We’re going to have to try to limit him first and know where Boyle is all over the field and do a great job on the rest of the guys as well." If Kimmel can’t win that matchup, it could be a long day for Johns Hopkins.