Loyola and Denver will meet in the NCAA tournament for the first time, but it’s the third contest in five weeks between the Eastern College Athletic Conference rivals. The top-seeded Greyhounds (15-1) won the first two meetings and have absorbed just one loss at the hands of Johns Hopkins on April 28, but this is their first appearance in a tournament quarterfinal since 2001. The Pioneers (9-6) experienced this stage of the tournament last May when they stunned the Blue Jays to advance to their first Final Four in school history. Here are a few factors that could influence the outcome of this NCAA tournament quarterfinal at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis Saturday afternoon.
1) Loyola’s J.P. Dalton. The Pioneers’ 16-14 upset of No. 8 seed North Carolina in last Saturday’s first round was fueled by the play of faceoff specialist Chase Carraro, who won 22-of-30 draws. The junior has enjoyed similar success against the Greyhounds, going 21-of-25 in a 12-9 Denver setback on April 14 and 16-of-29 in a 14-13 overtime loss in an ECAC tournament semifinal on May 2. The Greyhounds have countered with their senior, but Dalton struggled in the first three quarters against Canisius junior Mike Moran en route to a 4-of-15 outing. Loyola coach Charley Toomey seemed to indicate that he will turn to Dalton, not junior long-stick midfielder Scott Ratliff, against Carraro. “I think J.P. has an understanding of Chase Carraro,” Toomey said. “We understand what they’re trying to do and vice versa. So we’ve got to go out and have a Plan A, a Plan B and a Plan C. That’s part of your weekly preparation.”
2) Denver’s transition defense. One of the hallmarks of a Bill Tierney-coached team is an emphasis on protecting the ball. That hasn’t quite developed this season as the Pioneers are the worst among the remaining eight teams in the NCAA tournament when it comes to avoiding turnovers as they are averaging 15.2 giveaways. For Tierney, however, coughing up turnovers isn’t nearly as preventing the Greyhounds from converting those miscues into scoring opportunities. “We’d like to cut down on our mistakes. That’s kind of who we are,” Tierney said. “Maybe more importantly, I’d like to cut down on Loyola’s ability to take advantage of our mistakes. They certainly do a great job of that. It seems like every time you miss a ground ball or you throw one away or you miss a slide or you don’t pick someone up, the ball is in the back of your net. That’s a credit to Charley and his staff and to his players. They just make you pay for any mistake you make.”
3) Loyola’s diversity. The Greyhounds’ first 11 goals in the win in the ECAC tournaments were scored by 11 different players – a development that Toomey would love to see a repeat of. Getting contributions from a variety of sources would alleviate some of the pressure on attackmen Mike Sawyer and Eric Lusby to carry the load for the offense and force Denver’s defense to spread itself and perhaps open passing lanes and shooting spots. “When you take away the attack, to have middies that can step up and score goals, maybe some unexpected faces step in and go 1 [goal] and 2 [assists] or 2 [goals] and 1 [assist], it makes you pretty dangerous, and that’s what happened the last time that we played Denver,” Toomey said. “I think of the first 11 goals, they were each scored by a different player. That’s the type of effort you’re going to need to have to continue playing in May.”Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times