Lacrosse preview: Northwestern vs Ohio State

By Tara Wendell (@TaraWendell)

After a disappointing loss on Sunday loss to Penn State, Northwestern lacrosse fell to No. 9 in the nation, the lowest the Wildcats have been ranked this year.

Looking back to that game, it’s hard to say what went wrong for the Wildcats. They led in nearly every statistical category, had history on their side and they surely knew the stakes of winning. By beating NU, Penn State took the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten and earned a bye in the Big Ten tournament while a win for Northwestern would have positioned them to do the same, pending a win over Ohio State. But, NU lost in clears, going 5-8 compared to Penn State’s 12-12, and saves, with four compared to Penn State’s 10.

That brings us to tomorrow’s game. Northwestern needs to win on clears and if they don’t, the Buckeyes will be able to regain possession of the ball easily with additional chances to score. OSU is a good enough team to hold the ball for a few minutes on each possession, so giving the ball back is essentially taking two minutes off the game clock. Northwestern has had to come back a lot this year, and that lost time could kill them. In a game where possession is king, failed clears are the joker.

Also, of course, there is the goalie battle. At the beginning of the season, Bridget Bianco looked poised to take this team to the Final Four. It surely felt like if the defense would be simply average, NU would be able to succeed with Bianco in net. However, this year, she just hasn’t played well enough. Bianco is 58th in save percentage out of 107 Division 1 goalies, and a below-averahe goalie performance doesn’t cut it for a imperfect team of young players.

One thing that is on NU’s side in this one is the pressure that comes with this game. This is Northwestern’s last regular season game–next week, they have the Big Ten tournament. Maryland and Penn State have already clinched the No. 1 and 2 seeds respectively, with both getting a bye to the semifinal game. But, if Northwestern loses to Ohio State, they’ll fall to the No. 4 seed, and, assuming they can get by likely No. 5 Michigan (who they already beat 17-8), they’ll have to play the tough Terrapins. But, if they beat Ohio State, NU would get the No. 3 seed, meaning they’d play Rutgers in the quarterfinals (who they beat 18-6 this season). Pending a win, the Wildcats would get a rematch with Penn State in the semis.

That rematch with the Nittany Lions will give them a much better chance of advancing to the championship than playing Maryland would. The further they go, obviously, the further from Maryland they can get in the NCAA bracket. This, in the end, could determine whether or not they can make it to the Final Four. In the past, Northwestern has played games in high pressure situations (think NCAA tournament against Florida last year), so, perhaps that’s the push they need to beat Ohio State, and to lead the middling Wildcats down the stretch.

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