Thursday, April 8, 2010

game preview: UNC

The big lacrosse game isn't til Saturday and the GT baseball series starts tomorrow, so I'm kinda doing these previews bass-ackwards. That's because I'm hopping a flight to Ohio for the weekend right after work tomorrow, so tonight you get the one that requires actual writing on my part. Tomorrow morning comes the Q&A session with the fine folks of From The Rumble Seat concerning the GT series; today, UNC.

Obviously, every discussion of UNC starts with Billy Bitter, and every time a UVA game has been on TV lately the announcers have been salivating over the likely eventual matchup between Bitter and Ken Clausen. But UNC is the #2 team in the country, so the rest of the defense is going to have to step up equally against the rest of UNC's attack in order to win the game. Right?

Right....mostly. UNC's offense took a major hit against Maryland when midfielder Sean Delaney went down with a shoulder injury. Despite missing the Hopkins game, Delaney is still the team's leading goal-scorer, and he isn't listed on the depth chart for Saturday either. And UNC isn't the most efficient or prolific offensive team. For a national contender, their numbers are pretty average. The low point on the season was a 5-4 win over Bryant - although that's not totally weird as Bryant's coach Mike Pressler knows UNC pretty well from his days at Duke. Still, the talent gap should have been enough to win without such a sweat.

It's the defense that's got UNC where they are. The GAA is a sparkling 6.3, best in the country except for "reclassifying" (i.e. not-all-the-way-DI-yet) Bryant. Best by a wide margin, actually. So the real matchup is going to be this: #1 offense in the country (that's us) vs. #1 defense. In most sports, defense rules, but my opinion of lacrosse is that if you have the ball long enough, goals are inevitable. So I like our odds.

The key is, I don't think UNC can outscore us. In order for the Heels to win, the game has to be low-scoring. A high-scoring game favors Virginia. And the peripheral stats all tilt our way - not extremely, but they do. UVA is better at ground balls, clears, and (sit down for this one) faceoffs.

Still, it'll be tight. I think we're better, but not so much better that the mistakes we've seen out of this team can be overcome if too often repeated. No wasted possessions. Lot at stake here - not only the #1 ranking in the country (which is nice but ceremonial) but also the #1 seed in the ACC tournament, which goes to the winner. The stage couldn't be bigger: the first-ever event in the new Meadowlands stadium. Just think, that stadium is going to stand there for at least 30 years, who knows how long, and it won't be the New York Giants that opened it up - it'll be your Hoos. (Hofstra/Delaware is actually the Big City Classic's first game, but good luck finding it on TV.) We're more battle-tested: UNC has Princeton, Maryland, and Duke on its wall, and that's nice, but they haven't got Syracuse, didn't smoke Hopkins like we did, didn't cream Cornell like we did. Like I said before the Hopkins game, this team has earned the right to have it said that if they play their game and take care of business, they'll win. Carolina is a much stronger opponent, but the previous applies. Play your game, win the game - it's that simple.

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