Thursday, May 27, 2010

game preview: Duke

Programming note: Taking a break tomorrow since it's a holiday weekend, but I'll be doing stuff on and off throughout the weekend. Besides, Friday is usually a day off during football season anyway, and Saturday's lacrosse matchup is as big as any regular season football game.

Anyway, you know Duke. More than you'd like to, I'll bet. You know Duke because this will be the third UVA/Duke clash this year, and because beating them in the ACC tournament forced announcers to change the story from "seven-game losing streak" to "lost seven of the last eight to Duke."

Actually, let 'em talk that way. This is our boogeyman game. In the last ten years, half of UVA's lacrosse seasons have ended right here in the semifinals, including the last two. Plus it's Duke; obviously you know about the long losing streak, and breaking it required averting a total first-quarter disaster in the ACC tournament that threatened to end that tourney run right then and there. So UVA fans are understandably extremely nervous. Maybe we wouldn't be so nervous if UVA wasn't facing the one opponent to beat them all year - and win fairly handily. Or if it wasn't an opponent that had a penchant for beating us. Or if said opponent hadn't just got done manhandling North Carolina. Or if the team hadn't had such a scare last week and hadn't looked badly out of sorts at times. Or if there weren't a ghastly backdrop to the whole thing that makes everyone wonder just what frame of mind the team is in.

Last year none of that was even remotely true. The team had just finished completely steamrolling two totally hapless opponents. The next opponent had already been beaten handily once that season and had just barely escaped their quarterfinal matchup. And there was a blissful lack of felony charges pending against former teammates. So there wasn't nearly the anxiety level going in, and naturally we got beat like a drum.

But there's enough to be nervous about this year, so as a nice calming exercise, let's list reasons why not to be:

1. Last week's game wasn't half as bad as it looked. In fact I put it to you that it was one of the best defensive efforts of the year, rivaled only by the Cornell game and the UNC game. And the UNC game, in which UNC only scored five goals, was helped by the fact that UNC is a terrible shooting team. Nine goals allowed might seem a pedestrian showing, but given the time of possession (a stat which they don't really keep in lacrosse but I wish they would; in this case its obvious which team won that battle) it's phenomenal. Stony Brook's big three were held to five measly points, and UVA only took two penalties - one a procedure call which wasn't entirely Lovejoy's fault since his stick had been slashed out of his hand. And neither man-up chance resulted in a goal for Stony Brook. Play defense like that against Duke and our chances will be greatly improved.

2. We still have an offense. Even with the brain farts suffered against Stony Brook (stepping out of bounds? Really?) it was a pretty efficient effort. The offense caused a few defensive mistakes and probably would have scored 16 goals with anything resembling a reasonable faceoff margin. The theme of the upcoming game is "whoever has the ball will score" and this is a UVA team that's not had trouble scoring all year.

3. There is no way the faceoff battle will be that damn lopsided again. 5 of 23 is an astronomically bad number. And we still won! We thought Duke killed us at the X in the loss, and they did: our faceoff guys won 8 of 25. Both are outliers. So is the 22-for-32 effort in the ACCT win. But when we lost the faceoff battle to Duke, we lost the game by four; when we won the faceoff battle, we won the game by four but only because the defense kind of slacked off after gaining what looked like an insurmountable seven-goal lead. I can't see anything so lopsided happening this time around, which means a tight game. And a tight game goes in our favor, because...

4. Duke is having major-league goalie issues. You'll remember that their starting goalie, Dan Wigrizer, got yanked during our ACCT matchup, and effectively lost his starting job then and there. Backup Mike Rock took over and started the next three games. Then Rock got pulled in the UNC game - a game they were winning - because he'd only managed to make one save against five UNC goals. Wigrizer finished the game after a short and unsuccessful stint by third-stringer Devon Sherwood and didn't do all that great either. Lord only knows who'll get the start in net for Duke on Saturday, but all three options have enough of a body of work to show that whoever it is will play poorly.

Way things are going now, no result between a 15-goal loss and a 15-goal win will surprise me all that much. "Whoever has the ball will score"....that much is true, but UVA's the team you want to bet on if both teams have the ball equally. a faceoff.

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