Thursday, May 13, 2010

game preview: Mount St. Mary's

Moment of truth. Saturday night, under the Klockner lights, UVA fans and a curious nation get their first look at the men's lacrosse team since....well, since the Robert Morris game actually, because it wasn't even 48 hours thereafter when their world went spinning upside down. The women don't play until Sunday, so this is the first chance for the loyal, the casual, the curious, and the voyeuristic to get a peek into Virginia Lacrosse since the news cycle hit full blast.

The overarching question, obviously, is what kind of mindset the team will be in when the whistle blows. Because the players have been rightly veiled under a shroud of protection and Coach Starsia has rightly spoken very little and said even less (and with one of his charges in jail and his father passing away in the past two weeks, it's not been an easy fortnight) every fan is anxious to see what transpires.

Fortunately, though it's the NCAA tournament, UVA took care of business with a vengeance in the regular season and earned a very pedestrian first-round opponent - and one they've seen before. Mount St. Mary's hosted the Hoos in our second game of the season and their opener; not only that, but the Mount's only other trip to the NCAA tournament ended after one game, also right here in Klockner.

The game back in February was a 15-7 triumph for UVA, and other than a shot total more than twice MSM's, UVA didn't blow the Mountaineers away on the scoring sheet. They simply won the faceoff battle, won the ground ball battle, went a perfect 18-for-18 on clears, and let the scoreboard take care of itself. Starsia also took his foot off the gas in the fourth, emptying the bench and getting backup goalies Fortunato and Eimer some burn as well. Chris Bocklet officially announced his presence as a goal-scoring machine with 4 tallies, and Connor English had a hat trick too.

Any discussion of Mount St. Mary's starts with their standout goalie, T.C. DiBartolo, who leads the entire country in save percentage at .606. The difference between Mount St. Mary's, MAAC champ and Mount St. Mary's, MAAC 6th-place is DiBartolo. They get outshot fairly heavily, especially for a tournament team, and if they had an average goalie with a .540 save percentage, they'd allow more than three extra goals per game.

For scoring, MSM relies heavily on attackman Cody Lehrer, whose 48 goals and .471 shooting percentage outpace anyone on UVA's roster. Lehrer is a sophomore, and that makes him not at all unique in the Mount's lineup: their top seven scorers and entire starting attack and midfield are all freshmen or sophomores. The Mount even has their own version of the Bratton twins - they call them the Schmidts, and not only do they look identical, they score identical. Bryant is a midfielder and Brett plays on the attack, and they each scored 36 points. Big bro Justin is a reserve defenseman who's also played in all 16 games.

Overall, they have an offense to be concerned about. Very accurate shooters. When they have the ball they're dangerous, but they do a poor job of getting the ball. They cause fewer than six turnovers a game, good for just 7th of 9 in their conference, and they're a poor clearing team at just 79%. This makes them a really great matchup for UVA, a good team at taking care of the ball and one of the very best at going to get it - particularly on the ride, where opponents enjoy just a 76% success rate on clears.

The recipe for a win on Saturday, therefore, is the exact same as it was in February. Win the battles on the ground and the goal-scoring will take care of itself. A little overaggressiveness won't hurt anything - in fact, this is the time and the opponent for it. A young team, most of whom will be playing in front of the largest crowd of their lives, under the lights on the biggest stage of their lives. A team not particularly good at the gritty stuff like ground balls or clears. Minus silly penalties - probably the biggest concern of the game - this is the right team to get aggressive against. And this time it's for keeps, so there won't be any lifting off the gas pedal in the later stages. Finally, it's time for some lacrosse.

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