Friday, May 13, 2011

game preview: Bucknell

Date/Time: Sunday, May 15; 3:00


History against the Bison: 2-0

Last matchup: UVA 27, Bucknell 5; 4/25/98; Charlottesville

Last game: UVA 11, Penn 2 (4/30); Bucknell 10, Colgate 3 (5/1)

Finally the second season.  Tournament time is a fresh start, though it's certainly nice to be entering the tourney coming off of a big feelgood victory instead of a loss or an ugly win.  Despite that, the Hoos are a popular upset pick.  It hasn't been the greatest of seasons and Bucknell's captured the attention of a lot of pundits and people who think they're pundits by having an outstanding season.  Their best ever, in fact.  This will be their second tournament game in their history, having last attended 10 years ago.

The huge concern for the Hoos, as always, is defense.  Even a two-goal effort in the last game, against Penn, isn't going to quell that concern.  UVA continues to be the second-worst team in the country - again, among company like VMI, Presbyterian, Mercer, and St. Joseph's - at getting turnovers on the defensive end.  I mean, just pitiful.  The national average is about 44% - that is, 44% of post-clear defensive possessions end in turnovers - and for UVA it's just 36.1%.  Not only that but Bucknell does a good job of holding on to the ball.  So Adam Ghitelman will need to stand tall.  Bucknell's offense operates with middling efficiency but they do get good, well-rounded scoring, led by Ryan Klipstein with 30 goals.

Where Bucknell truly shines is on defense.  Post-clear, they allow goals on just 25.1% of possessions - that makes them third-best in the coutnry - and they've allowed double-digit goals in only two games this year, both times allowing 11.  Caveats about quality of opposition apply since we're talking about the Patriot League, but only to a point.  Their four best wins are Villanova, Penn State, and two over Colgate.  They're also good at getting turnovers, but that department matches strength against strength - UVA is also outstanding at not losing the ball to turnovers and since we'll be playing sans the Bratton brothers, that's bound to be a place where our performance will be even stronger.

Overall, this is an opponent with a solid, solid game and no major weaknesses.  That's what you earn when you drop to the 7 seed.  They're good between the pipes - goaltender Kyle Feeney has a .561 save percentage - and good at both ends of the field, especially defense.  The fact that their opponents don't score much, and 70% of their opponents' goals have been assisted, suggests that their biggest strength is one-on-one defense on the ball, so it's probably in our best interest to continue the kind of offensive approach we had against Penn.  Much (MUCH) better ball movement and motion without the ball, and crisper passing.  The way we've played most of the season would probably play right into Bucknell's hands.

On the other hand, if there's one hallmark of UVA lacrosse we should be going back to, it's out-athleting the opposition in the middle of the field.  Bucknell's faceoffs, ride, and clearing ability are OK, not great.  The best way to win this game will be to unleash Chris LaPierre and some of our better athletes in the middle and try for some goals in unsettled situations - or at the very least, earn more possessions.  Both teams can win this one, but UVA's chances will be best if they can get a few lightning strikes.

As a side note, Dom Starsia will be going for the all-time win record on Sunday; he has a chance to tie the record of Jack Emmer who probably-not-coincidentally will be calling the game.  A run to the Final Four will give Starsia the record outright.

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