History against the Pioneers: 4-1
Last matchup: UVA 13, DU 7; 2/20/06; Charlottesville
Last game: UVA 13, Cornell 9 (5/21); DU 14, JHU 9 (5/21)
Opposing blogs: LetsGoDU
Here we are: where before the season we arrogantly believed we'd have no trouble getting to; where midseason we despondently thought we had no chance of getting to; where after the season we hopefully spoke of getting to. The Final Four. This senior class has never missed out on it, but they've also never done anything better than one-and-done, losing three times in the semifinals.
The Denver Pioneers, on the other hand, two weeks ago won the first tournament game in their school's history. When our seniors were sophomores, Bill Tierney was at Princeton and Denver was 1-4 in the now-defunct GWLL in a season that included a loss to Quinnipiac. That upstartiness makes them the sentimental favorite around the lax world, and I can hardly blame folks since if it was anyone else in our position, I'd probably be pulling for Denver too. But it's not, so screw that.
The first thing to know about Denver: a highly efficient offensive machine. If anyone had any questions about their strength of schedule in the past, scoring 14 goals on Johns Hopkins ought to put those to rest; that was a season high on the Hop by three. Denver comes in second in the country, behind only Duke, in the KenPomish offensive ratings I put together.
And UVA is fourth. Both defenses are a couple notches below elite status, so this could be the game of the weekend. Goalies beware.
There really isn't much of a weakness in Denver's game, to tell the truth. At 57% on the year, they'll probably kill us on faceoffs. Solid goalie. Their goal-scorers are well-rounded guys. Nobody is strictly a finisher or strictly a playmaker. Top attackman Mark Matthews has 45 goals and 24 assists. And Denver does a very good job putting shots on net. And to top it off, goalie Jamie Faus has a .570 save percentage, right up there with the top goalies in the country.
So on paper, this is a really, really tight matchup. The old Virginia, circa March, looked nothing like this Denver team; the new one is a credible match, except without all the faceoff success. The obvious intangible is that none of these Denver players have made it to such a big stage before, while UVA hardly knows anything but. I'd like to think that'll make a real difference, but I doubt it. Bill Tierney, he's been around the block a few times, and he'll know how to keep his players from going on emotional tilt. As always under the bright lights, winning this one will take pulling the right coaching strings at the right time, and somebody turning into the hero. Denver's not here on a fluke or a hot streak at the right time. I can't even convince myself 100% that we wouldn't rather have Hopkins. Despite the non-East-Coastiness, non-old-schoolery of the opponent, it has an old-fashioned, may-the-best-team-win slugfest feel to it. May the best team be Virginia.
Unless you just woke up - entirely possible and understandable if you're still in school - you know already that UVA hoops offiically picked up five-star forward Justin Anderson today. Unless you lived under a rock in a swamp - entirely possible and understandable if you're in school in Maryland - you know that this was mainly just a formality that was simmering for a little while now, ever since Anderson's visit to UVA last week. The best part is getting a ridiculously athletic five-star guy for the future; the second best part is listening to the denial, backtracking, and sour-grapesing from Marylanders who forgot we
At any rate, I'd have something much bigger on Anderson for you tomorrow, but it's vacation and I'mma be busy. Timing is just a little off. Next week.
**yes, it went both ways but to listen to Marylanders you'd think they made the tournament (they didn't), swept UVA (they didn't), have "owned" UVA recently (they haven't), and that their program isn't a foundering wreck that has to start almost completely over on the recruiting trail (it is.) Mark Turgeon is a solid coach who'll fix 'em back up in time, but til then the Terps will spend the summer in denial until the ugly proof shows up before their eyes starting in November.