Friday, March 23, 2012

game preview: Johns Hopkins

Date/Time: Saturday, March 24; 2:00


Record against the Blue Jays: 28-53-1

Last matchup: JHU 12, UVA 11; 3/26/11; Baltimore

Last game: UVA 11, OSU 9 (3/17); JHU 11, Cuse 7 (3/17)

Opposing blogs: none

Efficiency breakdown:

Faceoff %:
UVA: 57.8%
JHU: 59.3%

Clearing %:
UVA: 88.6% off., 83.2% def.
JHU: 89.9% off., 72.8% def.

Scoring %:
UVA: 40.7% off., 28.0% def.
JHU: 28.7% off., 22.2% def.

UVA: 19.27 (#4 nat'l)
JHU: 15.21 (#22 nat'l)

UVA: 12.70 (#14 nat'l)
JHU: 9.17 (#2 nat'l)

(Stats explanation: Faceoff and clearing percentage: self-explanatory. Scoring %: percentage of offensive possessions (faceoff wins + successful clears + opp. failed clears) that result in goals. O-rating and D-rating are my own special sauce based on the above numbers. D-I average for each is currently about 14.60. Unlike last time you saw this, ratings ARE adjusted for strength of competition.)

Syracuse is in an obvious rebuilding year.  Duke and North Carolina have three losses each.  Maryland lost to UMBC.  Of the four undefeated teams remaining, two are midmajors.  Fortunately, for the sake of sanity in lacrosse, there's Virginia and Johns Hopkins.

We're used to this kind of thing by now, but yes: it's #1 vs. #2, and in a game which I think will determine the tournament's #1 seed.  (Yes, season's only half-over, anything can happen, blah blah blah whatever - these teams are both good enough that neither one is even remotely likely to collapse outright in the second half of the season, and therefore whoever wins is going to have the prettiest feather around in their cap.)

Not only is it #1 vs. #2, but it's a unanimous #1 (in the coaches' poll, anyway) vs. a near-unanimous #2 - there is one voter who put Hopkins #3.  You could hardly find a more ringing endorsement that these are the two best teams in lacrosse.  Time to make things happen.

-- UVA on offense

If you can score on Hopkins this year, you can score on anyone.  Goalie Pierce Bassett has an outstanding .606 save percentage, and Hopkins boasts a starting three on defense - Gavin Crisafulli, Tucker Durkin, and Chris Lightner - that's nothing but veteran upperclassmen.  Durkin is the star; as a sophomore last year, he was a second-team all-American.  This is a big, tall defense - one that will probably give 5'8" Owen Van Arsdale fits.  The only exception is LSM Michael Pellegrino at 5'9"; even so, expect more of a regular role for Matt White (who is big enough to not let the size of Hopkins's defense bother him) than we've seen so far this year.

Part of Hopkins's resume includes a rare shutout of Manhattan.  Manhattan has actually been shut out twice this year, which is probably unprecedented, but regardless of how bad a team is offensively, a shutout is a notable accomplishment.  Nobody has scored more than eight goals on them.  Hopkins's raw, unadjusted D-rating is the best in the country, better even than the vaunted Notre Dame defense, and it starts as soon as you get the ball.  The Blue Jay ride is the best in the country, with a successful ride on 40 of 147 chances (27.8%.)  And then once opponents do get the ball in the zone, they score on just 22.2% of those chances, the second-best rate in the country.  The national average is slightly over 32%, and UVA scores at a clip better than 40%, so something's got to give.

So it's one of the deepest, most powerful offenses in the country against one of - maybe the - toughest defenses.  UVA has not failed to score in double digits since shaking off the offseason rust against Drexel, and nobody has even come close to scoring in double digits against Hopkins.

-- UVA on defense

The above might be the glamor matchup, but this is where the game needs to be won.  Of the four offense/defense units in this game, the least impressive is Hopkins's O.  Midfielder John Ranagan was the only sophomore first-team AA in the country last year, but his play has dramatically fallen off; his shooting percentage is a paltry .156 and he's missing the net more often than not.

In the absence of Chris Boland (shoulder injury) and of Ranagan's shot, Zach Palmer has stepped up as Hopkins's most dangerous player.  He and fellow attackman Brandon Benn (both Canaijins) are the go-to combo this year for the Jays.  Palmer and Benn are the two stalwarts at attack; rotating around them are John Kaestner and Steele Stanwick's baby brother Wells.  Neither are primary pieces of the offense, but they'll hurt you if you forget about them.  Kaestner only has six shots this season, but four goals.

The starting midfield of Ranagan, Rob Guida, and John Greeley has been productive this season only by volume.  Ranagan and Guida are 1-2 on the team in shots taken, and both have miserable sub-.200 shooting percentages.  You wonder if Hopkins would be better off with the much more efficient Lee Coppersmith in the starting lineup; Coppersmith is known mainly for his speed but is Hopkins's third-leading goal scorer despite being on the second midfield unit.

Hopkins is an excellent clearing team with only 14 failed clears all season, and FOGO man Mike Poppleton is winning 65% of his faceoffs; these stats are two of the three that go into the O-rating, and they're both outstanding numbers.  Why then is Hopkins so relatively pedestrian in that department?  Scoring percentage; they're well below average at 28.7%.  As noted, their weakness is at midfield; UVA's strength on defense is their defensive midfield with Chris LaPierre leading the way, and also Dom Starsia's increasing fascination with the zone defense and willingness to mix up the look, especially in the second half with a lead.  These factors play right into our hands.  As long as Hopkins isn't given a disproportionate number of chances by dominating faceoffs, the Hoos should be able to at least control the JHU offense.

-- Outlook

Both sides are extremely confident.  Hopkins has done enough this season so far to earn the #1 seed in last week's inaugural bracketology and has a suffocating, physical defense.  But their offense hasn't played at a championship level, and UVA's is one of the best in the business.  A fast-paced, high-scoring game would be right in our favor, but I don't see the Hop allowing us to do that.  Nevertheless, I like our chances.  A lot.

-- Final score: UVA 8, JHU 6

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