Friday, April 6, 2012

game preview: North Carolina

Date/Time: Saturday, April 7; 1:00


Record against the Heels: 48-24

Last matchup: UVA 11, UNC 10; 4/9/11; Charlottesville

Last game: UVA 12, Md. 8 (3/31); UNC 13, JHU 9 (4/1)

Efficiency stats:

Faceoff %:
UVA: 57.3%
UNC: 59.9%

Clearing %:
UVA: 90.2% (off.), 85.4% (def.)
UNC: 90.0% (off.), 79.0% (def.)

Scoring %:
UVA: 38.9% (off.), 29.4% (def.)
UNC: 33.6% (off.), 33.9% (def.)

UVA: 19.66 (3rd of 61)
UNC: 18.26 (6th of 61)

UVA: 12.90 (15th of 61)
UNC: 14.35 (26th of 61)

(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 14.80. Ratings ARE adjusted for strength of competition.)

Is it bad that we only have a three-game ACC season and my first thought in trying to type the opening paragraph here was, "man, it's kind of the doldrums of the season right now"?  Yes, probably.  It is the main slog of the lacrosse season, sort of the equivalent of early February in basketball, but the way lacrosse goes, what you've got is the gauntlet of basically equally difficult games in the middle of the lacrosse world spotlight, so I really should stop whining.  It's much better than in basketball where we have to keep toggling our thinking between "we're gonna get killed" and "we should smoke these clowns but OMG what if we don't."

-- UVA on offense

What jumps out on the stat sheet here is UNC's pedestrian D-rating, which makes them a defense that's only slightly better than average.  It comes from things like allowing 10 goals each to the likes of Penn and Dartmouth.  The latter is 47th of 61 teams with a 13.17 O-rating; remember, the average is about 14.80.

UNC has a fairly good ride, but the problem is Carolina is actually below average in the scoring-percentage department; they're allowing goals on 33.6% of opponents' offensive possessions, which is actually slightly worse than the national average of 32.7%.  Not up to the usual standards of an ACC team.  Opponents have gotten 63.7% of shots on cage against the Heels (compare to 58% for UVA's opponents), and goalie Steven Rastivo saves only 53.1% of those; all these numbers add up to a defense that's only about average nationally.

Their defense hasn't been 100% all season; Charlie McComas,a team captain and generally considered the best UNC defender, missed time early on while healing up from an injury.  UNC also tends to do a little more substituting and shuffling at close-in defense than most teams.  McComas's injury doesn't explain some of those more questionable results, though.  The other two defensive starters are Kieran McDonald and Jordan Smith, and they're OK.

UVA will be the best team the Heels have faced on offense this year; the closest approximation is Duke, which took a 9-3 halftime lead enroute to a 13-goal performance.  Carolina's win over Hopkins was impressive for their offense, which scored seemingly at will, not for their defense; Hopkins is a good but not great offensive team, so allowing nine goals is about par for the course.

There's potential for some fun plays, too; almost three-quarters of opposing goals against Carolina have been assisted, which is a high numbers.  You've seen our guys try this season (sometimes too hard) to make the tic-tac-toe pass for the easy goal; opportunities to do so on Saturday should be present.  You have to like our chances to get a few goals on this team.

-- UVA on defense

On offense is where UNC is really dangerous, and they'd be even more so if Nicky Galasso were healthy.  Galasso is a well-rounded attackman and was UNC's top player last year, but underwent surgery in November and fortunately for UNC's opponents has not been at full strength since.  He's mostly been coming off the bench as he slowly gets healthy, and scored a goal and an assist last week, but the attack has been led by others this year.

Marcus Holman (16 G, 23 A) has taken over that role for the Heels this year.  As much mixing-and-matching as coach Joe Breschi has done on defense, he's done even more on offense; Holman is the only offensive player to start all 11 games.  A pair of freshmen, Joey Sankey and Jimmy Bitter (yes, Billy's brother, how many other families named Bitter do you know?) are the next two guys to watch for.

It's a very attack-heavy offense, by which I mean the midfielders are not heavy participants.  The top five scorers all play attack, and they've all started games this year and will rotate in and out.  You have to go to the sixth slot on the stat sheet (freshman Chad Tutton, 9 G, 6 A) to find a midfielder.  Obviously this puts pressure on the defensemen, who'll also have to communicate their assignments with all the substituting going on.

UNC has lost a few questionable games, but their offense makes them a highly dangerous team.  I watched their game against Hopkins and they broke down the Blue Jay defense like it was nothing.  13 goals on that Hopkins team is a hell of an accomplishment.  Carolina's got an excellent faceoff man in R.G. Keenan, and offense plus faceoff prowess equals can beat anyone.  UVA will have their hands full.

-- Outlook

As long as the Hoos can deal with the Heels' offense, we should be fine.  That's a tall order, of course.  But remember: they also have to deal with ours.  Stanwick to Bocklet is the deadliest combination in the country, and a few of our other guys have figured out how to score too.  If UVA wins this game, we'll be assured, at a minimum, of the right to wear white jerseys in the first ACCT game.  So that's something, because I don't really like the blue ones, not with the neon orange shoulder stripe.  I promised myself I'd refrain from saying anything about revenge for basketball, and I got this far but screw it: let's get revenge for basketball.

-- Final score: UVA 14, UNC 12

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