Friday, May 18, 2012

game preview: Notre Dame

Date/Time: Sunday, May 20; 12:00


Record against the Irish: 5-1

Last meeting: UVA 14, ND 10; 3/13/06; Charlottesville (NCAA tournament 1st round)

Last game: UVA 6, Princeton 5 (5/13); ND 13, Yale 7 (5/13)

Efficiency stats:

Faceoff %:
UVA: 54.4%
ND: 47.7%

Clearing %:
UVA: 90.2% (off.); 87.9% (def.)
ND: 89.0% (off.); 86.9% (def.)

Scoring %:
UVA: 36.1% (off.); 29.5% (def.)
ND: 30.4% (off.); 21.5% (def.)

UVA: 18.20 (8th)
ND: 14.52 (36th)

UVA: 12.74 (10th)
ND: 10.07 (1st)

Princeton gave the Hoos a tough battle on the defensive end last week; perhaps the best thing that could've happened given this week's opponent.  At stake is another trip to the lacrosse Final Four; if the Hoos win this game it'll be their fifth straight bid, but they'll have to get through the best defense in the country to get there.  (And Duke is looking for six in a row.  The last time there was a Final Four with neither Duke nor UVA was 2004, and only '06 and '07 had just one of the two.)

-- UVA on offense

You don't have a great defense without a great goaltender, and Notre Dame's John Kemp is a great goaltender.  A goalie's save percentage is somewhat reliant on the defense in front - the better the defense, the weaker the shots - but Kemp's sky-high .641 save percentage is too good for that kind of caveat.  It's almost forty points better than the next-best in the country.  If college lacrosse had a Vezina Trophy, anyone not voting for Kemp would lose their privileges.

Really, anywhere you look the defensive numbers are staggering.  Last week we played the number two team in the country in defensive scoring percentage; Princeton has allowed just 24.6% of opponent's offensive-zone possessions to become goals.  This week, #1 - Notre Dame's number is an insanely stingy 21.4%.  Think about it like this: if you play a typical game - win 10 faceoffs and clear the ball 15 times, you're only going to score five goals.  For stat nerds, the national average is 33% (8-9 goals in that situation), and Notre Dame is two and a half standard deviations below the mean.  Princeton is roughly one and half - that's how big a gap there is between Notre Dame's defense and the rest of the country.

When needing offensive punch after a game without much, the coaches like to move Matt White from midfield to attack.  It didn't work last week, but I think it ought to be the gameplan this week.  Our offense is very good at what they do, but they don't have too much in the way of a Plan B when Plan A doesn't work.  White is the best dodger on the team, which doesn't have much in the way of dodging skills and therefore must rely on its passing to earn scoring chances.  You've got to do something different when your offense has been a little slow lately and now you're facing the top defensive team in the land - and it's not like that'd be very radical, UVA fans have been wanting White at attack most of the year.

ND's Kevin Randall was chosen as the Big East DPOY, but really, if they didn't pick a Domer for that award people would've raised an eyebrow.  Steele Stanwick had a better defenseman in Princeton's Wiedmaier chasing him around last week.  ND is more of a perfectly-executed system defense than one that has elite man-on-man defenders.  They don't cause a ton of turnovers.  Every one of our four starting poles has more caused turnovers than Randall - this is due partly to Notre Dame's slower pace of play and partly due to the fact that they're often content to start the clear off of Kemp's stick rather than attack the ballcarrier aggressively.  This is good news for UVA, who struggles against big, physical defenses and should, if patient enough, be able to eventually break down a system.

-- UVA on defense

Good news here: ND is actually a below-average offensive team.  14 games in and nobody has 20 goals yet, although that'll probably change on Sunday because leading scorer Sean Rogers is only one goal shy.

Still, the bottom line up front is that if the Hoos put forth the kind of defensive effort they did last week, Notre Dame won't score.  (I don't mean never score, but, you know.)  The Irish don't have the firepower, and their two losses were a direct result of that.  The first was a 3-goal effort against Penn State, and in the second  - the BE tourney loss to St. John's - they allowed the Johnnies to break down their defense early and then couldn't catch up, despite shutting the Johnnies out in the fourth quarter.

Notre Dame also has something on their stat sheet that I tend to consider a bad indicator for an offense: fewer than half their goals are assisted.  There aren't many guys who can create for another player.  The most dangerous guy in this regard is midfielder Jim Marlatt, with 18 goals and 11 assists.  Marlatt also does an excellent job getting the ball on cage when he shoots. 

But nobody on this team is a take-charge type.  The polite way to say that is "balanced," which I'd say if they were more prolific.  In reality, their offensive lineup is made up of reasonably capable players that nobody fears.  Again, part of the reason for the low numbers is their pace of play, but only part - ND's reputation for slowball is actually somewhat overblown.  The national average O-rating is hovering around 15 right now, which means Notre Dame is half a goal below average.

-- Outlook

I think St. John's provided the blueprint here: beat the Irish early, and you can hold them off late.  I also think the reverse is true: if you let Notre Dame take the lead into halftime, they'll almost certainly hold on to it the rest of the game.  So you know what needs to be done here.  Goals will obviously be at a premium, and if we can get them early, so much the better.  As ever, I have a hard time predicting the Hoos to lose, so I won't - but there's going to be a lot of pressure on the offense, and it's also not that hard to envision them falling short.

-- Final score: UVA 7, ND 5

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