Saturday, April 6, 2013

game preview: North Carolina

Date/Time: Saturday, April 6; 3:30


Record against the Heels: 48-24

Last meeting: UNC 11, UVA 9; 4/20/12, Charlottesville - ACC tournament

Last game: Md. 9, UVA 7 (3/30); UNC 11, JHU 10 (3/30)

Rankings: UVA #19/#18, UNC #6/#4

Efficiency stats:

UVA: 53.6% (#17)
UNC: 52.5% (#22)

Clearing (offense):
UVA: 92.7 (#2)
UNC: 87.2 (#24)

Clearing (defense):
UVA: 83.6% (#19)
UNC: 85.4% (#33)

Scoring % (offense):
UVA: 32.8% (#28)
UNC: 37.0% (#13)

Scoring % (defense):
UVA: 32.2% (#29)
UNC: 31.0% (#22)

UVA: 16.25 (#17)
UNC: 18.87 (#9)

UVA: 13.12 (#17)
UNC: 12.77 (#14)

(Ratings are my KenPom-esque measures of efficiency for lacrosse. Numbers are schedule-adjusted. National average is about 15.1.)

Not gonna waste a lot of time blowing flowers up your ass here.  This is gut-check time for the laxers, because a loss here all but destroys UVA's tournament hopes.  I'm beginning to think this season is simply the lacrosse gods' way of devising a new way for Duke to torture UVA lacrosse, since losing to both UNC and Duke would 99.9% officially end those tourney wishes, with Duke doing the dirty work.  But first we have to lose to Carolina.

-- UVA on offense

I've already partly gone over UVA's offensive woes.  They don't have a dynamic playmaker, they have less athleticism than we're used to seeing, and they don't have the ability to break up the packed-in defenses opponents are deploying that have made settled-situation offense so damn difficult this year.  I'd like to see them turn Ryan Tucker's shot loose - Tucker has the hardest shot on the team by far and if he just indiscriminately slings it in the direction of the net, the worst that can happen is that it bounces off some defender, whose new welt makes him think twice about standing in the way next time.  (This is mostly a joke.  Tucker's shot is hard but hasn't been any more effective than anyone else's; goalies have a .613 save percentage against him, second only to Charlie Streep.)

Failing that, the coaches have got to find a working lineup combination.  I don't think having Owen Van Arsdale out there as much as they do is helping, as he doesn't make up for his small size with quickness.  It might be worse than usual against Carolina; Kieran McDonald is 6'4" and if UNC gets Jake Bailey back from injury, he's 6'5".  That makes a fairly formidable-sized back line of defense that 5-foot-not-much OVA - and the rest of the offense, really - will have trouble with.

Carolina is godawfully thin at goalie, with every netminder but freshman Kieran Burke injured in some way or another.  Burke has started every game and acquitted himself decently with a .538 save percentage.  He's playing well enough to give UVA trouble, anyway, as we have made a habit of firing some truly stoppable shots this year.

Overall UNC is a little less stout on defense than the opposition we've seen recently, but not much.  Hopkins and Maryland have better D-ratings (12.20 and 11.50, respectively) but the difference is small enough that I don't think it'll make a major dent.  It's possible that UNC's shifting lineups may help us some; injuries have thinned out their defense a little and forced changes to their starting three.  Still, UVA's hopes, as usual, lie in transition, and the chances of scoring drop dramatically once the play settles down.

-- UVA on defense

It's kind of a shame the goalies haven't been playing well, because the defenders deserve some kudos for their play.  The long-stick guys have been more or less the team's strong point all season.  They broke down against Hopkins but did a nice job keeping Maryland in check.  We need more of that Maryland stuff and less of the Hopkins stuff, because UNC, as usual, has an excellent offense.

UNC is constructed somewhat like Hopkins (uh-oh) in that the offense is mostly generated by the attackmen, with midfielders playing only a supporting role.  Marcus Holman is a top playmaker and scorer (24 G, 23 A); Joey Sankey (26 G, 10 A) is the finisher.  This is a small group; Sankey stands a mere 5'6" and third attackman Jimmy Bitter at 5'9".  Holman towers over them both at 5'11".  Small but very quick, all of them.  The top midfield threats are Davey Emala and Chad Tutton, both decent scorers.

The matchup should be a good one for UVA, since it's the short-sticks who've been much more porous this year than the long-sticks, even accounting for the obvious.  Part of that is because we've seen a lot more cases of guys caught playing defense who shouldn't be.  It's been much harder to sub in short-stick defenders, which keeps Blake Riley and Bobby Hill on the bench more than they should be.  Perhaps Dom Starsia was onto something when he said he'd be using Chris LaPierre on offense more.  Use him on offense so you can use him on defense.  Anyway, I said "should be" good.  In theory, since guys like Scott McWilliams and Greg Danseglio are having solid years.  In practice, Maryland is a much more midfield-heavy team, and UVA did alright, whereas Hopkins is an attack-heavy team and smoked us.

Anyway, here's where I get all existential and depressing: it won't matter unless we can score.  If the offense goes like it has, the defense will only determine whether it's a close one or a blowout.

-- Outlook

Not so good, as usual.  Magic 8-ball says we don't make the tournament this year.  It's possible, given the schedule we play, that a win here could move us into the field in this week's bracketology, but even then remember the odds will be against us.  But unless something has really changed in practice this week, I don't see the offense having the ability to pull out of its malaise.

Final score: UNC 12, UVA 8

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