It's not strictly midseason when you've got 10 games down and three to go in the regular season, but really, in the lacrosse season, only when it's half over does it really begin. It's a good time to take stock of things.
Shame it was, that the best game of the season also happened to come the same weekend as the abrupt ending of the basketball season, which demanded attention. The Hopkins game deserved a bunch of attention too; it was the second OT win over Hopkins in a row, and I say it was UVA's most entertaining win since Bucknell. UVA-Hop rarely disappoints.
Hopkins is having a crappy season; they're at critical risk of missing the tournament for the second time in three years. That doesn't make them not fun to beat and it doesn't make them not dangerous. The effort put forth in winning - despite a major disadvantage in possessions thanks to the usual faceoff deficiencies - was impressive. Hopkins was held below their usual efficiency as I calculate efficiency, marking a solid game by the defense. And let's not kid ourselves here, an excellent game by Matt Barrett, who is starting to look like the four-year starter we need him to be. 13 saves and 15 goals don't tell the story.
Interestingly, I think the game provided ammo to both sides in the debate between people who think lacrosse needs to be faster, faster, faster, and the side that says lacrosse is basically fine and slowing down is often a perfectly legitimate strategy. (Far as I can tell, the latter contingent consists of me.) This was a high-possession game, and the see-saw goal-scoring is a huge part of what made it entertaining. Not to mention it helps strengthen rivalries; any Virginia fan who didn't get really damn sick of the Hopkins clap-along every time they scored, is deaf.
On the flip side, Hopkins came under quite a bit of criticism for not stalling at the game's end. With two-plus minutes on the clock, a two-goal lead, a two-man advantage, and the ball, Hopkins looked like a damn safe bet to win. The refs wouldn't have put a shot clock on until after the penalty was over and Hopkins could easily have burned half the time remaining just by playing four corners. Instead they slung the ball aimlessly at the net, which set off a sequence of events that gave UVA a goal shortly after. Then they generally failed to anticipate that Dom Starsia would pull the trigger on the most obvious move in the book - pull the goalie in order to double the ball - and got burned again. By the same token, UVA benefitted tremendously from stall tactics - again the obvious move of sacrificing 15-ish seconds of man-up time in order not to risk a faceoff to start OT. People who want a shot clock in lacrosse ought to remember that it really puts a team who's earned a lead at a big disadvantage. Maybe that's a feature and not a bug, I suppose.
Anyway, very nice game. What's it say about the rest of the season?
The same thing the Cornell game said, I think: This is a team with a split personality, which doesn't change from game to game or even quarter to quarter - it can switch from Jekyll to Hyde minute by minute, possession by possession. It can utterly stink for an entire half, it can make amateurish mental mistakes, and then it can do magic tricks to astound the mind. The result is a team that is close to a lock to not only make the tournament, but even host a tournament game, when frankly I'd've been hard-pressed to expect that before the season. It's also a team at severe risk of going 0-4 in the ACC and being left out of the ACC tournament for the second straight year. Between UNC and Duke, the easier game is clearly Duke, at least on paper; in the realm of the sport supernatural, Duke remains an insurmountable obstacle.
UVA will probably lose to both, then beat Georgetown and Penn and roll into the NCAA tournament seeded somewhere 5-8, where the most likely outcome is a win and then a loss. Since making the Final Four with some regularity is the expectation around here, and UVA is at risk of sending a graduating class on their way without ever going, you'd be forgiven for considering that a failure. On many levels it is. But this is still the second take on rebuilding since the national title in 2011. And I think the words I wrote to cap off the season preview still ring true: "But if this is a rebuilding year, it looks like a much better one than the 2013 disaster, and this rebuild has a much better chance of clicking." It hasn't been the ideal we-don't-rebuild-we-reload process over the past few years. But this version of the process is building up a lot of valuable experience and still remaining relevant on the landscape, unlike, say, 2013, or our Baltimorean rivals. I can't complain.