national champs baby
Hit 'Em With A Stick: Ohio lacrosse preview
[Ed: bump for everyone sticking around for lax Saturday.]
(Saturday's lacrosse game against Ohio State will be the first Michigan game in history truly available for mass consumption, as it will be broadcast on BTN. No paid streams, no hunting around the internet for free ones, no heading to the opponent's website for lame-ass freeze-prone gametracker. Therefore it deserves special treatment, so here is a preview of what you can expect.)
Date/Time: Saturday, April 14; 2:30
Record against the Buckeyes: 0-0
Last matchup: None
Last game: UD 11, U-M 7 (4/7); OSU 10, Hobart 9 (4/7)
Records: U-M 1-10; OSU 5-6 (3-1 ECAC)
(Michigan is an ECAC conference-mate of Ohio, but merely an associate member this season, as not every ECAC team was able to make room on its schedule for Michigan. Therefore our games don't count in the conference standings.)
|Faceoff %||42.0% (54th)||58.0% (54th)||44.5% (47th)||55.5% (47th)|
|Clearing %||71.2% (60th)||76.1% (2nd)||91.0% (3rd)||81.9% (19th)|
|Scoring %||28.7% (51st)||38.9% (57th)||27.8% (54th)||26.8% (7th)|
|O-rating||11.64 (55th)||13.70 (42nd)|
|D-rating||17.94 (57th)||11.99 (8th)|
(Please see first comment for explanation of these statistics.)
Other than perhaps the season opener - and maybe not even that - this is the game that Michigan has been targeting as its biggest all season. It could be because of the opponent; sources tell me that some kind of a rivalry may exist between these two schools. The athletic department, however, has scheduled us a springtime bonanza, with this game directly following the spring football game at the Big House. The weather will be warm but potentially rainy; with any luck the latter will hold off and a five-digit crowd will stick around for this Creator's Trophy showdown.
Yes, I said trophy, though it's not actually at stake this time. The Big Ten lacrosse-playing schools - Michigan, Ohio, and Penn State - have banded together to award a three-way trophy similar to the Commander-in-Chief's trophy. PSU already beat both schools to earn the inaugural Creator's Trophy, and it will stay with the current trophy-holder in the event of a three-way 1-1 tie in any given year.
Ohio last made the NCAA tournament in 2008, and with a first-round upset of 8th-seeded Cornell, the Buckeyes (along with Notre Dame) were at the time considered representative of a Western resurgence (or perhaps just "surgence") in the sport of lacrosse. But they haven't been able to duplicate that success since, as ND has left them in the dust somewhat, and head coach Nick Myers - who was promoted to the head job following that tournament run - may be feeling his seat warm up a little bit. (However, OSU is a football-is-king school, so don't expect the heavy boosters to particularly care, as they would at a place like Syracuse or UVA.)
[Ed: more after the jump.]
-- Michigan on offense
Michigan is one of the worst teams in the country on offense, bad by D-I standards in most phases of the game. They have not yet succeeded in scoring 10 goals in any game all season, except for when playing Mercer, and Ohio is one of the best defensive teams U-M will face/has faced all season. Results have been mixed when playing teams of this defensive caliber; the Wolverines scored eight goals against Loyola (3rd in the country in D-rating), which was one of their best outputs all season, but a measly five goals - the season's worst production - against Denver (7th in the country in D-rating.)
The clearing game is particularly bad - the second-worst in the country, ahead of only Wagner. The national average is about 83.2%; Michigan scrapes by at just over 70%. I believe this is simply the most obvious manifestation of playing varsity lacrosse with club athletes.
Michigan's top goal-scorer is 5th-year senior attackman Trevor Yealy, with 20. Yealy is purely a finisher; he has just one assist to go with those goals. However, on a team with more playmakers, Yealy could have 30 or more goals, which would put him among the country's leaders; he's a legitimate talent and a threat to most opponents. Michigan is somewhat lacking in playmakers, though; just over half of Michigan's goals have been assisted. In one man's humble opinion (mine, in case you're slow) a good number is about 2/3rds - the offense is more consistent and sustainable that way.
The top overall scorer is junior attackman Thomas Paras, and rounding out the starting attack is freshman Will Meter of Brother Rice, who mans the X for Michigan (which means he plays mostly behind the net and quarterbacks the offense). Junior midfielder Willie Steenland has 11 assists, and he and Meter are the only players with more than 10.
Ohio State plays a tough defense. They're known for being a slow-it-down team, which many see as the reason for their low goals-against number, but they've allowed opponents to score on only 26.8% of opportunities. (A good number, trust me.) Goalie Greg Dutton has a solid .577 save percentage, and the close-in defense is led by two seniors, Joe Bonnani and Keenan Ochwat. Bonnani is a senior captain and preseason first-team all-conference defender, and Ochwat has 21 caused turnovers already this year.
OSU is a very stall-o-riffic team, and Michigan clears very poorly, so chances will be very, very limited. In order to win, the Wolverines have to take advantage of their opportunities much better than they have in the past. But there's very little secondary scoring - Michigan is balanced, but outside the top six, there's very little contribution. A common pattern during games is that Michigan jumps out to an early lead - perhaps catching the opposition napping or taking them lightly - and then the defense figures out who the dangermen are and shuts them down. Scoring on this defense will be a tall order.
-- Michigan on defense
The lone real bright spot is on this side of the ball: Michigan's ride. Opponents are clearing at only a 76% success rate. On the flip side, Ohio State is one of the best clearing teams in the country; the problem is that once they get it in the box, they hardly know what to do with it.
Ohio's offensive efficiency is not good. Better than Michigan's, but still bad. Actually, Michigan's scoring percentage is better - it's mostly clears that provide the difference. If the two teams had identical clearing percentages, they'd have near-identical O-ratings. The difference is, Ohio has one dangerman: Canadian attackman Logan Schuss, their only Tewaaraton watch-lister.
Schuss has 31 goals and 12 assists on the season and is a tough customer to stop in all facets of the game. He's also picked up 21 ground balls. He's a legitimate player who could start for most any D-I team.
The rest of the offense? Truthfully speaking, a bunch of no-namers. Most of them have very poor shooting percentages. OSU as a team has just a .244 shooting percentage - that is, the percentages of their shots which are goals. Michigan's defense has been very porous this year, although what I don't have are stats that compare their performance with Emil Weiss in net to that with Dylan Westerhold; Weiss is clearly the superior goalie as Westerhold's .354 save percentage isn't even presentable.
So this is a case of weakness vs. weakness, except when OSU is clearing the ball in which case it's strength on strength. If - a big if, but if - the defense can limit Schuss, that will give Michigan its best chance to pull off the upset.
We already know Michigan can't yet compete - or rather, to be more accurate can compete but in fits and starts - against decent D-I competition. Ohio is decent D-I competition, and inconsistent at that. They beat Denver (which beat U-M 17-5), and came within a goal of knocking off 8-1 Notre Dame and undefeated Loyola. But they managed just two goals against Penn State, lost to tiny NEC school Robert Morris, and needed OT to beat 2-7 Hobart.
Meanwhile, Michigan's best quarters have been the first and fourth, by far. The latter is often because the game is out of reach by then, but the former has brought us fans some hey-we-can-beat-these-guys teaser excitement, usually preceding a second-quarter collapse as the opposition realizes they probably shouldn't be losing.
However, OSU - have I mentioned this yet? - is one of the most stall-o-riffic teams in all of lacrosse, keeping scores close and low. They had a two-goal lead on Denver with over half the fourth quarter left, and successfully stalled away the rest of the game as the Pioneers stood by and let it happen. They took a 6-1 lead on UVA and then went straight to stall mode trying to fritter away the rest of the clock IN THE SECOND QUARTER. (Fortunately, it didn't work that time.)
To have any chance, Michigan must do three things:
- Limit Logan Schuss.
- Keep it close in the middle quarters.
- Take advantage of the precious few chances available.
Otherwise they'll lose their 11th of the season. It's very hard to put together 60 minutes of lacrosse like that against a good team, so a win is going to be unlikely. Ohio had better get its kicks in while it can, though; this season is only a dry run.