Patrick Hruby is doing God's work.
Greetings, faithful. Believe it or not it's the spring sports season already, and Michigan lacrosse will begin its second season as a varsity program this Saturday, the 9th, when they take on Penn State at Oosterbaan. That makes this a pretty good time to bring everyone up to speed on the opposition they'll face this season.
A guide to what you'll see:
|Preseason rank||Inside Lacrosse media poll and USILA coaches poll, respectively|
|2012 computer||LaxPower's computer ranking (out of 61 teams)|
|Last season||What we did to them or they did to us|
|2012 O-rating||see below|
|2012 D-rating||see below|
The O-rating and D-rating are something I've created to quantify a team's tempo-free performance. It's pretty good, if I do say so myself. It's SOS-adjusted and the numbers essentially represent how many goals a team would score or give up in a 100-possession game based on how they performed over the year. Last year's average comes out to an even 15 (ok, 14.99) and most teams are in the 10-20 range.
Getting on with it:
Penn State - Sat., February 9th - Home
|Last season||L, 16-9|
|2012 O-rating||14.61 (34th)|
|2012 D-rating||13.12 (15th)|
This is the first game of the three-way Creator's Trophy series between Michigan, PSU, and the Buckeyes. Penn State of late typically has been a team sitting just on the outside of the 16-team NCAA tournament - I do weekly lacrosse bracketology on my blog and Penn State was my first team out in last year's final projection. Always on the cusp, never quite there. The pollsters appear to have them there again this year. CAA coaches voted them second by a narrow margin in the CAA preseason poll, and if they can get past UMass they might win it. The CAA is a solid mid-level conference.
PSU is generally a better defensive team than offensive one. Their top returning scorer will be attackman Jack Forster, with 27 goals and 12 assists last year. Their foundation is their defense, though. Austin Kaut is the CAA's top goalie and one of the better ones in the nation, and Kessler Brown made the CAA preseason team as an LSM. Expect a difficult season opener. Also, Yak Fact: PSU has a guy named Tom LaCrosse.
Bellarmine - Sat., February 16th - Away
|2012 O-rating||13.20 (42nd)|
|2012 D-rating||15.18 (33rd)|
A piece of history here, really, since this is Michigan's first official conference game. Last year they played as a sort of provisional ECAC member and the conference tried to accommodate them by playing as many games as could be scheduled, but none of them counted in the conference standings. Now it matters. Michigan's team is a little bit of a wild card, and I don't think any of us will be able to make much of a guess about their quality til they actually hit the field. But this is a decent chance to pick up a win and start the season off right. Bellarmine has been slowly moving toward respectability lately, and is no longer a day off for the powerhouse schools, but they've so far managed only to lose close. Still looking for that signature win. They're a little bit offensively challenged, with attackman Michael Ward the only player that would strike fear in most opponents. Can Michigan open some eyes and sit atop the ECAC standings two games into the season? Possible.
Johns Hopkins - Sat., February 23rd - Away
|2012 O-rating||16.50 (18th)|
|2012 D-rating||10.66 (2nd)|
Even people who aren't big into this stuff know Johns Hopkins for two things: a medical school and a lacrosse team. Coach John Paul and JHU's coach, Dave Pietramala, are best buds, hence the scheduling of this game, which may turn into an annual series. This will be Michigan's brush this year with royalty, and it probably won't be pretty. Pierce Bassett is a top goaltender and Hopkins brings back the nation's top defenseman from last year, Tucker Durkin. Plus Hopkins returns six of their top seven scorers, led by Zach Palmer and Brandon Benn. They're a legitimate national title contender. The slaughter will be televised online by ESPN.
Army - Sat., March 2nd - Neutral
|2012 O-rating||15.66 (26th)|
|2012 D-rating||13.19 (18th)|
No doubt thanks to the influence of well-known Michigan grad Stephen Ross, Michigan will play a neutral-site game against the Black Knights of West Point at Ross's house. Well, his stadium, anyway; this game takes place in Miami at the home of Ross's Miami Dolphins. Army tends to make occasional appearances in the NCAA tournament but lately has been on the outside looking in - still, they're a good team. Garrett Thul is an all-American attackman and scored 39 goals last year. Army has problems in net and has been getting sub-par goalie play, but Brendan Buckley is an excellent close-in defenseman who caused 30 turnovers last year. The Black Knights will be a very stiff test.
High Point - Wed., March 6th - Away
2013 is High Point's first lacrosse season, so there's not a lot to go by. Michigan should probably expect to win; these southern mid-majors offer a very promising avenue of expansion for the sport at the D-I level, but none are very good. High Point has actually already played this season, a 12-10 loss to Delaware as the national season opener, but I think that speaks more to Delaware's fall from grace than any threat from High Point to make national waves. Michigan ought to win, or else maybe take some lessons from the Panthers on how to build a program.
Hobart - Sat., March 9th - Away
|2012 O-rating||15.69 (24th)|
|2012 D-rating||16.00 (38th)|
Hobart is a venerable, traditional old program that dominated D-III lacrosse in their day. They're less successful in D-I, obviously, but they'll expect to beat Michigan. Their 4-9 record is a little deceiving because they like to fight above their weight class, and always play Cornell and Syracuse, as well as a bunch of the better mid-majors like Robert Morris and Colgate. Plus the ECAC is starting to turn out some quality lacrosse programs.
I think Michigan has a smallish chance to surprise and pull off a win here, certainly more so than in games like Army, but it'll be tough. Hobart has a great combination of attackmen in Cam Stone and Alex Love; Stone had 29 assists in 2012. At 2.23 per game he was tied for 4th in the nation last year, and Love was 5th in goals per game. This is Michigan's second conference game, but conference play doesn't get any easier from here on out.
Fairfield - Thu., March 14th - Away
|2012 O-rating||16.15 (22nd)|
|2012 D-rating||14.02 (23rd)|
Time to start getting into the conference schedule for serious. Fairfield made a serious run at the NCAA tournament last year and almost made it, but they weren't quite strong enough to earn an at-large bid and they couldn't get past Loyola in the ECAC championship game. I think they take a step back this year, but they're still a formidable opponent for Michigan with 35-goal scorer Sam Snow playing offensive midfield and a terrific face-off guy in Michael Roe.
Colgate - Sun., March 17th - Neutral
|2012 O-rating||19.21 (3rd)|
|2012 D-rating||13.04 (12th)|
It's another installment in the "Filthy Rich Alums Want To See The Shiny New Team Without Going Anywhere" series. Michigan appears at the home stadium of Fred Wilpon's New York Mets this time, giving the sizable NYC diaspora a chance to see the team in action as well. Don't expect a fun result. By now the team will be good and tired of the road, and Colgate is one of the best offensive teams in the nation. They still have Tewaaraton Trophy (lacrosse's Heisman) winner Peter Baum, who stats are off the gobdanged charts: 67 goals, 30 assists in 2012. That wasn't a close Tewaaraton vote. Ryan Walsh scored 38 goals and 22 assists himself, which would lead most teams, and Brendon McCann and Matt Baker return as well, both dangerous scores. Colgate won't lose much firepower from 2012, and between that and the road-weariness, this could be the biggest or second-biggest slaughter of the year. It's also the other TV game, featured on ESPNU.
Loyola - Sat., March 23rd - Home
|Last season||L, 15-8|
|2012 O-rating||18.00 (10th)|
|2012 D-rating||11.54 (4th)|
Finally back at home, and outdoors; this one, as with the rest of the season's home games, will be at the Big House. It's no reprieve though: the Greyhounds are the defending national champions. That game last year wasn't really as close as the score indicates as Loyola let up off the gas in the second half.
The pollsters apparently expect Loyola not to lose much, because both votes made them the overwhelming #1. They had two 50-goal scorers last year, one of which (Mike Sawyer) is back this season, and they've got quite a lineup of good-looking players ready to step into the gap. Another laugher could be in the cards here.
Air Force - Sat., March 30th - Home
|Last season||L, 15-6|
|2012 O-rating||14.51 (37th)|
|2012 D-rating||13.69 (20th)|
Air Force had a rough conference season last year, but then, it was a tough conference, and the Falcons were a young team. I seem to remember going into this game thinking that we had a chance to steal one and coming out wondering what in the hell just happened. On the plus side, we don't have to play in the altitude this year; that trip to Colorado was pretty disastrous. On the minus side, Air Force should be better this year than they were last year. The record might not show it as the ECAC is pretty competitive, but this'll be a tougher game than the above numbers might indicate.
Delaware - Sat., April 6th - Away
|Last season||L, 11-7|
|2012 O-rating||14.90 (31st)|
|2012 D-rating||15.04 (31st)|
Historically Delaware is pretty good, but this season, I wonder. Winning by two points against High Point is a danger sign, and this is a very young Hens team. They were picked 5th of 7 in a conference where the #7 team is always the same, so, basically bottom of the barrel. None of their returning players had more than 20 goals last season, and letting in 10 goals to High Point could portend defensive troubles as well. Last year they were the very definition of the average team as quantified by O- and D- ratings, but Michigan played them tight. This may be the best chance we have to win a game against a "traditional" old lacrosse team.
Ohio State - Sat., April 13th - Home
|Last season||L, 12-9|
|2012 O-rating||14.11 (38th)|
|2012 D-rating||11.59 (5th)|
Boo this man. Ohio : lacrosse :: Wisconsin : basketball - a slow-it-down team that practically begs for a stall warning every time they get the ball. It'll be interesting this year to see what the 30-second shot clock following a stall warning does for (or to) their offense.
Like last year, this is the companion to the football spring game, which last year made for a decent Big House atmosphere. Michigan played a very competitive game against a team that had tournament aspirations at the time. They can score some; Logan Schuss is one of the better attackmen in the country. Pace aside, they're also a very, very tough defensive team. It'll take a pretty good effort to beat these guys, but even a repeat of last year would be fun.
Detroit - Wed., April 17th - Home
|Last season||L, 13-9|
|2012 O-rating||11.83 (54th)|
|2012 D-rating||16.14 (40th)|
This was the season opener last year, but Michigan's two D-I lax teams will wait til near the end of the season before renewing the instate rivalry. The Titans are definitely a low-major team, and the MAAC is the country's worst conference, but they have some players who can be dangerous. LSM Jordan Houtby has gotten some national recognition, and Shayne Adams was a 33-goal scorer. But UDM is not deep and if their primary scoring options are shut down, they don't have much else, and they're crap on faceoffs, one of the worst teams in the country in that area. One of Michigan's better chances at a win this year.
St. Joseph's - Sat., April 20th - Home
|2012 O-rating||10.23 (59th)|
|2012 D-rating||15.94 (37th)|
Outside of High Point, which is a wild card but likely to be awful, St. Joe's is the worst team on the schedule. Only Wagner and Mercer - which combined to go 2-26 last year - had worse O-ratings. Ryan McGee must feel awfully lonely on offense - he put up 38 goals last year, and only three other players were in double digits....and none more than 13....and most of them graduated. Defensively, the Hawks aren't awful, but they have a new netminder this year and likely will be worse. Their six wins in 2012 are impressive for as bad as this team is, but that was mostly against really awful competition and probably won't be repeated. This and High Point are the two games that Michigan should actually expect to win.
Denver - Sat., April 27th - Away
|Last season||L, 17-5|
|2012 O-rating||20.35 (2nd)|
|2012 D-rating||13.36 (18th)|
Happy time is over as Michigan heads back to Colorado for the season finale, probably to get killed like last year. Bill Tierney is showing everyone how to build a program without relying on the usual hotbeds for talent; most of Denver's team is from the west and Canada. Their top two scorers are gone, but Jeremy Noble, Wes Berg, and Eric Law all scored 20+ goals and scored on close to 50% of their shots, an excellent percentage. Plus Chase Carraro is a 60% faceoff man. They'll reload pretty well and be one of the top contenders in the ECAC again.
For quick reference, here's a table of the O- and D-ratings of all of Michigan's opponents, and Michigan at the bottom:
This is an, um, ambitious schedule. Michigan's opponents can be categorized like so:
Gonna get killed: Hopkins, Colgate, Loyola, Denver
Losses, most likely: Penn State, Army, Fairfield, Air Force, Ohio State
Outside shot: Hobart, Delaware
Decent shot: Bellarmine, Detroit
Favored: High Point, St. Joseph's
This of course presumes improvement over last year, which should be expected. Set the baseline expectation at three wins; I think we should definitely be disappointed with only one, and two would also be a little disappointing in that it wouldn't represent much if any improvement over last year. Remember that the lone win was over Mercer, another fledgling program, and the other mostly winnable game was an OT loss to Jacksonville, probably a better team than St. Joe's. Three wins is doable and it would almost definitely mean turning around a loss from last year.
[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.]
Believe it or not, Michigan lacrosse is halfway through Season One. Seven games in the books, seven games in front. That makes it a good time to do math-things with the sport.
I've developed - well, developed is a strong word as it's not totally finished - I'm developing a KenPomish O-rating system for lacrosse. It's not totally finished because it doesn't yet account for strength of opponent, but I'm working on that. If you want a full rundown of how it works, you can click here. [/semi-shameless hit whoring]
The basic gist is that the eventual O-rating number represents a team's scoring in a 100-possession game of lacrosse, and that the D-rating is the defensive mirror image. It's based on three efficiency stats:
-- faceoff win percentage
-- clearing percentage (how good you are at getting the ball from the defensive end to the offensive end)
-- scoring efficiency (how good you are at converting offensive possessions into goals)
Michigan's offensive efficiency numbers so far this season, and the D-I averages, are as follows:
And the same for the defense:
|Opp. Faceoff %||56.4%||50%|
|Opp. clearing %||74.6%||82.9%|
|Opp. conversion %||39.2%||32.2%|
There are 61 D-I teams; Michigan is 52nd on offense and 53rd on defense. They're roughly a standard deviation below average on offense and slightly more than one below (above?) average on defense.
None of this comes as much surprise. The bright spot? Michigan's ride. They're allowing opponents to successfully clear the ball less than three-quarters of the the time. The ride is ranked 4th in the country, behind only Hopkins, Denver, and Army.
The worst two stats I see: probably clearing, and defensive conversion rate. The latter has slightly improved of late, I would say partly due to a change in net from Westerhold to Emil Weiss, and partly due to the competition (Mercer.) Clearing remains a big problem. Michigan simply has trouble with this. Only Mount St. Mary's and Wagner are worse. This is an issue regardless of opponent; Michigan only cleared 2/3 of chances against Mercer. It's likely the most obvious manifestation of club athletes vs. D-I athletes, since clearing is lacrosse's "open-field" game.
For reference and posterity, here are the O and D ratings of the teams on Michigan's schedule. I've bolded those numbers which are above (or below, on D) the D-I average of 14.48.
|Mount St. Mary's||14.93||15.12|
Keep in mind that since these numbers are unadjusted for strength of schedule, they're not 100% reliable as to who's actually the toughest opponent. But they do reflect reality regarding who's played the best.
The most beatable remaining opponent? Rutgers. They have a similar profile to Jacksonville - slightly worse, in fact - and the Dolphins were thisclose to being Michigan's first victim this season. Mount St. Mary's is also a possibility, and then - surprisingly - Ohio, who's been disappointing this year. A loss to Robert Morris is the Buckeyes' low point so far. They knocked off Denver, but have been in a major offensive slump since. Still, it's unlikely (as we knew) that we'll end up with more than two wins.
I'll update this as the season goes on, and I expect by the end of the year I'll have figured out a decent way to adjust this for strength of schedule. Also on the project list: finding the best exponent for a Pythagorean calculation.
[Ed: Bump. Also see Brooks's lax primer.]
A historic moment for U-M seems to be getting a little bit of a short shrift - mgolicious shouldn't be the most notable place for a mention of the first varsity NCAA lacrosse game in Michigan history - so for those interested in the game but who couldn't make it out to Pontiac or watch the live feed, here is a recap. This will be kind of a cheap diary entry, since most of it will just be copying and pasting my updates (plus a few others from other folks) from the de facto game thread. In other words I'm basically just rounding up the thread and its comments in a more digestible form. This way you won't have to do as much scrolling and you can get the feel of the game all in one.
A quick primer: yesterday, the dynastic Michigan lacrosse team took its first step into a larger world with a game against the other instate D-I program, Detroit Mercy, and lost, 13-9. It was a very even, back-and-forth game until about halfway through the third period. The game was hosted by UDM but took place at a neutral venue in Pontiac, which appeared to be almost - if not totally - sold out.
Quasi-play-by-play recap follows, as C&P'ed and polished up a little from the game thread:
- First ever goal in UM Lax D1 history-Bryant. 1-0 UM
- 2-0, Michigan. It's been a pretty defensive game. Neither team getting many shots.
- 2-1, Michigan, UDM with a goal.
- UDM's man-up opportunity amounts to nothing because UDM took an early shot and failed to back it up, U-M ran out the rest of it but gave up the goal shortly after. 2-2 now.
- Michigan up 3-2 after one and looking good in spots. Nice feed for the third goal.
- 4-2 score now with U-M converting a fast break chance.
- Always with the scoring exactly as I'm typing. 4-3. This game started off slowly in the offense department but has a chance to be very high-scoring indeed. Just to drive the point home, 4-4 now with a quick UDM goal off the faceoff.
- U-M looking sloppy now. Failed clear follows three lost FOs in a row.
- Goal UDM, 5-4 Detroit. Short-stick middie got beat badly on a run by the UDM middie.
- Michigan ball now, nice save by the Detroit goalie but a poor clear puts Michigan back on the attack.
- 5-5 now with about 3:30 to go in the half.
- 43 seconds left in the half, Detroit calls timeout to set up one last shot. Tied at 5.
- Halftime and we're all tied up at 5. I would say UDM has the ground ball edge but Michigan is holding its own. (Note: This proved to be a false impression, as Michigan actually had the GB edge in the game, 29-23, with most of that margin coming in the first quarter.)
- UDM up 6-5, early in the 3rd.
- Michigan had a great chance on a fast break but Levell made another beautiful save.
- Goal Michigan, 6-6 now, almost halfway through the third period.
- 7-6 UDM with a Detroit goal from close quarters.
- Sudden scoring spurt - 8-6 Detroit now on a semi-fast-break.
- UDM backs up a Michigan shot and gets the ball, about 5 minutes to go in the 3rd.
- 8-7, Michigan goal, very nice defense behind the net led to getting the ball and a goal with about 3 to go.
- 9-7 Detroit on a hard-fought goal. Michigan wins the ensuing FO and has the ball.
- Detroit with a steal off a terrible pass and a fast-break goal to go up 10-7. 35 seconds left. A lazy, sloppy play.
- 3rd period over with a 10-7 UDM lead.
- 11-7 now on a bounce shot....UDM starting to open it up. 12:18 to go.
- Looks like a UDM EMO coming up. The boys are starting to get a little too desperate.
- And UDM scores on the EMO. Michigan had done a nice job on defense and got the ball, but couldn't hold on as UDM used the extra man to double up and get the ball back. 12-7 Detroit now.
- Michigan scores, 12-8 now. 8:17 to go, so there's definitely plenty of time.
- Looks like an EMO coming for Michigan now. Silly, silly penalty by UDM, which is known to be a little bit of an overemotional team.
- Again nothing doing on the EMO. Detroit ball and Michigan doesn't seem interested in playing aggressively to get it back.
- As soon as the penalty was over, UDM went on the attack again and Michigan got the ball back pretty quickly.
- Time-out, 2:22 to go. UDM holds the 12-8 lead.
- And UDM with what looks like a clincher at 13-8, eight seconds after the end of the TO.
- Michigan with a respectability goal to make it 13-9. 24 seconds.
- Detroit 13, Michigan 9 is the final.
And now for the editorial section:
- 1st quarter: Playing solid defense against what's supposed to be a solid UDM squad offensively. But you can also see why this team will struggle: faceoffs are about even against a team that's been absolutely worthless at the X, and the man-up chance didn't look good at all, no coordination or sense of urgency to attack.
- Halftime: Though only outscored by one, not a good half for Michigan. Only one goal on a settled situation, the other, IMO coming from taking advantage of mistakes that better teams don't usually make. Detroit exposed a weakness by attacking the SSDMs - didn't always score on it, but created chances. Part of the Michigan offensive slowdown came from improved defense by UDM, though, including one very, very nice save by Titan goalie Levell. Michigan got killed on faceoffs in the 2nd, though, which just can't happen against Detroit, by far one of the worst faceoff teams in the nation.
[Ed: second half and recap afte the jump.]
The best regular season event in college hoops is almost upon us, and for the first time since I added a second school to my college loyalties, UVA and Michigan will face each other in an event I care about. Who better than your resident Virginia fan to get you up to speed on Michigan's Challenge matchup this year? Here is your scouting report on the Hoos.
UVA loves Tony Bennett. Tony Bennett is totally our bishie. This is a guy who knows how to build a program, he's got UVA hoops fans truly excited about the direction of the team, and if you asked me which coach in the country most resembled John Beilein, I'd tell you Tony Bennett. Both have unorthodox defensive systems that are excellent at throwing off the opponent; both do an excellent job of recruiting while refusing to associate with the shady side of it, both have a long-term substance-based view of building a real foundation instead of flash-and-dashing their way to the top. Very much your classy, salt-of-the-earth type of coaches, instead of a huckster like Calipari or a class clown like Bruce Pearl. Bennett is younger and a little more reserved than Beilein on the sidelines, is the only ACC coach to have played in the League, and is still the best three-point shooter on the team. In fact, he's still the best three-point shooter that college basketball has ever seen; less prolific than J.J. Redick, but his .497 three-point shooting percentage is tops all time. Bennett was also the national COY in 2007 for making Washington State a successful team. He is a Wisconsin native and the son of former Wiscy coach Dick Bennett.
(Only going to deal with the top 8 rotation players. If you see someone else, UVA is probably in foul trouble. This is in order of PPG.)
- Mike Scott (#23)
Mike Scott is the heart and soul of our team, and one of only two non-Dookies-or-Tar-Heels to be named to the six-man (because of a tie) preseason all-ACC team. He is that good. Scott is a 6'9ish power forward who is averaging a double-double, and is a fifth-year senior thanks to a medical redshirt last year for an ankle injury. He plays with a strong emotional streak and has a terrific array of post moves. He can go up-and-under, and he loves to post then face up and hit a jumper, Sheed Wallace style. Scott is a ferocious rebounder and has been since freshman year, and he's an excellent free-throw shooter so hack-a-Shaq does not work here. Michigan will need to get picture-perfect man defense from Jordan Morgan; I think he's the only U-M big man with the strength to match up on Scott. Even then, Scott will get his points, and U-M would be better served to work on shutting down UVA's younger guards than by trying to stop the veteran Scott, because they won't be able to do it consistently.
- Joe Harris (#12)
"Joey Hoops", as some have begun calling him, is really the key to UVA's offensive attack. Harris is a 6'6" small forward/shooting guard who can do a little bit of everything. His best thing last year as a freshman was a crack 3-point shot, and his handle is surprisingly good. He's also a solid rebounder, and he'll never be a point guard but he can create some as well. Harris is essentially that white guy that good teams have that drives opponents up the wall and back down. He is Zack Novak if Novak were simply a really good white guy and not GRITTY MCGRITBOMB. (Not that Harris lacks toughness, but nobody is Zack Novak. And Harris is only a sophomore.) If Harris is hitting his outside shot, that is when UVA's offense is really moving.
- KT Harrell (#24)
No periods. Just KT. Keyion Tobias Harrell is another sophomore whose big thing is his mid-range jumper. He is getting better and better at developing the jab-step needed to clear the space for it, and his handle and creation skills are improving too, albeit at times inconsistently. Harrell is also a bulldog defender and very quick for his 6'4" size. Harrell is a quieter, not-very-talky player who prefers to bury that mid-range and hustle back on defense. He can be turnover-prone at times if he gets too careless on the dribble. Harrell will likely be tasked with guarding THJ, and that will be a good matchup that both players will get the better of at times.
- Assane Sene (#5)
You won't need the number to identify him. He'll be the huge Senegalese beanpole standing near the basket. Two years ago the scouting report on Sene would've been the hoops equivalent of "good field no hit I mean seriously couldn't fucking hit to save his life even off a tee." Tony Bennett and his staff have fixed that, and Sene's hands of rock have disappeared. He's now quite good with the left-hand layin especially, and being seven feet tall, is a prolific shotblocker and rebounder. Horford and Blake McLimans may see a little more burn than usual. I wouldn't have said that two years ago, but Sene is now a legit offensive threat, and of course, an excellent defender.
- Jontel Evans (#1)
Bub Evans is another bulldog defender and a former running back as well. A tough player. Evans is a point guard who sees his job as mainly distributing. He's got a good shot but doesn't trust it enough; I actually wish he would shoot more, either outside, driving to the rim, or both. He is the team's best on-ball defender and Trey Burke will find it hard to go around him, but Evans still has work to do off the ball.
- Malcolm Brogdon (#22)
The only true freshman in the rotation, Brogdon has a good shot and the ability to play either point or shooting guard. Early in the season he was our backup point guard while Sammy Zeglinski recuperating from an injury; now things are shuffling a little bit and Brogdon and Zeglinski are still working on meshing into their roles.
- Sammy Zeglinski (#13)
Usually the backup point guard. Sammy is a fifth-year senior, also thanks to injuries; he and Mike Scott are the teams grandpas. He's always been sort of an average player, but not a bad one either. There are ways to defend him, but the way not to defend him is to make him take a wild shot with the shot clock at 1; it seems his best basketball skill is to hit a three-pointer while flying sideways into the opposing bench or backwards across the midcourt line with nothing on the shot clock. Seriously. He does this. But otherwise he is sort of a replacement-level ACC player. As mentioned above, UVA is still working on fitting him back into the lineup after what must be his twentieth injury, and the offense is still finding its way around the newish rotation.
- Akil Mitchell (#25)
An outstanding defender with occasional SUPRIZE offensive moves. Mitchell is possibly the team's best athlete, and in terms of rebounds-per-40, is second only to Mike Scott on the team, even edging out 7-footer Sene.
- James Johnson (#34)
High future hopes for Johnson, who is a redshirt freshman, but as of now, six games into his college career, is basically a replacement-level big guy. Has yet to hit his first college field goal, but a serviceable defender and good rebounder.
-- UVA's style
Tony Bennett comes with a reputation of slowwwwwing down the game, and it's not undeserved. He hates early shots and prefers the team use most of the shot clock, so you will see UVA pass up the occasional open shot. He is also one of those coaches that eschews the offensive rebound; upon launching a three, UVA's players will immediately head downcourt and set up the defense. When Brian talks, as he has in the past, about ignoring RPG numbers and focusing on defensive rebound percentages, he could not hardly be talking more about UVA if he tried; the Hoos are excellent on the defensive glass and don't care much about the offensive side of that. UVA doesn't pass up fast-break opportunities if they're there, but the players are instructed to default to setting up the halfcourt offense if there is any doubt.
-- UVA's offense
Here is where I admit my knowledge is limited. Bennett openly admitted in his first year that he wasn't fully installing his blocker-mover offense so that he could focus on installing his complicated defense, so I don't really know where the old offense ended and the new one began. UVA does like the three-point shot, and will make use of the elevator screen and other tricky screening methods to set it up. This year, because of Scott and of Sene's offensive metamorphosis, they will go inside much more frequently than they have in the past.
Based on the season's results so far, there's a lot of work to be done on this end. Shots aren't falling like they should and the team still needs to gel on the offensive end; you could see that in their very first game against SC State and it didn't help that the rotation got a shakeup three games in. The TCU and Drexel games were offensive ugliness defined. On Friday against UWGB the team started returning to form a little, so things are on the upswing, but there's a ways to go, I think, before the offense is ready for the nightly February grind of ACC ball.
-- UVA's defense
Fortunately, the defense is fantastic. KenPom currently has it ranked 9th in the country, with opponents being held to 37% EFG%. UVA employs what is known as a pack-line defense, and this isn't Beilein's 1-3-1 where it's brought out in fits and starts to confound and piss off the offense. This is an every-possession philosophy.
The pack-line is one of the most complex defenses employed in college basketball, and it's taken these two-plus years to get it working. I don't know every facet of it and neither does anyone but some of the real gurus, but the basic concept is simple. Imagine a line the shape of the three-point line and about four feet closer to the basket - that is the "pack line." Defenders are instructed to guard the ball closely when their man has it and sag inside the pack line when he doesn't. In this way it is a man-to-man defense that takes on several aspects of a zone. It is very difficult to drive against. Post defenders will front their man and deny the entry pass; because of this, there is no baseline help and Bennett has drilled it into his players' heads never to allow the baseline. From the very first practice players admitted that Bennett would "lose his mind" when his guards would allow a baseline drive, in that sheepish smiley way that says "we've all been chewed out for that."
In the past, the three-point shot has been the bane of the UVA defense under Bennett, but as players get more instinctive and mentally quicker, they've greatly improved their ability to step out and defend that shot. Bennett has also allowed more freedom outside the pack line as the players get experience in the system. You'll often see UVA's players step out for a quick harassment double-team of a player on the wing before retreating to cover their man again, and there is more denial of wing-to-wing or key-to-wing passes than in the past.
That's basically a five-minute rundown; the pack-line involves a lot more than that, and many facets of it require an incoming freshman to unlearn all he once knew about man-to-man defense, and do the opposite. But the results so far this year have paid off in spades. Opponent quality notwithstanding, UVA has yet to allow 60 points in a game this year, and has held two opponents under 40. I'm really looking forward to seeing how this defense looks against a tournament-level team.
-- The arena
John Paul Jones Arena is not named after the admiral, no, but there is a portrait of him in the lobby if I'm not mistaken. It's a very new building, just five years old, and admittedly oversized. (Designed as a concert venue as well, hence the 2,500 seats that we probably don't need for hoops.) Hopefully the opponent will draw a crowd. The student section is L-shaped and somewhat larger than at Crisler; it is behind the benches and wraps around behind the end of the court that has the columns. U-M will shoot at that end in the second half; it can be a tricky shooting background for opponents because of the student section and the indoor pergola behind.
-- The town
Many of you who might be going to the game have probably already been to Charlottesville, and it's not like this is a football weekend, so I won't go crazy here. In fact this section only exists because I like to tell people that if they visit Charlottesville and don't eat at Littlejohn's if given the chance, they're doing it wrong. It's on the Corner, on University Ave about a couple hundred yards from the Rotunda. Go. Eat amazing sandwiches.
-- The game
This is UVA's first test against a tournament-level team, maybe even an NIT-level one. On the flipside, I will venture to say that U-M has not yet faced a defense like UVA's. I'm no bookie, but I will guess that the line will be set at about seven points in favor of Michigan. The best individual matchups will be Evans against Burke, Harrell against Hardaway, and Scott against Morgan. Scott will get his points, and I think UVA is stronger on the interior than U-M is. But Michigan has an explosion of guards that should eventually overwhelm the Hoos, if both are playing up to their best. I expect a low-scoring game, perhaps something along the lines of 67-60, Michigan.
As for me, I've always said that if ever UVA and U-M met on the court, or the field, I would probably end up pulling for the team that needed the win more. That would be Virginia in this case. Michigan just got two very tournamenty-looking neutral-site wins. UVA dropped a bad one to TCU and needs a win over a quality team to make up for it, and Michigan is the best team we'll play in the OOC schedule. This would be a very good road win for Michigan - because I expect UVA to end up with a solid ACC record - and could be worth half a seed, so I won't exactly be all sad if Michigan wins. But I think and I hope UVA is a tournament team this year, and is certainly a bubble team no matter how you slice it, and UVA needs a feather somewhere; this is a good opportunity.
Greetings, fellow Michigan fans, and now that it’s official, or will be in short order: As a dual fan whose other school is a lacrosse powerhouse, on behalf of fans of other lax programs, welcome to the world of D-I lacrosse. Michigan is joining an NCAA sport that is growing at a pace that doesn’t satisfy a lot of its fans, but is actually one of the fastest of any that the NCAA sponsors. For some, Michigan lacrosse is a symbol of a new and potentially very exciting frontier of expansion: the Midwest. We are not the only fans wondering about a potential Big Ten lacrosse conference. This is intended not to be an introduction to the game itself, but a primer on the NCAA “scene”, if you will. Hopefully this will get you smart (or smarter) on how the world of Division I lacrosse is arrayed. (Men’s lax only – I’m not qualified to speak on the women’s game.)
Like hockey, lacrosse is a very regional sport; in fact, even more so than hockey, at least for now. Hockey is big in the Northeast and upper Midwest; lacrosse is largely limited to the mid-Atlantic. This year was the first in which an NCAA tournament game was held west of the Mississippi; west of Lake Michigan, in fact. Last year was the first in which a championship game was held with a participant (Notre Dame) from a state that didn’t border on the Atlantic Ocean. Roughly 80% of the 61 teams that played D-I men’s lax this year are clustered in the Boston-to-Washington corridor.
Not only that, but lacrosse is still more insular than hockey with respect to national championships and the “top tier” of the sport. The line between hockey royalty and hockey hoi polloi is much more blurred than in lacrosse; ask a lacrosse fan who the top teams are and he’ll probably rattle off eight teams: the four ACC squads (that’s Virginia, UNC, Maryland, and Duke) plus Cornell, Hopkins, Syracuse, and Princeton. Denver and Notre Dame are working on breaking this octumvirate, but it’s tough. And guess who are the eight teams in the quarterfinals of this year’s tournament? Only Carolina and Princeton are missing, and the former got stuck with Maryland in the first round. The rest have proven largely interchangeable.
Let’s take a look at some of the things you’ll want to know about in case you feel like sounding smart about national men’s lax sometime in the future:
The polar opposite of hockey, this is an ever-shifting landscape as the sport grows. Conferences are much smaller, too, as teams vie for a spot in an auto-qualifying conference of six teams – but not too many more. Things are beginning to match up with the ordinary D-I conferences. The Big East has begun sponsoring lacrosse, as has the Northeast Conference; the ACC and Ivy League always have. Some conferences (such as the CAA) have wildly different membership than their nominal grouping; others (Big East, for example) are just smaller versions of their regular bunch.
Michigan will be playing in the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) which has little to do with the hockey ECAC and has been a very fluid conference in recent times, serving as a stopping-off point for many teams on the way to a more permanent home such as the Big East. With Michigan onboard, it is also lacrosse’s biggest conference at eight teams and may get larger if High Point joins; it may also get smaller if Fairfield and Loyola decide to join the MAAC, where they exist in the rest of the world. The current membership should not be expected to be the long-term membership.
The ECAC is also wildly divergent in the quality of its teams. A quick rundown:
Denver – Burgeoning powerhouse and a team to be reckoned with going forward. The biggest obstacle to dominance Michigan will have for some time. They are coached by Bill Tierney, a Hall of Fame legend who won six NCAA championships at Princeton, and are in this year’s Final Four.
Loyola and Fairfield – Loyola is a respectable team that has some history getting into the NCAA tournament and flirted with it again this year; they are located in the lacrosse hotbed of Baltimore. Fairfield is a less-accomplished team, but they can be tough. Both are MAAC teams in real life, and there has been speculation (and nothing more than speculation) that now that the MAAC allows the full allotment of scholarships, they may want to join up.
Ohio State – Slowly gaining respectability in the lacrosse world, games against the Buckeyes will probably be tough pills to swallow in the first couple of years. OSU knocked off North Carolina earlier this year and gave Virginia and Notre Dame a difficult time, but also won by just a goal against Detroit and lost to Fairfield and Albany.
Air Force – Perhaps a good litmus test of where Michigan stands in its first couple of years. Air Force is the only service academy that hasn’t tasted much success in lacrosse. They were 6-7 this year but largely on the backs of the NCAA’s crap teams like Mercer and Presbyterian; and some of those crap teams beat them.
Hobart and Bellarmine – Non D-I schools that play lacrosse as their specialty D-I sport (similar to, say, Ferris State in hockey.) Michigan should be very competitive with these teams and hopefully beat them in their first year.
This isn't even necessarily the guaranteed lineup. Conference membership has been so fluid in this sport that a change between now and next season wouldn't surprise anyone.
The conference tournament, like all other lacrosse conference tournaments, invites just four teams; this is for RPI purposes and ease of scheduling.
THE NCAA TOURNAMENT
Like hockey, the lacrosse tourney is a 16-team, single-elimination affair; it is much less of a plinko game, however. Chalk advances with great frequency. It does not fuss about with regionals; first-round games are hosted by the seeded team. The NCAA determines these matchups mainly by seeding the teams 1-16 and then fudging the bottom half a little bit for travel purposes. The quarterfinals are hosted at two neutral sites, which are usually somewhere between Long Island and Baltimore. The NCAA is fanatical about giving teams as short a ride as possible to their quarterfinal site, even to the extent of allowing a lower-seeded team to play on their home field against a higher-seeded team if they happen to be a host. (This happened when #8 Stony Brook hosted #1 Virginia last year.) As with every NCAA tourney, the Final Four is hosted at another neutral site. The NCAA uses NFL stadiums for this purpose and often fills them, especially if the game is in Baltimore or Philadelphia. The men’s lax championship is usually the third or fourth best-attended NCAA championship each year, depending on how you account for the College World Series; the championship game, at times, outdraws the basketball championship.
Currently, six conferences have autobids to the tournament, but that will change in 2012; there will be eight next year. Because of this, and because of the NCAA’s usual desire to see its marquee teams on the marquee, I expect the tournament to expand to 20 in the near future. Interestingly, the ACC has no autobid because it has only four teams, but its teams nearly always qualify anyway.
Only eight teams – the abovementioned eight “royalty” teams – have ever won the NCAA tournament. Five additional teams have made it to the championship game and lost: Notre Dame, UMass, Towson, Navy, and Loyola. Unseeded teams – those that don’t host first-round games, almost never even make it to the Final Four – it’s happened just
four five times, the fifth this year with Maryland.
Lacrosse has three recruiting hotbeds, in order of importance: Long Island, Baltimore, and Philadelphia/South Jersey. This isn’t to say that talent can’t be found elsewhere, but Michigan will want to establish a presence in at least one of these three areas to start with. Fortunately, the school has a very good name on the East Coast. U-M will also draw players from Chicago, Ontario, perhaps New England, and of course, its home state. Long term, it’s my opinion that having two D-I lacrosse teams in the state, playing each other, will help create a critical mass of interest in the state that just wasn’t there when MSU was the lone D-I team here, and that will be a bonus for Michigan’s recruiting. That’s a factor for ten years and beyond.
One important source of players is the Ivy League. Teams like Virginia and Syracuse typically try to attract an Ivy transfer most years. Ivy schools don’t allow their athletes to play intercollegiate athletics while in grad school, so redshirted players look elsewhere for grad school to finish up their fifth year of eligibility. Because of the NCAA rules about grad school transfers, these players are available right away without skipping a year. Michigan should work very hard to attract these players, especially in the first few years of D-I play; they’ll help bridge the gap between the club years and the beginning of Michigan’s true contending years.
One of the best things about recruiting and fanhood in general in the lacrosse realm is the total lack of concern about the lure of professional sports. In the distant future that may change, but for now, lacrosse has none of the accompanying worry about competing interests. There’s no junior hockey in Ontario, no MLS or overseas club system, no slimy agents whispering NBA dreams in your players’ ears, no minor league farm system. Players play four years and occasionally five. Nobody leaves early for the pros and nobody drafts your committed recruits. It’s the only college sport that enjoys a big-time feel and a four-year guarantee.
I’ll leave the full-scale predictions to the experts. Suffice it for now that there’s a wide range of expectations out there in the wide world for Michigan lacrosse. Most don’t really expect Michigan to contend right away; neither do I. Some go so far as to suggest Michigan will be winless or nearly so, entering the league at a level below even Bellarmine. I don’t think so. But it’s a brave new world of sorts; Michigan will go from the top rung to near the bottom. The first goal: win the ECAC. That will be a few years down the road, especially with Denver in the way in the immediate future. In three years UDM, in the MAAC, came within one game of making the tourney and that was considered an eye-opening feat. My hope is that within ten years, Michigan has established itself as a team firmly established as a contender to earn at-large berths to the tournament; fewer, if the tourney expands.
Good luck to the teams as they take a big new step to the future! It’s a big deal for Michigan to be joining the world of D-I lacrosse, but it’s just as big a deal for the world of D-I lacrosse to welcome Michigan.