The #20-ranked Michigan Men’s Lacrosse team kicks off the 2019 campaign tomorrow on the road against Cleveland State. Michigan is on the rise and made major strides last year under second-year coach Kevin Conry. The Wolverines are coming off their second straight 8-6 season and last year knocked off rivals Notre Dame and Penn State. Their #20 ranking is their highest-ever in the preseason poll and shows that the rest of the lacrosse world thinks they are poised for a big jump. But, Michigan’s 2019 season, like the last few, is a mysterious box with a big question mark on it. What’s inside? Nobody knows. But, let’s take a look at what might await the Wolverines in 2019.
Here is a great, comprehensive preview of Michigan’s personnel from mgoblue. The boys return 9 starters (which is pretty good considering there are 10 starters), including their top 5 scorers and the entire starting defense, plus the first and second-string goalies.
I won’t get into a detailed breakdown of the schedule because twotrueblue did an excellent job of that back in December. You can read it here. But here’s a bare bones version of it for reference:
2/9- @ Cleveland State (11 AM)
2/19 - vs. Drexel
2/23 - @ Jacksonville
3/2 - @ St. John’s
3/10 - @ Yale (neutral site - Atlanta)
3/16 - @ Marquette
3/19 - vs. Notre Dame
3/23 - vs. Delaware
3/30 - vs. Johns Hopkins
4/6- @ Maryland
4/13 - vs. Penn State
4/20 - @Rutgers
4/26- vs. Ohio State
With the roster and schedule taken care of, I’ll just give a quick rundown of what Michigan needs to do to have a successful season and hopefully reach the NCAA tournament for the first time ever.
Brent Noseworthy is the beast of this offense, and Michigan needs to feed him. For a team that doesn’t create a lot of turnovers (42nd in the country) or dominate on faceoffs (30th in the country), it is vital that they operate efficiently on the offensive end when they have the ball. They need to increase their shooting percentage (35th nationally last year) and overall offensive efficiency to take the pressure off an improving defense and the faceoff unit. According to this KenPom-esque stats page, Michigan was 21st in adjusted offensive efficiency last year, that was up from 28th in 2017.
Watch out for breakout seasons from Alex Buckanavage and Kevin Mack. And, while it sounds crazy to say that Michigan needs to replace a 4 year defensive middie, it’s true, -they have to fill the gap left behind by Chase Young. Young, a veteran shortstick defender for most of his career, rounded into a nice two-way player last year and poured in 13 goals and contributed 5 assists. Maybe veteran middie Rocco Sutherland or Steven Schneider, a transfer from UNC, can pick up that slack.
Michigan’s greatest success story in 2018 was the defense. It had one of the worst defenses in the country in 2017, 46th in adjusted defensive efficiency according to the KenPom of lacrosse. That improved to 26th in 2018, a major leap that can be attributed to a change in scheme. The defense’s communication and slides were noticeably different and improved. In 2018, they let up 9.71 goals per game, a decrease of more than 2 goals per game from the previous year. Senior Nick DeCaprio will be back to lead this year's unit. At Maryland, Conry was a defensive guru and he consistently fielded some of the best defenses in the country. If he can replicate that at Michigan, they’ll be a regular competitor for B1G championships.
Notre Dame. To me, this is the most important game on the schedule (unfortunately, it’s at 4PM on a Tuesday). Last year, a game Michigan squad went into South Bend and stole a game from a sloppy Notre Dame team. It was a major step for Michigan and it marked their first victory over an established powerhouse program (ND was ranked #4 at the time). If Michigan can sneak another one from the Irish this year, the Wolverines will ride into conference play with a lot of confidence.
Rutgers. Break the Curse of the Scarlet Knight. This might be the most important conference game on the schedule because Michigan has gotten its ass handed to them by Rutgers the last two years. Both games were nightmares from the start and one dude for Rutgers scored a combined total of 16 goals in both games (maybe let’s guard that guy this year). Rutgers is a good team but one that has found itself on the wrong side of the tourney bubble the last three years. They’re a middle of the pack B1G team and one Michigan has to beat if it wants to get into the conference tournament. Michigan has to get this monkey off their back. Ohio State, who was down last year, is another vulnerable foe that Michigan has to finally beat (please God).
Find a Way to Win
This is what good teams do. And while Michigan discovered how to do this last year against Notre Dame and Penn State (major achievements for a growing program), they still dropped a few winnable games. The out-of-conference schedule is very favorable this year and if Michigan gets past ND, it’s possible they could roll into the Hopkins game at 7-1. At that point, it’ll be an all-out dogfight/scrum to claim a spot in the top 4 of the Big Ten and possibly the NCAA tournament. There is little margin for error so winning ugly games will be an imperative.
A few interesting things I wanted to mention: Aside from the Rutgers and Maryland games last year, Michigan had a handful of what I would call ‘good’ losses; they hung with eventual national champion Yale until the 4th quarter, they lost to Penn on the road after an early lead and dropped a 10-9 heartbreaker to Hopkins who scored the winner with a minute left. This gives me the impression that Michigan is right there.
Michigan has an MCLA transfer on the roster- a nod to the program’s club roots. Peter Hollen, a defenseman who played for four years on USC’s (YTUSC) club team, is Michigan’s first grad transfer from an MCLA program. I’m always interested to see how former club players fair at this level. It also suggests that there’s a lot more talent that’s out there
Who knows what’s in this year’s mystery box? But all signs indicate it could be something good. Tomorrow’s Cleveland State game is unfortunately at 11 AM and so will conflict with the basketball game against Wisconsin. But, if I find a stream I’ll post it. GO BLUE!!!!