The Princeton Problem

Missing: Chris McBride. Please contact Coach Bates immediately if you find him. via farm3.static.flickr.com

That title was kind of a lie.  Princeton doesn't have just one problem, it has a lot of problems. The problem with addressing Princeton's problems, though, is a problem of understanding problems: You can identify them all, but you only need to figure out the answers to some of them in order to get things in working order.

Problem.

Anyway, Princeton is sitting at 1-4, a somewhat shocking scenario as the Tigers started the season ranked ninth in the preseason media poll and 10th in the preseason coaches poll.  A start like this wasn't supposed to happen, even without the services of Mike Chenanchuck.  So, what went wrong down in Princetontown?  I haven't seen a lot of Princeton with my eyeballs this season, but the numbers are showing some bad signs.  

The first consideration here has to do with an important piece of Princeton's strategy: Pace.  The Tigers' are the slowest team in the country, playing only 54.40 possessions per game.  While this isn't necessarily an issue for most teams, it is for Princeton as such a slow tempo puts an incredible amount of pressure on the team to win the possession margin.  The Tigers have failed pretty poorly at that, seeing about five-fewer offensive possessions per game than its opponents.  What's more, Princeton is actually playing the second-fewest offensive possessions per game in the country (only 24.80 a contest). 

Why is this important?  If you don't have the damn bean you can't score it.  And if the opposition always has the damn bean, the defense is under pressure to stop them from scoring it.  It's a vicious circle, and Princeton is spiraling.

So, why does this imbalance exist?  There's two pieces, the first being most important:

  • Princeton is 57th nationally in face-off percentage at 36.67%.  Their most effective guy at the dot -- Froccaro -- is only winning 46.7% of his draws.  The other two guys who have worked significantly at the dot -- Smyth and Lucas -- are only drawing at 29.4% and 38.1%, respectively.  Not good.
  • Princeton is clearing at a respectable rate -- 85.54% (20th in the country) -- but has done a horrific job on its ride (89.87%, second-worst in the land). If you absolutely need offensive possessions (or, alternatively, want to limit defensive possessions), there needs to be better performance on the ride.  Princeton is simply conceding too many offensive possessions on opponent clears.

Both points can be addressed, but there are some latent deficiencies existing elsewhere that are killing the Tigers.  Let's discuss after the jump.

DEFENSE: TOO MUCH OF IT IS HAPPENING

Right off the bat: Princeton is 22nd in adjusted defensive efficiency (24.49) and 10th in defensive effective shooting percentage (24.05%).  Independently, these aren't horrific performance values.  The issue, however, is the underlying reliance on Tyler Fiorito to stop everything in sight.

Fiorito is a man, a man with a save percentage hovering just above 60%.  That's solid, but the Tigers are asking him to do the impossible.  Princeton's saves per defensive possession value is the third-highest in the country at .4189.  That's a ridiculous reliance on Fiorito to make a stop.  This reliance is compounded with the fact that only three teams see more opponent shots than Princeton (1.1892 per possession) and that the Tigers are doing a little ball watching (the team is 42nd in defensive assist rate at .1622). 

That isn't helping Fiorito at all.  Where's Cunningham and Wiedmaier and Ellis to lock down the front of the cage?  The end result here is that if Fiorito didn't stop the shot, the shot was probably a goal. With some pretty good offensive teams on the horizon -- Cornell, Yale, Syracuse, and Harvard -- things may get worse before they get better.

OFFENSE: YOU CAN'T ALWAYS BE MAN-UP

Jack McBride's injury was a blow to Princeton, but even with McBride the Tigers have been going about their offensive business in weird ways. As things stand now, Princeton is drawing the seventh most penalties out of their opponents on a possession-basis (.0846); almost 18% of Princeton's offensive possessions have been with the extra attacker (fourth-most nationally); and only three teams have relied more on their extra-man units to score on an offensive possession basis (just over 20% of Princeton goals have been with a personnel imbalance).  Here's the issue with all that: The Tigers aren't unstoppable on the man-up.

You can see it in their extra-man opportunity conversion rate (31.82%, 28th overall).  You can see it in their extra-man opportunity rate (.0496, 13th in the country (this is extra-man goals over shot total)).  You can see it everywhere and it leads to the next question: If Princeton has major reliance on its man-up, and the man-up is average or so, where are the Tigers failing?

Even-strength offense.  Duh.

Just look at Princeton's offensive effective shooting percentage -- 24.94% (45th nationally; this metric is actually weighted to give additional value to man-up goals). And then look at the team's offensive assist rate -- .1290 (42nd in the land).  Schrieber has been there, but where's Chris McBride?  Where's Tyler Moni?  The Tigers need an even-strength unit that can efficiently convert in something other than the man-up.  With so few offensive possessions, and with Princeton generally below average on 83% of its offensive possessions (the even-strength ones), the Tigers have created a problem that endures in and of itself.

In short: Princeton has a ready-made excuse with  the level of defenses it has played (they've faced the 13th-hardest schedule in terms of opponent defensive efficiency), but something needs to happen with the Tiger offense or the reliance on the defense (specifically, Tyler Fiorito) and it's extra-man unit is bound to fall apart.

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