NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Participant: Pennsylvania

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Tournament Seed: Unseeded

First-Round Opponent: Notre Dame (May 14, 2:30)

2011 Record: 8-6

Conference: Ivy

Last Tournament Appearance: 2006

NCAA Championships: 0

Four Notable Players: Cory Winkoff (A); Will Koshansky (LSM); Brett Hughes (D); Al Kohart (A).

Downloadable Tempo-Free Profile: Pennsylvania

The selection committee didn't slot the Quakers as the last team in the NCAA Tournament field, but if you're looking at the other nine at-large teams that did make the show of shows, you'd probably take each of them to beat Pennsylvania if they met on a neutral field.

That isn't to say that the Quakers are a dumpy outfit.  They aren't.  Pennsylvania did serious work against a Duke team that ended up improving into one of the best teams in the country by the close of the year.  The Quakers pulled out a two-goal win against a Bucknell team that has the potential to give Virginia fits this weekend.  Pennsylvania is a team that has shown that it can win against some good teams.

The problem with Pennsylvania, though, is that they've also proven that they can lose a lot as well.  The Quakers somehow lost in Providence to Brown; Virginia extinguished Pennsylvania from existence with a nine-goal hydrogen bomb; Harvard put the screws to 'em in the Ivy League Tournament semifinals just last week; and North Carolina pretty much cruised to a 12-6 victory over the Quakers earlier in the year.

Again, this is a pretty good team, but it has all consistency of a lumpy milkshake.

WHAT PENNSYLVANIA DOES WELL

For the Quakers, everything starts on the defensive end.  The loss of freshman close defender Maxx Meyer* weakens the Penn defense, but this fact still remains: The Quakers are going to hound their opponents like crazy, whether it's intelligent to do so or not.

In an era defined by fear of pressuring the ball, Pennsylvania is, in many ways, bucking the trend. The Quakers have a bit of an old school style mixed in with zone principles that are so en vogue these days -- flare, gambling slides, and aggressiveness all working within a system of protecting a keeper that needs all the help he can get. 

Led by long stick midfielder Will Koshansky and close defenders Brett Hughes, Anthony Santorno, and Alex Blansky, Pennsylvania is a terror against opposing offenses:

PENN: ON YOUR HANDS AND IN YOUR FACE
METRIC VALUE RANK AVG.
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 24.12 9 28.22
Defensive Shots Per Possession 0.86 4 1.00
Defensive Effective Shooting Percentage 29.57% 39 28.83%
Defensive Assist Rate 13.00 11 15.41
Saves Per Defensive Possession 0.24 61 0.31
  • The team's adjusted defensive efficiency is obviously through the roof, but unlike some other teams, Pennsylvania isn't relying on its keeper to make stops.  Brian Feeney, the Quakers guy in the net, is only holding a save percentage of about 49.1%.  So, why are the Quakers doing so well on defense?
  • The biggest reason for Pennsylvania's defensive success is the four guys mentioned immediately above.  They're relentless in getting their stick on the hands of their opponents and maintain strong defensive position.  This is emblematic in the low number of shots the team is seeing on defensive possessions.  The Quakers are also doing a good job of keeping their head on a swivel, maintaining their marks on off-ball movement.  This has resulted in a defensive assist rate that is among the nation's best.  When you also consider that Pennsylvania is taking up residence with the nationally leaders in caused turnovers, you really start to see that the Quakers have a defensive unit that is hounding, suffocating, and really a tough nut to crack.
  • This methodology does have its drawbacks.  When you're pressuring the ball and marking off-ball offensive players tightly to limit shots and easy looks, there is the potential that a keeper is going to have to make a bunch of saves in one-on-one scenarios resulting from a successful dodge. The Quakers are kind of in that position and the end result is a defensive effective shooting percentage that is right around the bottom-third in the country.  Now, a part of this is due to the fact that Pennsylvania is playing a lot of man-down scenarios and haven't been so good in those situations (only seven teams play man-down more than Penn; the Quakers are 33rd nationally in defensive extra-man conversion rate), but the team's saves per defensive possession metric backs up the premise here: If the guys out in front of Feeney can't control their opponents, the Quakers are going to be yielding some goals.  In the overall, though, Pennsylvania has been able to weather this storm to a large degree.

WHAT PENNSYLVANIA DOES POORLY

As good as Cory Winkoff can be for the Quakers (he's currently 45th nationally in individual points per offensive possessions), Pennsylvania's offense isn't exactly a juggernaut.  In fact, it comes and goes almost as frequently as the common cold:

PENN'S OFFENSE: EH. . . . WHATEVER
METRIC VALUE RANK AVG.
Offensive Possessions Per Game 28.94 57 33.56
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 29.09 23 27.92
Offensive Shots Per Possession 1.10 10 1.00
Offensive Effective Shooting Percentage 26.09% 45 28.64%
Offensive Assist Rate 14.70 35 15.37
Offensive Extra-Man Conversion Rate 34.09% 23 31.87%
Opponent Saves Per Possession 0.32 34 0.31

A couple of things jump out at me:

  • Pennsylvania isn't getting too many offensive touches per 60 minutes of play, mostly due to the fact that the Quakers are average or below average in the three pace/tempo factors -- Face-off's (44.09%, 47th nationally), offensive clearing percentage (83.52%, 29th nationally), and defensive clearing percentage (87.84%, 54th nationally).  This isn't a team that is doing the kinds of things to generate possession of the bean.
  • It doesn't really matter if the Quakers have the ball, though, because they're not particularly capable with it.  Pennsylvania throws as many shots toward the goal as anyone in the country, but they have a bear of a time actually beating a goalkeeper.  It's not like opposing goalies are standing on their heads against the Quakers either; they're making just about as many stops against Pennsylvania per possession as the average Division I men's lacrosse team.
  • Pennsylvania's biggest problem is that it relies on Winkoff and Kohart to really make things go.  This isn't a team that is getting six guys involved on the offensive end.  It's a two man show in a lot of ways that requires the aforementioned two guys to make a play.  Now, Winkoff is among the nation's leaders in dishing out assists (he's third nationally in assists per offensive possession), but he carries a huge burden to help an offensive team that has a hard time shooting find the back of the net.  If you can shut off Winkoff -- like Harvard did last week in the Ivy League semifinals and as Virginia did two weeks ago in Charlottesville -- the Pennsylvania offense will simply wilt.

OUTLOOK

Honestly, Pennsylvania couldn't have drawn a better first-round opponent in Notre Dame.  The Irish aren't exactly an offensive powerhouse, which plays into the Quakers desire to win with defense first.  Where Pennsylvania could run into trouble is actually trying to score against the Notre Dame defense: The Quakers are relying on two guys to generate offense and, on the whole, aren't particularly adept at sharing the ball offensively. This could be a nightmare against the Irish's zaggy-zone-with-man-principles defense.

The Quakers have a shot, but they're going to have to play well above their head offensively to win.

* If your name has two "x's" in it, you win the trophy for "Winning at Being Victorious."

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