NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Participant: Hartford

via cdn.newsday.com

Tournament Seed: Unseeded

First-Round Opponent: Cornell (May 14, 7:30)

2011 Record: 11-6

Conference: America East

Last Tournament Appearance: First

NCAA Championships: 0

Four Notable Players: Ryan Compitello (A); Carter Bender (M); Connor Flynn (D); Tim Fallon (M)

Downloadable Tempo-Free Profile: Hartford

Let's see.  First, there was the time that I called the America East Tournament the "Stony Brook Invitational."  That was fun.  My exact words, as written a full three days before the league's title would be awarded, were:

FUTURE NEWS: Stony Brook captures the 2011 America East Tournament; "Combustion" Crowley named "Democratically-Elected Authoritarian Ruler of Long Island for Forever."  

I mean, that's how this year's conference tournament has to go, right?  There's no other reasonable outcomes in the America East's future?

Then there was the time that I basically said that an NCAA Tournament that didn't feature Stony Brook would be a travesty.  That was fun, too.

And now, after all those words full of definitives and necessaries, we're living in a world where Hartford -- a school that had never before participated in the Division I Men's Lacrosse Championships -- is preparing to head up to Ithaca and face Cornell in the first round of the tournament. 

It's like I don't even know you anymore, college lacrosse.

WHAT HARTFORD DOES WELL

When you don't have Cornell's offensive weapons and don't have the kind of defensive talent that Syracuse can roll out on the field, you need to do the little things to help tip the possession battle in your favor.  Hartford has done a pretty good job of that this year.  As a result, it's been able to limit exposure to a defensive unit that is currently rated 37th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency and give plenty of offensive opportunities to a unit that is currently rated 33rd in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency.

Here's a little breakdown of the Hawks' possession factors and construct:

HARTFORD OWNS ALL THE PACE
METRIC VALUE RANK AVG.
Offensive Possessions Per Game 35.93 14 33.56
Defensive Possessions Per Game 30.77 17 33.73
Possessions Per Game Margin 5.16 5 -0.16
Face-Off Percentage 62.86% 6 49.79%
Offensive Clearing Percentage 85.49% 18 82.69%
Defensive Clearing Percentage 85.97% 47 82.76%

As you can see, the biggest reason why Hartford is winning the possession game each time they head out to the pitch is because Tim Fallon and his mates are winning a ridiculous number of draws on the season.  (Fallon, personally, is good for about 62.7% of his attempts at the dot.  That's nuts, son.) 

It's also important to note that Hartford isn't doing too bad of a job clearing the bean.  This is going to be huge against a team like Cornell: The Big Red have a pretty good ride (they're 14th nationally in the metric), and if the Hawks can clear the ball effectively, it eliminates dangerous transition opportunities for a Cornell squad that has all kinds of individual offensive talent to turn those chances into easy goals.

If Hartford can continue to control pace factors on Saturday -- specifically by dominating draws and clearing the ball -- they can possibly hang around a little bit.  When you combine this with the Hawks' pace (about half of a possession per game slower than the national average), Hartford has the potential to really control the tempo and momentum of the game.

WHAT HARTFORD DOES POORLY

Bad teams usually do a lot of things to shoot themselves in the foot; if they're not shooting themselves in the foot, they're usually hitting the floor all around it.

Hartford is no exception to this fact.  Now, the Hawks aren't a terrible team -- they're pretty average, I guess -- but they still do a lot of stupid, undisciplined things.  For example:

STOP HITTING YOURSELF, HARTFORD
METRIC VALUE RANK AVG.
Shots Per Defensive Possession 1.11 52 1.000
Defensive Assist Rate 15.24 32 15.41
Man-Down Per Defensive Possession 0.16 61 0.11
Team Penalties Per Possession 0.07 57 0.06

At the major Division I level, you simply cannot take as many penalties as Hartford does on a possession basis.  That kind of undisciplined behavior will kill you against a team with multiple offensive shooters that share the ball equally as well as they bury the bean.   This much man-down is bound to doom the Hawks, especially in Hartford's circumstances:

  • Only 20 teams ask their goalie to make a stop to end a defensive possessions more than Hartford.  Now, Scott Bement can stop the ball for Hartford (his career save percentage is around 55%), but even the best keepers in the country would have a hard time keeping their team in the game with that kind of volume.  (See, for example, Tyler Fiorito and the Princeton Tigers.)
  • Only nine teams see more shots on the defensive end than Hartford.  (In Hartford's circumstances, most of those shots are with a personnel imbalance.)
  • Hartford is only about average at keeping opponents from generating assists.  Allowing helpers to open space and desired finishing positions isn't going to help an average defense's job.

That's a dangerous formula for success.

OUTLOOK

Drawing Cornell was one of the worst opponents Hartford could have hoped for.  The Big Red are a monster on the extra-man, and if the Hawks continue to commit penalties, this one is going to be over quick.  Hartford will likely control the dot and attempt to slow down the pace of the game to a crawl, but their average offense against Cornell's impenetrable defense should ultimately doom the Hawks' chances.

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