NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Participant: Bucknell

via images.lax.com

Tournament Seed: Unseeded

First-Round Opponent: Virginia (May 15, 3:00)

2011 Record: 14-2

Conference: Patriot

Last Tournament Appearance: 2001

NCAA Championships: 0

Four Notable Players: Ryan Klipstein (M); Alex Lyons (D); Kyle Feeney (G); Mike Danylyshyn (A)

Downloadable Tempo-Free Profile: Bucknell

There's a feeling spreading around that Virginia is ripe for an upset this weekend against Bucknell because of the turmoil stemming from the Shamel and Rhamel Bratton situation.

That's fine and all, but Bucknell is dangerous for the Cavaliers not only because the Bratton situation, but because the Bison are pretty damn competitive.  The Patriot League wasn't full of a bunch of tomato cans in 2011 and Bucknell managed a clean sweep through the league's regular season and the conference's post-season tournament.

These cats can play and they aren't going to be intimated by Klockner Stadium or Starsia's charges.

WHAT BUCKNELL DOES WELL

There's a weird kind of thing happening down in the State of Pennsylvania.  Between the Villanova, Pennsylvania, and Bucknell, the state's participants in the NCAA Tournament all have similar defensive personalities: Outfits that pressure the ball, cause tons of turnovers, and aggressively slide and recover.  Is someone handing out a cult pamphlet on how to play defense in the Keystone State?

This Bucknell defensive unit is full of testosterone and man-strength.  It's a real beauty to watch and has gotten the job done all season long: 

BUCKNELL'S "D": WELCOME TO PAINTOWN
METRIC VALUE RANK AVG.
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 21.53 3 28.22
Shots Per Defensive Possession 0.79 1 1.00
Defensive Effective Shooting Percentage 28.01% 24 28.83%
Defensive Assist Rate 14.98 31 15.41
Defensive Clearing Percentage 75.00% 2 82.76%
Saves Per Possession 0.27 52 0.31

Some quick thoughts:

  • The most valuable return that Bucknell has seen from this aggressive defense that slides all over the place is that their opponents just aren't getting looks at the cage.  That shots per defensive possession statistic is insane.  On a national basis, the next closest to Bucknell in terms of limiting opponent shots is Syracuse, and the Orange would yield about 5.5 more shots per 100 defensive possessions than the Bison.  That is hands-on-stick, body-in-position defensive lacrosse at its finest. 
  • A residual return on Bucknell's aggressive defense built around generating turnovers and taking away good looks is that goalkeeper Brian Feeney hasn't been asked to make many stops to end defensive possessions.  That's the polar opposite from a team like Hofstra that asks Andrew Gvozden to make tons of saves to end defensive possessions.  Even when asked to make stops, though, Feeney has answered the bell: He holds a 56.1% save percentage.  That's pretty good insurance on an aggressive defensive unit that could potentially get itself into sticky situations.
  • Bucknell's defensive effective shooting percentage and defensive assist rate aren't anything to write home about, but they are pretty good.  The Bison's average defensive assist rate is a function of their decision to aggressively slide: If the ball carrier can actually deliver the ball to vacated and preferred shooting positions, Bucknell can get burned on an assisted goal. Again, this isn't a huge concern to the Bison, though, because Feeney can make stops for them if asked to do so.  The just-above-average defensive effective shooting percentage stems from that fact: It doesn't matter how good a goalie is; shooters receiving the ball in preferred shooting positions will generally have an advantage to bury the bean.  This is, however, nitpicking; Bucknell's sky-high adjusted defensive efficiency value shows that this is an outfit that gets the job done despite courting potential disaster.
  • How can you not love a team that dedicates itself to the ride?  That's a full-field defensive mentality requiring every player on the pitch to contribute to the cause.  If you had to pick a word to describe Bucknell's defensive strategy, it'd have to be "relentless."

WHAT BUCKNELL DOES POORLY

The Bison aren't rolling with a Godzilla offense.  Ryan Klipstein is a terrific individual offensive talent, but in the overall Bucknell isn't among the nation's elite on the offensive end of the field.  A big reason for that is that the Bison aren't the best six-on-six offensive team in the country and kind of pick their spots to get transitional, unsettled opportunities. 

As a result, Bucknell has been forced to generate a lot of their offense from their extra-man opportunities, a scenario that hasn't been bad for the Bison this year but does show a potential wart.

BUCKNELL HEARTS EMO
METRIC VALUE RANK AVG.
Extra-Man Conversion Rate 37.31% 15 31.87%
Extra-Man Opportunities Per Offensive Possession 0.12 21 0.11
Extra-Man Opportunity Reliance 0.15 12 0.13
Opponent Penalties Per Possession 0.08 15 0.06
  • That extra-man reliance rate is really high (it measures extra-man tallies against total goals scored).  Of the top-10 (or is it bottom-10?) teams in the metric, Bucknell is the only team among them to make the NCAA Tournament.  Hofstra and Virginia are also in the territory just behind Bucknell, but each of those team's overall adjusted offensive efficiency values are in the top-15 nationally.  What I'm trying to get at is this: Really good teams don't necessarily need their extra-man units to put points on the board; Bucknell may be in a tough spot because they've relied on that facet of the game to score.
  • The other area of concern here is that Bucknell may not have a bunch of opportunities to play with the extra attacker in the playoffs.  Good teams -- the teams that make the national championship bracket -- don't commit penalties.  In fact, among the seeded teams in this year's tournament, Syracuse gives up the most penalties per possession at 0.06. That's the 23rd best value in the country.  Even though the Bison have been lights-out with the personnel imbalance this year, they may simply not have much of a chance to put that unit on the field during the tournament.  As Bucknell relies on that unit to generate tallies, the Bison could be in a really sticky situation.
  • Just so it doesn't sound like I'm dumping on Bucknell for having a miserable offense, the Bison aren't exactly impotent when they have the ball.  The team's adjusted offensive efficiency value is 28.63, good for 26th in the country. The team does shoot the ball fairly well, clocking in with an offensive effective shooting percentage of 30.00% (21st nationally).  They also do a pretty average job of sharing the ball as the Bison hold an offensive assist rate of 16.48 (only 23 teams have a better mark).  It must be stated again, though: A lot of those values are impacted by the fact that Bucknell plays a lot of possessions with a personnel imbalance.  It's a lot easier to get the ball to guys in preferred shooting positions and it's a lot easier to bury the ball from those preferred shooting positions when the opposition is only playing with five defenders and a keeper.

OUTLOOK

This is a really good team but isn't quite a great team.  Virginia has shown itself, at times, to be a great team.  The Cavaliers have also regressed to simply being a good team at points this year. 

I don't think that it'd be a shocker if the Bison were to walk away from Charlottesville with a win.  Anything past the quarterfinals, though, would register an 11 on the "WHAT THE?!?" meter.

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