NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Participant: Virginia

via images.lax.com

Tournament Seed: 7

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

2011 Record: 9-5

Conference: ACC

Last Tournament Appearance: 2010

NCAA Championships: 4

Four Notable Players: Steele Stanwick (A); Colin Briggs (M); Chris Bocklet (A); Chris LaPierre (M)

Downloadable Tempo-Free Profile: Virginia

Remember that time that Shamel and Rhamel Bratton almost ruined Virginia's season because of undisclosed reasons?  And do you remember when Shamel was kicked off the team and Rhamel was suspended indefinitely?  And do you remember when Virginia went all, "I'M GODZILLA AND YOU'RE THE JAPANESE" on Pennsylvania?  And do you remember when the Cavaliers earned the seven-seed in the NCAA lacrosse tournament?  And do you remember when they became a trendy pick to either go all the way or lose in the first round?

Do you?  Do you remember all of that?

Good.  Then we're on the same page.

WHAT VIRGINIA DOES WELL

Every piece you're going to read about Virginia until Sunday is going to talk about the Cavalier offense.  Specifically, people are going to write thousands of words about the offense in the context of Rhamel Bratton's suspension and the termination of Shamel Bratton's roster existence.

Hell, Patrick Stevens -- a really good egg -- already kicked off the bonanza with his piece in The Washington Times yesterday.

So, I'm going to go in another direction in talking about Virginia's strengths.  I'm going to talk about the Cavaliers' performance in personnel imbalance scenarios -- both in the man-up and on the man-down.

VIRGINIA IS SO AWESOMELY SCREAMCORE 
METRIC VALUE RANK AVG.
Offensive Extra-Man Opportunity Conversion Rate 56.52% 1 31.87%
Defensive Extra-Man Opportunity Conversion Rate 20.83% 5 31.48%
Offensive Extra-Man Opportunity Rate 0.05 10 0.04
Defensive Extra-Man Opportunity Rate 0.10 15 0.11
Extra-Man Opportunities Per Offensive Possession 0.08 59 0.11
Extra-Man Opportunities Per Defensive Possession 0.10 9 0.11
Offensive Extra-Man Opportunity Reliance 0.15 16 0.13
Defensive Extra-Man Opportunity Reliance 0.07 3 0.13
Virginia Penalties Per Possession 0.05 13 0.06
Opponent Penalties Per Possession 0.05 45 0.06
  • Let's start with the Cavaliers' man-down unit.  First of all, the 'Hoos are rarely playing man-down, so this is pretty masturbatory.  For a team that gets dogged a bit for discipline issues, Virginia is doing a hell of a job at not shooting themselves in the foot with stupid penalties.  Only eight teams see fewer man-down situations in their defensive possessions, and that's a great thing for a Cavaliers team that is dealing with the absence of close defender Matt Lovejoy (out for the season following shoulder surgery).  This is huge considering that Virginia's first-round opponent basically thrives on converting with opponents in a man-down position.
  • Next, even if you can get Virginia in a personnel imbalance, you aren't scoring much.  The Cavaliers' man-down conversion rate is impressive and the reason for it is three-fold: 1) Virginia does a good job of eliminating open looks for shots (check out the low E.M.O. rate (this measures shots in personnel imbalance situations)); 2) the Cavaliers generate turnovers at a reasonable, but not astounding rate (this is obviously impacting the number of shots the defense needs to defend); and 3) Virginia does a nice job at not ball watching, limiting assist opportunities.  When you add this all up and throw in Adam Ghitleman's ability to stop a shot (he's right around 53% in save percentage, which isn't exactly terrible), you end up with one of the best man-down units in the country.
  • Given all of the offensive weapons the Virginia has, it's not surprising that the Cavaliers have probably the best man-up unit in the land.  The loss of Shamel Bratton and the absence of Rhamel Bratton does preclude the use of very dangerous options in the personnel imbalance, but it doesn't kill the success of this unit.  Whether either Bratton is there, the unit -- on a whole -- gets a high rate of shots on net and converts them at a terrifying percentage.  If you had to point to one guy that really makes Virginia's man-up sing it's Steele Stanwick: The assist machine is custom built to exploit personnel imbalances.  His ability to find guys in space is a huge part of the reason that finishers like Chris Bocklet are eating up opposing man-down units.  (Bocklet leads the team in man-up goals with 11.  Interestingly, a third of Bocklet's goals have come on the man-up this year.)
  • The final point on Virginia's man-up exploits is that the Cavaliers are actually relying on personnel imbalance scenarios to score.  Now, their rate of reliance isn't through the roof, but it is high.  I'd be worried about this if the team's overall offensive efficiency was poor but it isn't: Virginia is eighth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency.  So, while the team's ability to convert in those man-up scenarios is a major puzzle piece to the Cavaliers' overall success, the team's ability to score in six-on-six and transition situations mutes Virginia's reliance on personnel imbalances to register a tally.

WHAT VIRGINIA DOES POORLY

I've been stumped on this all year: Virginia loses a couple of games and pollsters are dropping them to the bottom end of the top-10?  That's completely asinine.

Throughout the 2011 campaign, Virginia has performed better than some of their results have shown.  There aren't a ton of holes in this squad.  You simply have to realize that the Cavaliers' schedule this year just wasn't going to allow a two- or three-loss season.

So, what follows is random nitpicking.  And, honestly, if Virginia hasn't fixed this stuff by now it isn't going to make any fixes before the weekend.

WHATEVER.  JUST FILLING SPACE.
METRIC VALUE RANK AVG.
Face-Off Percentage 50.70% 29 49.79%
Cavalier Saves Per Possession 0.31 34 0.31
Defensive Effective Shooting Percentage 28.19% 26 28.83%
  • On Virginia's face-off issues: The only reason that the Cavaliers' issue at the dot is troublesome is that it eliminates an opportunity to immediately get the ball in the hands of Virginia's monster offense.  I'd be more concerned about this if the 'Hoos weren't dominating the other pace factors (offensive and defensive clearing), but they are -- Virginia is second nationally on the clear and 11th in the country on the ride.  We're talking non-monumental changes to the Cavaliers' possession margin, and when you consider that Virginia already plays an insane amount of possessions per 60 minutes anyway (the Cavaliers are sixth nationally in pace), we're getting kind of greedy.
  • The saves per defensive possession and defensive effective shooting percentages are kind of worrisome but not deadly.  Ghitleman is good, but Virginia isn't counting on him to end defensive possessions.  And, to be clear, that defensive effective shooting percentage isn't horribly bad.  Where the Cavaliers want to make their money is with the six guys out in front of Ghitleman; if they're limiting shots and terrorizing an opponent's ability to get good looks, then Ghitleman's average ability in the net is muted.  You'd like an impenetrable backstop, but Virginia's approach this year has been to not need one.

OUTLOOK

Plain and simple: Virginia can win the national championship, with or without Rhamel Bratton.

Plainer and simpler: The likelihood of it happening is small, only because the Cavaliers have the distinct pleasure of potentially meeting Cornell -- a buzzsaw thirsty for blood -- in the quarterfinals.

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