NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Participant: Duke

via images.lax.com

Tournament Seed: 5

First-Round Opponent: Delaware (May 14, 5:00)

2011 Record: 12-5

Conference: ACC

Last Tournament Appearance: 2010

NCAA Championships: 1 (2010)

Four Notable Players: Zach Howell (A); Jordan Wolf (A); C.J. Costabile (LSM); Tom Montelli (D)

Downloadable Tempo-Free Profile: Duke 

Here come the champs, son.  Attempting to mirror their late charge to the title in 2010, Duke has put an inconsistent sunrise to their 2011 season behind them.   They're young, talented, and led by a head coach that has done nothing short of find success at every place he's ever been.

The Blue Devils are no longer "The Best Program to Have Never Won a Title."  They're squarely situated on everyone's radar and there isn't a team in the field that isn't gunning for their championship belt.

WHAT DUKE DOES WELL

Score.  And score.  And score, and score, and score, and score, and score. . . .  Even though Duke has been led offensively this year by senior attack Zach Howell and his multitude of little brothers, the Devils still have one of the most efficient and dangerous offenses in all of the country.

BLINKING MEANS MISSING
METRIC VALUE RANK AVG.
Pace 71.24 19 67.29
Offensive Possessions Per Game 36.39 9 33.56
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 36.09 4 27.92
Shots Per Offensive Possession 1.05 23 1.00
Offensive Effective Shooting Percentage 34.34% 6 28.64%
Offensive Assist Rate 17.45 17 15.37
Strength of Schedule -- Opposing Defenses 27.23 18 28.03
  • Duke has a reputation as a "GO! GO!" team, but they're playing a little slower this year than last year.  A big piece of that is the number of underclassmen that Danowski is rolling out onto the field.  The Blue Devils still run a lot of transition -- in no small part due to the fact that long stick midfielder C.J. Costabile likes to light up an attack -- but they're not playing "OH MY GOD! EVERYTHING IS ON FIRE!" lacrosse like, say, Robert Morris.
  • The reason I think that people believe that Duke plays recklessly aggressive offensive lacrosse is because they play a ton of offensive possessions per game.  A big reason for this is because the Blue Devils do a great job on their ride (they're seventh nationally), clear the ball reasonably well (they're 20th in the country), and are pretty good at the dot (21st nationally on draws).  So, all those clearing attempts from the opposition that Duke is busting up is creating unsettled situations, leading to the (somewhat incorrect) assumption that the Blue Devils are running more and faster than most other teams.
  • To dovetail the last point on the volume of offensive possessions Duke is getting: Yowzers!  The fourth-most efficient offense in the country is getting more possessions per 60 minutes of play than only three teams in the nation.  That's why the Blue Devils win games.  Now, their possession margin isn't great, but because Duke needs its offense to win games for them, the fact that the unit is getting the ball so much is a recipe for success.
  • Of Duke's big six point generators -- Howell, Wolf, Christian Walsh, David Lawson, Robert Rotanz, and Justin Turri -- all but Turri are shooting at a rate above 34%.  Three of those guys -- Rotanz, Lawson, and Walsh -- are shooting right around the 38% mark.  That's amazing, especially considering that this Blue Devils team doesn't share the ball as well as Duke teams in the past (the Blue Devils were first nationally in offensive assist rate in 2010). Wolf and Howell are the primary distributors for the Blue Devils, but Duke's offensive success isn't tied to these two guys efficiently delivering the ball to others.  This is a team that really thrives in one-on-one, breaking down opponents on the dodge and beating keepers with their superior shooting ability.  Duke will spread it around if given the opportunity, but they're making a lot of hay with individual efforts.
  • With the team's high offensive effective shooting rate, it's not shocking that Duke isn't taking loads of shots per offensive possession.  These guys are surgeons with the bean.  What is a little surprising is that good offensive teams that have a somewhat lower shot volume usually have really high offensive assist rates.  Take Maryland, for example.  The Blue Devils aren't quite fitting that mold. So, while a lot of Duke's offensive scheme with off-ball movement is designed to create assist opportunities -- and the Blue Devils do take advantage of this (they're around the top-quarter in the country in offensive assist rate) -- it's also creating space for one-on-one play.  Duke has really taken advantage of that.

WHAT DUKE DOES POORLY

It's not that the Blue Devils are a bad defensive team.  They're not.  It's just that . . . well . . . I just don't know how good Duke is on the defensive end. Everyone saw the way Duke started in the Big City Classic -- the Orange blitzed the Devils and couldn't miss in the first half.  And then, all of a sudden, Duke tightened up and made it a game.

That one contest is a microcosm of the Blue Devils' entire defensive year: They look like a mess and then they don't.  Weird.

DUKE'S D: NOT BAD. I THINK.
METRIC VALUE RANK AVG.
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 25.43 14 28.22
Shots Per Defensive Possession 0.94 17 1.00
Defensive Effective Shooting Percentage 28.26% 29 28.83%
Defensive Assist Rate 14.17 21 15.41
Defensive Extra-Man Opportunity Conversion Rate 32.69% 37 31.48%
Saves Per Defensive Possession 0.30 37 0.31
  • Without going into too much detail, Duke is pretty much OK everywhere.  They yield some shots on defense, but not too many; they give up some scores on helpers from shooters that are off-ball, but not too many; overall, they don't give up too many goals on a possession-basis, but aren't impenetrable.  A lot of the Blue Devils defensive profile is, "We're better than average, but not in the national elite."
  • Where there is a bit of trouble is in net.  Dan Wigrizer isn't going to garner any All-America honors this year.  His save percentage is at a flat 54% and he just isn't ending defensive possessions with saves.  (As the chart shows, Duke is right around the bottom-third int he country in that metric.)  The result is Duke having a defensive effective shooting percentage that is nothing more than average.  When you throw in the fact that Duke is even worse at stopping scores in man-down situations, you can see that Wigrizer's efforts between the pipes is a bit of a concern. 

OUTLOOK

Duke will go as far as Wigrizer and the Blue Devils' defense will take them.  That could be to Baltimore or it could be home as early as this Saturday.  Duke's offense is championship-caliber, but they may not have enough firepower to cover some of the Blue Devils' latent defensive issues.

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