NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Participant: Cornell

via a.espncdn.com

Tournament Seed: 2

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

2011 Record: 13-2

Conference: Ivy

Last Tournament Appearance: 2010

NCAA Championships: 3

Four Notable Players: Rob Pannell (A); Steve Mock (A); Jason Noble (D); David Lau (M)

Downloadable Tempo-Free Profile: Cornell 

Great lacrosse team.  Beautiful campus.  The worst student ensemble not named "The Johns Hopkins University Pep Band."

That's the Big Red experience, boys and girls.  Cornell head coach Ben DeLuca is looking to add "Four-Time National Champion" to the list starting in just a few weeks.

WHAT CORNELL DOES WELL

It doesn't take a rocket scientist with a B.S. in "Genius" from the University of Intelligence to realize that Cornell is rolling with one of the most dominant offensive attacks in the country.  Headed by all-around decimator Rob Pannell, the Big Red have generated the nation's best adjusted offensive efficiency value at 37.46 goals per 100 offensive possessions.

I'm not going to write about the Cornell offense, though.  I've already covered that territory before.  Instead, I'm going to discuss the Big Red defense, one of the more underappreciated units in all of college lacrosse.

For Cornell, their defensive success starts with four guys: Max Feely, Noble, Mike Bronzino, and long stick midfielder Thomas Keith.  These guys aren't big and strong like Notre Dame's freakish defensive unit; Cornell's quartet only goes about 6' 0", 180 pounds across the board.  What they lack in size and strength, however, they make up with intelligence in a system that allows them to use their athleticism to hound the opposition and reduce exposure to their keeper.

CORNELL: NONE SHALL SHOOT
METRIC VALUE RANK AVG.
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 23.16 5 28.22
Shots Per Possession 0.86 3 1.00
Defensive Effective Shooting Percentage 27.43% 19 28.83%
Defensive Assist Rate 10.71 3 15.41
Man-Down Per Defensive Possession 0.08 4 0.11
Penalties Given Per Possession 0.04 4 0.06
Saves Per Defensive Possession 0.25 58 0.31
  • This is a Cornell defensive squad that incessantly hounds opposing offensive players.  They do a great job of getting their crosse on an opponent's hands, limiting shot opportunities and generating turnovers.  (The Big Red are among the nation's leaders in caused turnovers, producing around 26 per 100 defensive possessions.)  They do a solid job at sliding and recovering, due in no small part to the defensive core's quickness and agility.  What is even scarier is that this team simply negates off-ball movement and distribution on the dodge, whether from behind the cage or up top.  A big part of this is attributable to Cornell's ability to slide and recover in pragmatic ways.  The end result is a defense that yields contested shots, generally off of the crease, and from unpreferred shooting positions.  This has the residual impact of reducing exposure to a goalkeeper that has been shaky at times this season.
  • When you're running a pressure- and slide-driven defense, it's easy to get into situations where you're taking lots of penalties.  Cornell, however, has avoided this circumstance all season, rarely having to play with five out in front of A.J. Fiore (or Andrew West). I think you can chalk this up to the Big Red's athletic ability: They aren't getting beat, so there's no need to get reckless. This kind of discipline goes a long way in May where every possession -- especially the nature of the possession -- counts even more.
  • Despite all the wonderfulness inherent in Cornell's defense, there is one wart: Play in the net.  I like A.J. Fiore; he's only a sophomore and has shown in the last two seasons that he can make huge saves and get hotter than than two dollar pistol.  There has been times this season, however, that he has been borderline dreadful.  On the year, Fiore is only holding a 51.4 save percentage, which isn't a heroic value.  He's been spelled at times by freshman Andrew West who has really given the Big Red a boost when they've needed it.  In his opportunities between the pipes this season, West has generated a 59.1 save percentage, which is quite respectable.  In the overall, though, this isn't a Cornell team that is asking their goalie to make saves to end defensive possessions (as evidenced by the saves per defensive possession value); the keepers are there to clean up any mess.  It's the six guys out in front of the net that are charged with the responsibility of making defensive possessions work.  If there was a little more consistency between the pipes, I think you'd see Cornell's defensive effective shooting percentage approach the national elite.  As stated, though, the Big Red do a great job at limiting shot opportunities anyway, so this isn't a "Terminal Deficiency" issue. 

WHAT CORNELL DOES POORLY

There just aren't too many holes on this Big Red team.  The two things I'm going to highlight are nitpicking issues and should really be taken with a grain of salt.

DON'T FREAK OUT ABOUT THIS
METRIC VALUE RANK AVG.
Face-Off Percentage 46.15 41 49.79
Man-Down Conversion Rate 33.33 39 31.48
Saves Per Defensive Possession 0.25 58 0.31
  • With Cornell's offensive prowess, you'd like to have a face-off guy that can secure the ball more than he doesn't.  The Big Red have struggled to find that guy.  Cornell's primary face-off specialist -- Mitch McMichael -- is only around 45% from the dot this year, but he does give Cornell an option to immediately transition into the attack if he can win the draw.  The Big Red's primary second option -- Doug Tesoriero -- has been a little better at the dot, winning around 56% of his attempts.  Tesoriero, however, doesn't provide Cornell with that quick-strike ability.  In the overall, however, dominating at the "X" hasn't really impacted the Big Red's fortunes.  Specifically, the team is dominating the other pace factors -- clearing (14th nationally at 86.46%) and the ride (80.14%, good for 14th in the country).  The Big Red are doing things to get themselves the ball; they're just not doing it directly from the dot.
  • Cornell's man-down conversion rates aren't so hot, and I think the biggest reason for it is because of Fiore's struggles at times this season.  The personnel imbalance does hamper how Cornell does want to go about its business on the defensive end and it puts a lot of pressure on their keeper to stop a shot coming from preferred shooting locations.  Again, this isn't the biggest concern for the Big Red as they're rarely playing man-down anyway (see above).

OUTLOOK

Everything is in place for the Big Red to hoist a trophy on Memorial Monday: They have the offense led by a monster attackman; they have the defense, a unit that simply doesn't beat itself; and they have momentum, which is invaluable this time of year.

If Fiore plays up to his potential, there is a great chance that this is your national champion.

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