Nightmare Fuel: Lehigh Was "Vanilla Defensively in 2012"

Bob Donnan-US PRESSWIRE

Good luck, Lehigh's human opponents.

Inside Lacrosse has been keeping tabs on many of the nation's well-known programs this fall in its fall check-in series, which has become a useful gauge of where teams are currently and where they look to be come January and February of 2013. In the publication's lastest update to the series, Matt Kinnear put keystrokes to Internet real estate and brought the world up to speed on Lehigh, the 2012 Patriot League champion and NCAA Tournament participant. There's all kinds of interesting things in the piece -- the odd fall that the Mountain Hawks went through, Kevin Cassese's tireless efforts to eradicate complacency, the search for leadership among the team's senior class, etc. -- but the most important thing -- and absolutely terrifying aspect for Lehigh's opponents in 2013 -- was this:

A scary thought for opposing Patriot League coaches: Lehigh's No. 2-ranked defense is a year older and will look to add on to its success by implementing new schemes and tweaks into the mix. The Mountain Hawks were quite vanilla defensively in 2012 — but extremely effective.

“A lot of that had to do with the fact that we were pretty young,” Cassese said about last year's defense. “We had some fun this fall playing with a couple different schemes and a few tweaks to keep offenses on their toes. We are so much more advanced at this point in the fall than we were this point last year.”

And that starts with Matt Poillon (.597), a freshman phenom in net last year. He's a year older and playing intense ball in the fall, partially because there's a highly-touted freshman on his heels in Steve Brodeur.

“It didn't show in the games he played, but he's been impressive this fall. He has had such a tremendous chip on his shoulder,” Cassese said. “A lot has to do with Steve Brodeur, a freshman. That motivated Matthew. We told him, 'you can't rest on any laurels here.' He's come back on fire and very determined.”

As for other impressive freshmen, there's a clone of standout junior defenseman Ty Souders on the roster as well.

Like Souders, Tripp Telesco out of New Jersey comes into his freshman year seasoned beyond his years. He's smart, athletic and plays like he has college experience. The Mountain Hawks have 14 incoming freshmen — it could be Lehigh's best class in its history — but the bar is raised for playing time, meaning it will be more difficult for freshmen to crack the roster. Telesco will likely be an exception.

“He's going to play for us on a defense that returns just about everybody,” Cassese said. “We've got to find a way to play this guy.”

Good God. I mean, good God that is scary.

I've written all kinds of words about the Mountain Hawks' defense in 2012 (for pre-fall purposes and also to decompress the 2012 season), but here's the thing: I don't think it did Lehigh's efforts justice, especially considering that the coaching staff kept things at a rudimentary level last year. Just look at where Lehigh was in important tempo-free metrics at the close of the year last season:

  • As a team, Lehigh finished sixth in adjusted defensive efficiency. The ranking is impressive, but what's even more impressive is that on a 100-possession basis, the Mountain Hawks would yield only around 23.5 goals (an average game based on 60 minutes of play saw Lehigh play about 61 possessions). Only Notre Dame, Ohio State, Johns Hopkins, Loyola, and Princeton put up better a better adjusted defensive efficiency value, and the gap between the Mountain Hawks and Irish was only about 2.5 goals. And this was a "vanilla" defense with lots of youth.
  • Even in a rudimentary atmosphere, Lehigh thrived at protecting Matt Poillon between the pipes. Only seven teams caused more turnovers per defensive possession than Lehigh (the Mountain Hawks generated a turnover on about 26.5 percent of their defensive postures) and only eight teams limited opponents to fewer assisted goals than Lehigh. That's significant workmanship both in settled situations and on the ride (only nine teams had a better ride rate than the Mountain Hawks). Throw in the fact that only 13 teams allowed fewer shots per defensive possession -- partly due to Lehigh's ride and partly due to the discipline and execution from the defensive unit as a whole -- and the Mountain Hawks straight hammered opposing offenses into the ground without magic defensive tricks. Amazing.
  • Then there's Matt Poillon, the constant between the pipes despite having only been a freshman. His 59.7 save percentage, which ranked fourth in the country last season, is impressive; the fact that he ended about 34 percent of Lehigh's defensive possessions with a stop is equally important. Depending on his offseason development, the underclass stopper could be as good as Notre Dame's John Kemp in 2013.

This is a horse of a defense, and shockingly, it could be even more imposing next season.

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