2012 NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Staring Contest: Denver at North Carolina

It's the 2012 NCAA Tournament! Take out the nice napkins and make sure that your kid doesn't have crap all over his face. College Crosse has this all under control, so feel safe, friends. If you missed anything -- and you really shouldn't because you're only hurting yourself if you do -- click this fancy highlighted text to get all caught up.

I think the NCAA lacrosse tournament selection committee sat around a big desk last Sunday and decided that a science experiment involving violent offenses would be just about the greatest thing in the history of history. To do so, they mated North Carolina and Denver, creating a genetic freak called "KILLKILLKILL" and are going to set it free in Chapel Hill on Saturday night. You may want to avert your eyes if you have young children who play goalie.

Anyway, here's the heat on Pioneers-Tar Heels.

North Carolina Tar Heels: Tournament Eight-Seed (ACC, At-Large)

For a more complete, mind-bending picture, here's a .pdf of the complete report.

NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS
BIG STATS PACE STATS
Record 11-5 Clear % 90.13% (3)
Adj. Off. Efficiency 34.01 (13) Opp. Clear % 81.76% (17)
Adj. Def. Efficiency 30.50 (35) Faceoff % 59.59% (5)
Poss. Percentage 54.87% (1) Pace 68.69 (14)
Off. Poss./60 min. 37.69 (2)
DEFENSIVE STATS Def. Poss./60 min. 31.00 (16)
Save Percentage 51.44%
Saves/Def. Poss. 0.32 (22) OFFENSIVE STATS
Opp. Sht. %. 29.57% (35) Goal Differential +41
Opp. Effective Sht. % 30.80% (39) Shooting % 30.98% (17)
Def. Assist Rate 0.21 (55) Effective Sht. % 31.54% (18)
Man-Down/Def. Poss. 0.13 (56) Assist Rate 0.22 (10)
Man-Down Conversion % 42.42% (46) EMO per Off. Poss. 0.09 (52)
Man-Down Reliance 0.18 (56) EMO Conversion % 40.38% (18)
C/T per Def. Poss. 0.20 (45) EMO Reliance 0.11 (39)
Turnovers/Off. Poss. 0.39 (5)
Opp. Saves/Off. Poss. 0.28 (13)

Denver Pioneers: Unseeded (ECAC, At-Large)

For a more complete, mind-bending picture, here's a .pdf of the complete report.

DENVER PIONEERS
BIG STATS PACE STATS
Record 8-6 Clear % 83.48% (35)
Adj. Off. Efficiency 37.42 (2) Opp. Clear % 83.33% (27)
Adj. Def. Efficiency 28.09 (24) Faceoff % 60.12% (4)
Poss. Percentage 53.16% (6) Pace 63.51 (44)
Off. Poss./60 min. 33.76 (21)
DEFENSIVE STATS Def. Poss./60 min. 29.74 (6)
Save Percentage 52.49%
Saves/Def. Poss. 0.33 (20) OFFENSIVE STATS
Opp. Sht. %. 27.02% (20) Goal Differential +48
Opp. Effective Sht. % 27.42% (17) Shooting % 33.40% (5)
Def. Assist Rate 0.13 (8) Effective Sht. % 33.82% (5)
Man-Down/Def. Poss. 0.07 (4) Assist Rate 0.22 (9)
Man-Down Conversion % 39.29% (40) EMO per Off. Poss. 0.10 (32)
Man-Down Reliance 0.09 (12) EMO Conversion % 26.53% (50)
C/T per Def. Poss. 0.23 (24) EMO Reliance 0.08 (54)
Turnovers/Off. Poss. 0.44 (20)
Opp. Saves/Off. Poss. 0.26 (5)

Three pieces of incredibly important information from my brain to your eyes via your Internet computing machine:

  • I think the growing trend of favoring Denver in this game, despite North Carolina's strong play at points this season, has to do with a simple fact: The Tar Heels are notorious ball watchers, holding one of the worst defensive assist rates in the country for most of the season; Denver, frighteningly, shares the ball in the offensive end as well as anyone in the country. It's not that Mark Matthews can seemingly get wherever he wants with reckless abandon that makes the Pioneers dangerous in the first round; it's that Matthews, Alex Demopoulos, Eric Law, and Jeremy Noble are arguably the tightest offensive foursome in the country, working as well with each other as they do independently. The fact that the unit works so well together creates a twofold issue for opposing defenses: (1) Who the hell do you stick a pole on?; and (2) If you even want to double and help, Denver can crush you regardless. The fact of the matter is that North Carolina is not particularly well-suited for addressing this kind of layered issue -- the Tar Heels don't do a great job at limiting off-ball movement inherent in unified offensive approaches. This is a big reason that opponents are shooting so well against Carolina this season and against a rifle-accurate team like the Pioneers, this can only be exacerbated to the point of extreme trouble.
  • Denver, while not exactly a staunch defensive team but rather one that ranks around the top-third of the country in most important metrics, is actually a little better suited to handle North Carolina's attack than the Tar Heels are in the inverse. Carolina gets a lot of its action through the offense as a whole (although guys like Joey Sankey, Jimmy Bitter, and Marcus Holman are capable of generating goals on their own). Where the Heels may struggle on Saturday night, however, is that the Pios do a good job at limiting helpers -- only seven teams have seen fewer assisted tallies this season than Denver. (This has really driven the Pioneers' overall defensive shooting percentage.) The question is going to become whether North Carolina can win its straight matchups and not press past their trust in the team's offensive system, something they have the personnel necessary to accomplish. If they can run some pick action from "X" and isolated two-man games in spots (be it goal line extended or otherwise), I think they may be able to expose Ryan LaPlante a little bit and not have to worry about resting on easy goals both in space or on the doorstep that may not appear.
  • The talking point since Sunday about Denver-North Carolina has been the Chase Carraro-R.G. Keenan death-duel at the dot. I'm not going to disagree with that; Denver is playing about four more offensive possessions per 60 minutes of play than their opponents and North Carolina is actually exceeding that value, registering about seven more offensive possessions per 60 minutes of play than their opponents. A big reason for that has been both Carraro's and Keenan's work on the whistle. In a game where insulating a defense is going to be paramount, success on the draw is going to be critical. There is, however, another possession opportunity factor here that deserves some thought: Denver hasn't exactly cleared the ball all that well this season (the Pios are only ranked 35th in the country in the metric) while Carolina's ride has seen opponents clear at only a 81.76 percent clip (that's good for 17th nationally). If a key to the game is not only generating additional offensive opportunities, the key that follows most naturally is that a factor on the outcome may be which team maximizes their offensive opportunities the best. If Denver spits the bit on its clear, losing an offensive scoring chance while giving Carolina an additional and potentially dangerous one, the nature of the game could change dramatically.
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