There were bigger games this weekend -- Massachusetts-North Carolina and Notre Dame's strangling of Duke, for example -- but there were few that featured as tight a game as what Lehigh and Villanova put on display in Philadelphia. The Mountain Hawks ended up pulling out an 11-9 victory against their Pennsylvania foes but it wasn't easy: The teams were knotted twice with Lehigh holding only two three-goal leads (6-3 at the 9:44 mark of the second quarter and what would eventually become an insurmountable 11-8 difference after an unassisted David DiMaria tally at the 7:58 mark of the final stanza). When you dig into the box score, you see just how close the performances were between the two teams and how the little things can end up impacting overall results.
Here's a sampling of an advanced box score from the game. Brief notes follow the table with thoughts about some stuff that impacted the outcome.
|VILLANOVA WILDCATS||LEHIGH MOUNTAIN HAWKS|
|Functional Offensive Opportunities||28.00||29.00|
|Functional Offensive Opportunities Ratio||96.55%||96.67%|
|Lost Functional Offensive Opportunities||12.00||12.00|
|Lost Functional Offensive Opportunities Ratio||42.86%||41.38%|
|Lost Functional Offensive Opportunities Margin||0.00||0.00|
|Offensive Efficiency: Functional Opportunities||32.14||37.93|
|Efficiency Margin: Functional Opportunities||-5.79||+5.79|
|Shots per Offensive Opportunity||1.24||1.37|
|Raw Shooting Rate||25.00%||26.83%|
|Offensive Assist Ratio||88.89%||63.64%|
|Offensive Assist Rate||27.59||23.33|
|Extra-Man Postures per 100 Offensive Opportunities||20.69||16.67|
|Extra-Man Posture Reliance||33.33%||27.27%|
|Extra-Man Posture Conversion Rate||50.00%||60.00%|
|Penalties per 100 Opportunities||8.47||10.17|
|Caused Turnovers per 100 Defensive Opportunities||26.67||13.79|
|Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities||44.83||43.33|
|Unforced Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities||31.03||16.67|
|"Run-of-Play Work Rate"||32.20||23.73|
|"Run-of-Play Work Rate" Margin||+8.47||-8.47|
|Saves per 100 Defensive Possessions||36.67||55.17|
|Team Save Percentage||50.00%||64.00%|
- Look at the totality of the metrics: Everything is almost dead even. It's kind of bonkers to see a box score like that and have the end result feature a small but relatively comfortable cushion in a game that featured only 59 total possessions. These kind of situations usually result in the winning team playing with fire, and I'm in the camp that the Mountain Hawks were able to weather a situation that could have gotten out of hand had a play or two gone the other way. That's the mark of a disciplined and prepared team, and Lehigh -- not unlike Notre Dame in prior seasons -- embodied a lot of those qualities against the Wildcats. (And good on Villanova, which entered the season loaded with questions, to hang in there and battle with a squad of the Mountain Hawks' caliber in a game that featured these qualities. Not all wins and losses are created equal, and Villanova's effort on Saturday may be a sign that they're moving past the disaster that was the end of the Wildcats' season in 2012.)
- While Matt Poillon hasn't put together the resume that Notre Dame's John Kemp has, Lehigh's sophomore keeper put in a Kemp-like performance against the Wildcats on Saturday. His play was arguably the difference between the Mountain Hawks earning a nice two-goal victory and potentially facing a situation where Villanova could have earned a big scalp in its first effort of their 2013 campaign. His save percentage on the day is obviously impressive -- 64 percent should get you a free plate of bacon at Denny's -- but it was his overall effort in the cage that really makes you want to throw rose petals at his feet: Ending over 55 percent of Lehigh's defensive possessions with a save, Poillon was a major force in controlling the ability of Villanova to get back into the game. The sophomore keeper was able to achieve this rate despite the Wildcats doing a fairly nice job of sharing the ball in generating preferable scoring opportunities (almost 89 percent of Villanova's tallies were assisted, generating helpers on almost 28 percent of their offensive opportunities). Most keepers wilt in these kind of situations; Poillon, however, thrived, stopping shots all over the place and helping to limit the Wildcats' shooting rate to a fairly disappointing 25 percent. Poillon wasn't the only reason that Lehigh kept its season record unblemished, but he was a major factor.
- There was basically a deadlock in possessions between the two teams, each playing around 30 offensive possessions on the day. This leads me to two conclusions: (1) The closeness of the affair is partially attributable to neither team able to generate extra possessions to either extend the scoring margin (in the case of Lehigh) or close the gap (in the case of Villanova); and (2) Lehigh's ability to can the bean at a higher efficiency was ultimately the difference (arguably due to Villanova's crease situation not maintaining the level of performance that the opposition got at the opposite end of the field, but that's a high standard to meet). As to that second point, there's a subtle thing in the box score that sticks out: While each team lost 12 functional possessions (opportunities where the offense advanced the ball into the attack box), Villanova's proclivity for committing unforced turnovers may have been the difference between the Wildcats scoring a few more goals on the day and potentially changing the outcome of the game. That's just a theory, though, and it's build on the fact that Saturday was Villanova's first effort on the season; maybe the Wildcats would have taken care of the ball a little more had it had the opportunity to have a game under their belts to work out the kinks (like Lehigh).
- The tempo was definitely in Lehigh's favor on Saturday. I'm not sure that Villanova wants to play quite that slow in 2013.
- Villanova did a nice job winning the groundball war in run-of-play scenarios, and that is partly attributable to the team's ability to generate caused turnovers. Sometimes caused turnover rates can be a little deceiving, but the Wildcats did it man's-work style over the weekend, dislodging the ball from the Mountain Hawks' possession in non-specialist situations (Lehigh blew only one clear, an unforced turnover). In the end, the Wildcats stripped the Mountain Hawks of the bean on almost 27 percent of the Wildcats' defensive opportunities, which is a solid rate against a team that rarely gave up the ball last season.