NCAA Lacrosse Tournament: Teleconference Tuesday

Doug Pensinger

Words were said. Here's what I think those words mean.

Teleconferences can be pretty boring affairs. Coaches often speak in generalities, reporters ask questions pointed toward stories they intend to write, and everybody just assumes that no coach is going to tip his hand one way or another as to how business time will look when the referee blows his whistle for the opening faceoff. Inside Lacrosse joined the teleconference today between the four Championship Weekend head coaches and published a few notable quotes and excerpts. The notes are fine on their own -- read 'em, knucklehead! -- but the real value in the quotes is the context that underlies the statements from the coaches.

Here's how this is going to work: I pulled an interesting quote from each of the four coaches -- all fine gentlemen and scholars -- and applied some supplemental notes to their words. It's basically an exercise wherein I try to translate Coach Speak into something a little more tangible. Your translations, as always, are welcome in the comments.

CORNELL's BEN DeLUCA

On the importance of Specialty teams (EMO, MDD):
“You have to capitalize in the specialty situations especially the further you go in the tournament. That could be the margin of victory."

I guess you could look at this both ways, but I'm more interested in what Cornell may accomplish against Duke when the Red have the personnel imbalance in their favor. The Devils are taking penalties over the place and are frequently in man-down postures -- Duke ranks 58th nationally in man-down situations per 100 defensive opportunities (about 14 per 100 defensive opportunities) and commit about seven penalties per 100 total opportunities (a mark that ranks 52nd in the country). (Exacerbating the issue is that Duke's man-down conversion rate ranks 46th nationally). That's a very high level of malfeasance from the Devils and it arguably has an eroding effect on Duke's ability to put the opposition away: In games that Duke has either lost or the final margin of victory for the Devils was three goals or less, Duke's opponents are a combined 25-of-47 (53.19 percent) against the Devils' man-down defense; in the losses, opponents are eight-of-16 (50.00 percent); and in the close wins, 17-of-31 (54.84 percent). Against Cornell -- a team that hasn't relied on extra-man postures to make the scoreboard blink but rolls with one of the strongest man-up units in the nation (the Red are clicking on 39.22 percent (14th nationally) of their extra-man opportunities) -- Duke's proclivity for committing penalties and playing in man-down postures could become a serious issue: Cornell's offense is a machine, a combustion engine that has all the vroom! vroom! necessary to put Kyle Turri under its tracks; if the Devils give the Red preferable scoring circumstances, Duke's defense could turn to dust.

Cornell doesn't need help to decimate the opposition. The last thing that Duke needs to do is help the Red can the bean. If Devils can stay out of the box they give themselves a fighting chance to get stops against an offense that rarely engages in dead offensive possessions; if Duke plays too loose and rambunctious, Cornell could annihilate those opportunities, making the Devils' job even more difficult on the day.

DENVER COACH BILL TIERNEY

On the Pioneers shooting prowess:
"Matt Brown, my young offensive assistant coach, he just does an amazing Job. We spend a lot of time shooting, but we also spend a lot of time with our guys with decision making. . . . We work hard on that. We talk about playing the game fast, but playing it smart as well."

Let's face it: Denver has the strongest offense in the country. Now, the Pioneers rank only fifth nationally in goals per game (12.67), but on a per-offensive-opportunity basis (adjusted for competition played) no team -- not Albany, Cornell, Duke, North Carolina, or any other team that isn't Denver -- scores goals on a more efficient basis. The Pioneers' adjusted offensive efficiency value -- 41.62 goals on a 100-opportunity basis -- is almost two goals stronger than what North Carolina put together in 2013 and is the second-best mark that Division I lacrosse has seen since Duke put up a staggering 44.43 value in 2010.

This is a team that, while playing only about 31 offensive opportunities per 60 minutes of play, maximizes every chance it has to detonate an explosive device in the offensive end of the field: The team ranks 11th in turnovers per offensive opportunity (the team's unforced turnover rate slides into the 17th position in the national ranks), limiting lost functional offensive postures in the attack box; only two teams -- St. John's and Drexel -- have generated more assists on a per-possession basis than the Pioneers, smartly moving the ball about the green zone -- primarily through Eric Law (but there is a leveraged responsibility throughout the team's primary offensive generators to move the ball (five players have at least a dozen assists this season -- Law (35), Wes Berg (16), Cam Flint (14), Eric Adamson (13), and Colin Scott (12))) -- and exploiting opposing defenses for preferable scoring opportunities; only two teams -- Albany and Stony Brook -- hold a higher raw shooting rate than the Pioneers' 34.13 percent mark (and Denver is allowing its most accurate offensive players to dominate the shooting -- the team's biggest three shooters in terms of usage -- Law, Berg, and Flint -- are shooting 40.87 percent as a group; the team's sextet of highest volume of shooters -- the preceding trio plus Adamson, Gordie Koerber, and Scott -- is shooting 38.24 percent as a group while taking about 73 percent of the team's total shots); and no opposing goaltender is surviving the plaid nature of the Pioneers' offense as opponents hold only a 44.66 save percentage against Denver (that's the fifth lowest mark in the nation) and are ending defensive opportunities with a save only 32.80 percent of the time (that value ranks 29th nationally). Denver's offensive approach and execution is phenomenal and it operates with surgeon-like precision.

As for Tierney's aside about playing fast, I don't think he's talking about the Pioneers getting up and down the field like Albany, ramping up the tempo of a game to a clinically insane level. (In fact, Denver plays only about 60 total possessions per 60 minutes of play, a mark that ranks 59th nationally.) Rather, I think Tierney is talking about playing with tempo within the system -- getting quick dodging action, cutting with purpose, driving hard on picks, attacking mismatches, releasing the ball -- either on goal or to another teammate -- with snap, and moving the defense with quick on-ball and off-ball movement. It's playing fast with relative patience.

DUKE COACH JOHN DANOWSKI

On the emergence of Brendan Fowler:
"He took 150 draws" his first two years behind players like CJ Costabile. . . . "Brendon had a lot of experience as was about to step up as a junior."

Duke's opportunities per 60 minutes margin -- 5.97 -- is the third highest mark in the country. A lot of that has to do with the work that Brendan Fowler has accomplished at the faceoff dot: The specialist is drawing at 65.70 percent this season and has given Duke's offense 41.43 percent of the approximately 712 opportunities that it has had this year. There are few individual faceoff men that provide that volume of offensive opportunities to their team's offense, but Fowler is among that group. His ability to win draws has a twofold effect that holds a somewhat symbiotic relationship:

  • Fowler's faceoff wins -- again, worth about 2.5 extra offensive opportunities per 60 minutes of play for Duke's offense -- helps the Devils' offense -- the team's unit of strength and its success driver (the team's adjusted offensive efficiency mark ranks sixth nationally) -- dictate the momentum and volition of play; and
  • The extra opportunities that Fowler provides limits Duke's defense -- on the season, the Devils rank only 31st in adjusted defensive efficiency -- from overexposure, thereby allowing the defensive unit to exist with issues without tainting the team's overall drive toward victories (in other words, Duke's an average defensive team, but the Devils don't rely on that area of the field to win games; even if the defense falters, the offense is going to have plenty of opportunities to erase the goals that the defense yields).

Fowler hasn't been as important as, say, Bryant's Kevin Massa, but Fowler is a key cog to Duke's success given the relationship between the team's offense and defense and how it wins games.

SYRACUSE COACH JOHN DESKO

On the Orange's balance on attack and midfield, and the offense's success:
"I think we started off the year and a lot of people didn't expect much from Syracuse this year. . . . I think if you looked at the make up of our group and what we brought back. . . . We decided early on that if we were going to have success with our offense we were going to have to share the ball and not rely on one person. . . . Fortunately our offense has got a lot of motion. I credit the players for their understanding of it. It's pretty good lacrosse IQ. . . . We share the ball well, we execute well, we move pretty well off the ball, and I think that's where we've found success with our offense."

Syracuse has kind of been Denver-light this season (although the two teams go about their goalie-embarrassing business differently): The Orange are highly efficient (Syracuse ranks ninth in adjusted offensive efficiency); only five teams provide helpers on a per-possession basis at a rate higher than Syracuse; only 10 teams hold a stronger raw offensive shooting percentage than Syracuse's 31.63 percent mark (71.36 percent of the team's shots come from seven players, that group shooting 33.82 percent in the aggregate; its highest usage players -- Luke Cometti, Derek Maltz, Kevin Rice, and JoJo Marasco -- account for 48.73 percent of the team's attempts and click at a 31.38 percent rate); the offense rarely turns the ball over, committing a giveaway at a rate that ranks fifth nationally (the team's unforced turnover rate ranks 14th in the country); and opposing goaltenders aren't exactly standing on their head -- in totem -- against the Orange, holding only a 48.79 save percentage (14th nationally) and ending Syracuse's offensive opportunities with a save 33.84 percent of the time (33rd nationally).

The difference between Syracuse and Denver (outside of their offensive methodologies) is that the Orange don't necessarily use their offense as the driver to the team's success. The Orange are more balanced at both ends of the field, complementing its highly efficient offense with a defensive effort that ranks ninth in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency (the Pioneers rank 34th in that metric). Syracuse is a balanced team, and the team's ability to get the ball in the back of the net is heightened due to the Orange's ability to stuff opponents at the other end of the field (an important aspect of play considering that Syracuse has played at a small possession deficit -- due mostly to uneven faceoff play -- on the year). So, it isn't just that Syracuse's offense is a multi-faceted prism; it's that is works in concert with a suffocating defense.

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